Driving Strategy Home (part 1 of 2)

by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

One of the biggest challenges leaders face with the strategic planning process is turning strategy into action. Planning sessions generally gather key leaders in a place free of day-to-day distractions to focus energy and build optimism. Then, leaders watch as that energy and optimism dissipate when the participants get back to the “real world”. Strategic plans that had everyone excited too often become “shelf-ware” that fails to deliver the strategic results needed. Below we share some of our tips for getting the most out of your next strategic planning session:

Spread out the off-site. While a lot can be done in two or three days, we have found that spreading out the effort, with homework in between, creates a more sustained focus on the process. For instance, we recently helped a client through a strategic planning process that saw a month between days 1 and 2 of the planning, and another month between days 2 and 3. Breaking up the days gave participants a chance to do additional work on the strategy between sessions and to collect feedback from the organization on plans before they were finalized.

Free up time. A common reason follow-through is left wanting after a planning session is due to the fact that the leaders find they have little time for execution once they get back to work. We recommend asking leaders before the first day of your session to free up a significant portion of their time after the session to work on implementation. By planning and delegating work up front, leaders have the time to focus on strategic imperative and make their plans a reality.

Identify roles and responsibilities. Another reason plans fail to be executed is a result of responsibilities that are not clarified before the end of the meeting. Devoting time at the end of a session to name who is responsible for which action and by when seems simple, but it is often overlooked. When this happens, plans are executed in a disjointed fashion at best, and at worst fail to drive any action at all.

Create accountability check-ins. Remember, strategic planning is a process, not an event. To drive action, we recommend clients allocate time on at least a quarterly basis to revisit plans, make any necessary revisions, and hold each other accountable for execution. Not performing these follow-up checks erodes all of the value that the initial planning was meant to deliver.

Next month, we will continue this topic, examining how leaders start to drive the strategic change through their organizations.