Have you ever been in a leadership and/or board meeting when someone point out that your organization lacks a strategic plan – and really needs one? Pretty much everyone at the table nods their head, right? Agreement all around. Yes, of course we need guide for our future. The clarity that will come from developing and implementing a strategic plan will be invaluable to our team. And then….nothing. Or a half-hearted attempt to create one ensues and peters out. The truth is that while the organization could greatly benefit from having a well-developed strategic plan, the effort needed to create one is often greater than expected. And that’s where things go wrong. There are some important elements that need to be in place before you jump into building a strategic plan.
Commitment. REAL commitment is critical to the success of any strategic endeavor. Your leadership team (including your board or your advisory team) need to actively support the effort, taking an active role in the process, the plan, and its implementation. And before you begin, make sure everyone appreciates the effort required – and is up to the task. If not, your initiative will run off the rails or stall. Make sure these elements are in place before you begin.
Time Commitment to Brainstorm and Develop
Any real/practical strategic plan requires time. Time to think. Time to debate. Time to understand your market – and determine how you want to serve the market’s needs.
Although you should prudently manage the time commitment and use everyone’s time wisely, don’t just continually try to minimize the time investment. (Trust me. It doesn’t work very well when you just try to squeeze it in with other things as just another agenda item.) Give it enough time to have a focused, thorough, and open discussion. And that means good-sized blocks of time. You don’t want the conversation to meander endlessly, but you also don’t want to cut the process short.
Willingness to Participate, Really Participate
All leadership team participants should agree to actually participate actively. That means to engage in the conversation and share their ideas. It means to give the process its full attention (darn smartphones!)
What I’ve found when team members don’t participate is that they (1) are against it and this is their way of showing it (a little passive-aggressively), (2) they don’t have enough interest (which should make question their dedication to the mission), (3) they will work against you, or (4) they are not comfortable voicing their opinions, are not sure HOW to voice it well.
None of these are good. Number 4 you can and should manage within the process. The others may be indicative of larger issues…which you should also not ignore.
Willingness to Listen – Hear Other Ideas
Be open to creative ideas. Honest discussion of where your organization might be falling down. As leaders we can sometimes become defensive, fighting for the status quo. And that can be okay…within reason. But everyone should be ready to listen and consider other ideas, other perspectives.
Willingness to Read/Review/Edit/Rewrite
Another place strategic planning bogs down is when we try to put ideas on paper. Leaders sometimes have difficulty investing the time to read and provide feedback about the drafts of the plan. Make sure that each leader blocks out time on their calendar for this. I’ve seen many a deadline come and go waiting for someone to offer their input. It should be an explicit agreement early on that everyone will agree to abide by the schedule and read/review/edit in a timely manner. It greatly impacts the outcome.
If that agreement cannot be arrived at then a smaller subgroup should be tasked with drafting and editing the plan. Other’s would get the opportunity to do a review and offer comments, but they need to understand that the process will not stop for them.
Commitment to the Implementation’s Success
Another critical element factors into a plan’s success comes after the plan is debated, written, rewritten, and adopted. That factor is the commitment to play an active role in the plan’s implementation. The leaders’ roles don’t end when the plan get written. It’s not over; it’s just beginning. An important part of a strategic plan is its implementation plan. Assigning tasks, deadlines, and an accountability plan is so important. Everyone needs to play an active role in either accomplishing the plan’s tasks or oversight – or both. And that takes commitment over the longer-term.
Outline these requirements and ask each individual to agree to their role. That up-front clarity can be the difference between success and failure. And if your team isn’t ready to make the necessary commitment, don’t move ahead with the planning process until they are.
Sure, almost everyone will nod their heads in agreement when you decide your organization needs a strategic plan. But it’s those with teams that take responsibility and commit to the process and the plan that truly succeed in meeting the plan’s goals.
Together we can make sure your organization has a solid path to the future.
Please feel free to reach out and get in touch and let’s explore how I can help you and your business succeed. No pressure. Just an informal discussion to explore some ideas.
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