Implementation pitfalls are common in strategic planning. But why is this – and what can we do about it? We’ve noticed six very common issues that have hindered execution at companies we’ve worked with, and none of them is intractable.
The most common implementation pitfalls are:
- Poorly defined objectives
- Poorly crafted implementation plans
- Hidden resistance
- Poor follow through
Each of these causes a specific type of problem – and has a specific solution.
Overcommitment is one of the most common implementation pitfalls in strategic planning. This is because many options look beneficial and it is easier to accept all of them than to force a realistic prioritization of resources. The problem is simply that no organization has the infinite resources required to pursue every good idea. By pursuing too many objectives, you run the risk of moving ahead far too slowly with each. Moving too slowly means you may only get halfway done with most of your objectives when you could complete a more realistic set of them. In Simplified Strategic Planning, we recommend setting no more than 10 objectives – and, with many companies, we have suggested having even fewer.
Poorly defined objectives
Poorly defined objectives are the result of spending too little time on objective-setting – or trying to make everyone happy with vague objectives that are difficult to implement. With poorly defined objectives, you end up unable to identify any but the vaguest actions needed to complete the task. Well-defined objectives are absolutely necessary for good implementation. We recommend setting objectives that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results that are Timely).
Poorly crafted implementation plans
Poorly crafted implementation plans are similar, in that they are the result of short cuts in the process of creating the action plans. When writing an action plan, you are both communicating with yourself (in the future) and allocating specific resources to the execution activities. Failure to do these two steps with care and specificity usually results in missed targets and confusion. To create better action plans, use the action planning process we prescribe in Simplified Strategic Planning.
Hidden resistance is a tough problem to spot before you encounter it. Sometimes, members of your team will pretend to be on board with an objective but harbor some reservations about execution. It is easy to sabotage an objective you don’t agree with by creating scheduling and resource conflicts. To avoid this, use a strategic planning process that builds buy-in and agreement at every step – even if that means spending a little more time on your planning.
Poor follow through
Poor follow through is a problem that occurs when your execution activities are not routinely reviewed. It’s just too easy to get off track when you don’t take time to assure you’re still following the path you carefully laid out. We recommend holding monthly review sessions to examine progress on each action plan to assure the whole team is aware of what you’re doing – and what you are supposed to be doing.
Distraction is the final common pitfall – and it’s a bad one. Many executives (especially CEOs) are often distracted by the “flavor of the month”, or the last article they read that suggests good ideas. The very thing that makes many executives successful also plays havoc with your strategic planning implementation. To avoid this, stick to your plan. Try to push as many new ideas into your annual strategic planning process as possible, with an understanding that the best ideas will certainly come out on top, given steady, persistent execution. This doesn’t mean you should never snap up an opportunity that presents itself, but don’t let those opportunities take over your well-planned intentions.
What pitfalls have you encountered in your implementation process. Do you find implementation challenging? Attend our next seminar on Simplified Strategic Planning to learn more about implementation and other aspects of strategic planning.
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