Successful strategic plans include good objectives and monitoring.
The desired result of developing your strategic plan is to develop an actionable road map for the future of your organization. While there are always diversions, the goal is to have a SMART strategic plan to guide your actions. SMART means Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Once your strategic planning team has developed your plan, you need to execute it. Ultimately, the key to getting the results you desire is to be sure the team properly and timely executes it.
In your strategic planning sessions, one of the key outputs is the list of Objectives that your team develops.
Strategic planning (SP) generally produces two types of outputs. First is the list of actions that the strategic planning team gives to the responsible departments to execute. Examples of this are the strategies which they select for each of your core business segments. In each segment, your team must decide which of the five fundamental strategies to pursue: Expand, Maintain, Contract, Milk or Withdraw. By selecting your strategy per segment, you are determining the effort and investment you will make to carry out that strategy.
For example, an Expand strategy means you will need to invest more to gain market share in that segment.
This may mean hiring or reassigning people to staff the effort. It may mean more advertising or promotion expense. It might mean lowering prices or adding features to garner more volume. Normally, the team would give this strategy to the sales and marketing staff, with parameters of performance established with their inputs. This should occur in what I call “the normal course of business.” It would be normal for the sales and marketing department to be responsible for developing plans to achieve this. As such, a separate Objective would not normally be required.
Second is the list of Objectives. Let’s carefully define an objective.
An Objective is a specific, significant, achievable, challenging, measurable, time-related statement of future results. When your team completes each Objective, you will be on your way to attaining your strategies and goals. An objective consists of sharply focused actions to accomplish something important which won’t happen in the normal course of business. Every Objective should achieve something which will enhance and improve the results for the organization.
In order to accomplish the Objective, the SP team assigns responsibility for developing an Action Plan (AP) for each Objective.
First of all, each Objective should have a leader and a backup who are part of the strategic planning team. Furthermore, our process clearly defines how to develop the AP for each objective. Each AP is a written road map of how to complete the objective. First, the leader and backup write an outline or flow-chart of their concept for the AP. Then the team will update and modify the steps as they execute the plan. The outline/flow-chart helps the team determine who in the organization can contribute to writing the AP.
The team identifies individual action items for the AP.
These items are put into a reasonable order for execution. Then the team selects the appropriate personnel in the organization to carry out each step. The team’s best estimate of actual time to be spent in executing each step is listed. It won’t be perfect, but must be a reasonable estimate. Finally, if the AP requires funds in order to execute actions, the authors must add funds in the appropriate step(s). Unbudgeted funds must be approved according to your company’s procedures.
After the responsible team lists the steps, assigns the people, and specifies funding, the AP team reviews and approves the AP.
Then it’s sent to the strategic planning team for input and approval. In the final planning session, the whole strategic planning team will again review the AP, and approve it. Next the SP team schedules the steps. The people responsible for each step must commit to a date when they can accomplish it. People need to keep track of their commitments, so they are not over-committing themselves. Most of all, when people have no more time to participate, they must not commit any more time. It is most common that organizations run out of people’s time before they run out of funds to commit to APs. The emphasis here is on realism. There is no point to over committing, as the work will gradually fall farther and farther behind schedule.
Finally, setting up and carrying out the monitoring schedule is crucial.
The strategic planning team should select a date every month to update and monitor progress on each AP. Ideally, this will occur in a regular staff meeting which involves all of the strategic planning team. Before this monthly meeting, the leader and backup of each AP team update the plan. This means they check off the progress made during the prior month. Next, they schedule steps to be worked on in the current month, then publish it to the SP team.
If there is any new input, the team may need to add or revise steps in the AP.
The leader/backup take this input to the staff meeting after publishing the updated plan to the SP team. At the meeting, the updates and any changes are reported, along with the schedule for the next month. If appropriate, the staff gives the AP team feedback and the team makes any necessary changes and updates the schedule.
Monitoring is vitally important for the strategic plan to actually work and accomplish your objectives.
If people are behind, the first step is to see if they can catch up and resume the original schedule. If that is not realistic, then the team reschedules the AP to reflect reality. As a result, teams which do the monthly monitoring usually accomplish 80-90% of their objectives on time or within one month of schedule. This is quite reasonable, as there can be many appropriate reasons for delays that are beyond people’s control. This type of monitoring is quite powerful. It helps assure good internal communication within the organization. In addition, this helps get “buy-in,” because people know where the organization is going and why it is doing what it does.
If your planning process doesn’t include SMART objectives and robust AP monitoring, we can help.
I’d like to talk with you about your strategy development and how you can better achieve results on time. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616-575-3193. We can help you remain or gain in your competitive position. Based on our long history of guiding organizations to more effective strategies and results, we can help you. Simplified Strategic Planning is a great place to start. Consider holding a one-day workshop on Simplified Strategic Planning.
Dana Baldwin is Senior Strategist with the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.