Strategy Season: What Could Go Wrong?
It’s that time of year again: strategy season. Shortly before the holidays many companies gather their executives together in a room to hash out a strategic plan for the coming year. Whether your business consists of just a few people or ranks in the Fortune 500, many leaders make these common mistakes.
To ensure a more successful year next year, steer clear of these potential strategic planning problems:
1. More Aspirational than Actionable.
Many strategy sessions embrace lofty goals. It’s great to aim high, but you need a plan that will help you achieve what you set out to do.
As you’re mapping out your strategy, look at how your plans support the long-term strategic vision for your company. Then determine how those items will be translated into specific actions your team can accomplish within the next year.
If that exercise proves too difficult, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and rework your plan.
2. No Buy-In from Stakeholders
Employees work harder when they have a personal interest in achieving a shared objective. When it comes to crafting strategy, you might find that even your closest team – the people in the room doing the planning – are a little dubious but afraid to speak up.
After the group planning session, it is time to get buy-in. Have one-on-one discussions with the key players who are part of the process. Uncover any reservations or unspoken concerns early on.
Then go a step further and have your team take the preliminary strategy back to their groups for feedback. Consider this a reality check. What you’re looking for is input from people who are close to the customer, from operations, sales, marketing, and others who can pinpoint potential roadblocks the executive team doesn’t see.
You’re not asking these people to bless the strategy and you’re not giving them veto power. You are asking for input. “What do you think?” is a great question to ask. Are we aiming too high, or too low?
Figure out what roadblocks you might encounter internally and externally, then get back together and review the feedback. Make necessary adjustments and finalize your plans.
This step helps bring employees into the strategic planning process, giving them a sense of ownership in the objectives for the coming year.
3. Ineffective Metrics
It’s a natural tendency for people put their focus on things that get measured. They know they must have accountability, and most want to perform well.
Unfortunately many companies develop their strategy without a clear plan for evaluating progress. Your plans aren’t really done until you figure out the right metrics to monitor so you can properly track progress.
This is another time when the executive team should involve the rank and file. Many times I’ve seen random metrics come down as edicts that made no sense at all in the real world. When that happens, nothing gets tracked – or worse yet, the numbers are gamed.
Since you already have buy-in on the overall strategy, go back to your teams and ask them for 3 to 5 metrics related to each initiative that they believe are realistic for tracking.
The selected metrics should not create a significant amount of additional work. Ideally, they’re already integral to the existing workflow. (The exception being for a completely new program or activity.)
Ask for three targets to track: Conservative, Confident and Optimistic estimates for results. Naturally, you’ll want to review these as an executive team and make sure that they fit with your own performance expectations. Don’t let anyone low-ball you, and you don’t insist on unrealistic results. That will only set you up for failure.
Avoid these three mistakes and your company will enjoy dramatically improved odds of success. Emphasis on action, buy-In and effective tracking transforms your strategic plan from a slide deck that quickly disappears into the digital ether into a living, breathing plan to guide growth through the year.