By Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success
It’s strategic planning season, and business leaders everywhere are focused on the future and what it will bring. When you add the tumultuous U.S. election to the mix, it’s easy to see why so many become preoccupied with it.
Strangely enough, such a fixation almost always ends up producing strategic plans that are guaranteed to generate dismal results. Why? Because it’s not events that will shape your future next year – it’s how your business reacts to those events that matters.
Regardless of how prescient you are, you still have to marshal the right response to future events when they occur. Let me put it this way: 20:20 forward vision is no guarantee of future success.
What will the market do next year? What will my competitors do next year? How will the economy fare once the new president is sworn in? What new technological or legislative or social events will impact our industry in the next 12 months?
These and the thousand other questions that all of us use to start the strategic planning process are perfectly well and good as just that – starting points. The mistake comes in how we respond to the answers.
Usually, we respond to anticipated future events by detailing specific actions our organization will take. So far, so good. Most business leaders are intelligent people, so those questions – and the answers we come up with – are usually tenable, reasonable, sensible.
So where’s the problem? It lies in the next part – when it’s time to execute those planned actions. We discover (too late) that we simply don’t have the capacity to do so.
This ‘capacity deficit’ can be caused by any, some, or all of three factors:
What the cool kids these days call ‘bandwidth’ – as in “I don’t have the bandwidth to do this”, the rest of us call ‘time’. We often write strategic plans in blissful denial of the fact that almost everything contained in it is additive to schedules that are already filled to capacity. Result? When it comes time to implement, there’s simply not time to do so.
Even when we allow for the additive impact of strategic plans (by adding headcount, or dropping other initiatives that aren’t producing positive results), consideration is rarely given as to whether or not our existing team has the skills required to effectively implement the plan.
Note that this doesn’t necessarily imply that the team isn’t competent – it’s often the case that the skills, knowledge and/or experience required to effectively implement a new strategic plan are simply different than those required previously, and there’s no guarantee that our existing team possess those new skills.
This is where I see even the strongest plans fail – even in the hands of a very strong team. Place a Visionary plan in the hands of a Processor team, for example, or Processor-generated plan in the hands of an Operator team, and you have a recipe for ineffective implementation.
So before you call ‘cut and print’ on next year’s strategic plan, ask yourself this one vital question: can your team actually execute it? Have you considered time, ability and fit?