C-suite leaders have a knack for painting visions of the future. Often, those ambitious company visions are met with enthusiasm, yet within a few weeks, the excitement tends to wane. Whether you’re just starting to create a strategic plan or adjusting it partway through the year, everyone needs tangible company goals to keep the enthusiasm on a positive track. Fail to put an effective strategic plan in place, and your team might not know how to actually make those goals come to fruition.
Unfortunately, assembling and auditing a strategic plan isn’t necessarily intuitive. It can be challenging to lay out all the investments that will need prioritization in the coming months. Strategic planning helps everyone decide how to best allocate the organization’s time, money and resources. Nevertheless, the strategic planning process can be fraught with snags.
If you’ve undertaken some strategic planning tasks, you probably know some of these obstacles well. Fortunately, you can overcome the main obstacles to developing a healthy strategic plan by recognizing them when they pop up and understanding how to tackle them for future success.
Pitfall No. 1: A Lack of Priorities
Too often, a strategic planning committee will construct a laundry list of to-do items. Although the list might be deemed a strategic plan, there’s no strategy involved. It’s just a checklist in which every responsibility is as important as the one before it.
True strategic plans must lay out the priorities necessary to bring plans to life. One way to bake prioritization into your planning is to apply Vijay Govindarajan’s “Three-Box Solution” method, which necessitates that you selectively forget past activities, manage what’s happening in the here and now, and rank the importance of future activities.
When auditing your strategic plan, ask: “Which activities provide the best return on our investment based on our goals?” Remember that your priorities will undoubtedly shift from year to year. Therefore, today’s tactics will look different from the ones you implement in 12 months – not to mention the plans that were written before.
Pitfall No. 2: No Team Buy-In
Team members won’t see the importance of following your strategic planning framework if they don’t know their positions. For instance, you might expect an employee to accomplish certain objectives. But if you don’t let the employee know what those objectives are, then chances are that they won’t play their positions. This could mean that your strategic plan falls apart down the road.
To ensure buy-in, you must make your strategic plan accessible to all stakeholders. It must also outline who is going to do what, when, and why. It’s also impossible for team members to wow you if they aren’t motivated. And to be motivated, they have to see how and why their work matters.
A good question to ask yourself to build staff buy-in is, “What will our team members have to do differently for us to fulfill our strategic plan?” Just make sure that you’ve provided a meaningful incentive for them to put new habits into practice to promote your company vision. By taking the time to address stakeholders, you can audit your strategic plan to ensure each player is giving and receiving exactly what is expected.
Pitfall No. 3: Limited Resources
You can create the most technically sound strategic plan in the world, yet if it’s not grounded in the reality of your resources, it’s nothing more than a wish list.
Every year, take stock of your resources. Look at what you have to work with. From your findings, you can then apply a little Plato to your planning. That is, leverage the contemporary version of his famous “Republic” quote: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Focus on jotting down the resources you have. Afterward, conduct an analysis so you have an honest assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (or SWOT).
With your resources and SWOT analysis in hand, get innovative. Brainstorm clever, resourceful ways to see 10-15% improvement in specific metrics — think profitability or site traffic. You might be surprised at how ingenious your team can be when you have to reach a goal while being hindered by constraints.
Pitfall No. 4: Lack of Success Metrics
Which success metrics should make up the components of a strategic plan? Only you can decide. Just be advised that figuring out which metrics to choose from can be daunting. That’s where implementing a business scorecard can help.
A business scorecard includes a limited number of the metrics most important to your organization. The scorecard is used to both monitor activity and communicate progress. It can also help align employee behavior with strategic objectives. After all, the numbers on the scorecard will let you know when it’s time to start or slow down an activity.
What you measure on your scorecard sends a strong signal to your team, signaling them to pay special attention to those items. So plan your signals accordingly. At the same time, be sure to have a contingency plan if your scorecard metrics begin to drift off-course. That way, you’ll always have a timely response to keep control of your strategic planning process steps.
Think of your strategic planning framework as a series of guardrails that keeps your organization focused on key initiatives. Once those guardrails are in place, you can cruise ahead to your destination without putting your organization at risk of veering off-course. Taking the time to create a solid strategic plan and adjust it throughout the year will help ensure your company performs at the top of its game.