Your 15-point strategic planning checklist – Part 3

My previous post in this series described the reasons for the preferred answer to questions 2 and 3 on the list I provided. Today, let’s deal with questions 4 and 5.

Question 4:

Do you have more than five strategic goals in your plan?

As with the previous question, a “no” answer is preferred. Fewer and more focused plan goals tend to be much more effective. The key here is to avoid overloading your plan with more than you can accomplish. It is far easier to envision numerous plan goals during strategic or operational planning sessions that it is to have a disciplined and more restrained approach that limits the number of plan outcomes to a manageable set.

The problem with having too many plan goals is that each goal must be threaded through the layers of the organisation in order to be ultimately accomplished. Each goal mushrooms into many supporting initiatives as the plan gets fully developed, often leading to a tangled mess that lacks any clarity or focus of what the plan goal was there to accomplish in the first place.

Another reason why it is problematic to have too many simultaneous operational initiatives supporting a bloated strategic plan is that managers don’t have the time themselves, nor the resources at their disposal, to maintain focus in such circumstances. This leads to plan goals that carry over into the next plan cycle and are not achieved on time.

We suggest that, as part of your planning process, you conduct a relative valuation of each plan goal (key outcome) in order to see how it stands out relative to the others on the table. We use various formulas in our approach to accomplish this, but a simple technique is to use variables such as “Importance of the outcome” and “Satisfaction with the current state” to help score and rank your goals.

The key is to have in place a prioritisation process that applies a balanced set of criteria against each desired outcome.

Question 5:

Are any of your plan goals not related directly to measurable outcomes?

If you answered “yes”, then why is that the case? Plan goals should really be thought of in terms of outcomes that will mean something tangible to your customers and the markets your organisation serves. Following that thought, outcomes can and should always be measured and managed vertically and laterally through the layers of the organisational units responsible for taking action related to initiatives supporting plan goals.

Likewise, plan outcomes need to be managed and measured where they involve parties external to the enterprise, such as suppliers, channel partners, lobbyists, and so on.

Good plan execution boils down to accountability. The execution of strategic plans in large organisations requires a complex interoperability between divisions, departments and teams across the enterprise. We must depend upon our teams to deliver, but, as the late President Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify”. If you are unable to measure advancement towards the completion of each strategic goal, then isn’t accountability missing in your strategic plan? If you are not sure, then it is likely missing. Without proper accountability built into strategic and operational plans, you can expect them to fall short of expectations.

If you do feel that your plans suffer from the omission of accountability, this provides yet another opportunity to go back and make a high-impact improvement that will help achieve plan outcomes this year. Performance must be managed, and in order to manage performance you must measure it. There is simply no way to track to the delivery of the strategic goals of the business without defined accountabilities that allow for this to happen.

Accountability requires specific time frames along with measurable targets. Earlier in this article, we mentioned that plans should be refreshed quarterly. As a part of the refresh process, status reviews should be conducted to track overall progress to plan goals. These reviews offer management good visibility into the initiatives under way and help provide an understanding of the interdependencies of the various programmes that exist across the enterprise.

Obviously, most operational initiatives will span a number of months and normally wouldn’t be expected to be launched and completed during one quarter. That said, don’t expect to cross things off the list during every quarterly review. Regardless, quarterly reviews provide for early detection of problems and give management the opportunity to take corrective action when needed.

As mentioned earlier, quarterly plan refreshes yield many benefits. In terms of accountability, the quarterly plan refreshes allow for performance feedback to be factored in during the review cycle. Based on plan goal attainment or missed targets, it provides an excellent opportunity for management to adjust schedules and resource allocations or take corrective action with those accountable if warranted.

To make this whole process possible, job accountability should be kept current with the company’s plan goals through systematic updates to job descriptions and compensation review criteria. This is simple to say, but can be a daunting task for any size organisation. Regardless, the investment in time for this activity is well worth while and is a requirement to truly have accountability in your strategic and operational plans.

My next post in this series will help you evaluate your responses to questions 6, 7 and 8. For clarification of any of the points mentioned above, email me or call me on 020 7099 2621.