We routinely gather data on the completion rate by our clients of their Vision Navigation® plans. Having partnered a couple hundred times with a wide variety of clients on strategic plans over the years, very clear trends have emerged, and I thought I might share our findings with you.
The first finding, likely obvious, is that clients get better with experience. Second year clients do better than those in their first year, third year better than second, etc. Why? A good strategic planning process generates enthusiasm during the plan’s creation. But, it is created in the unreal world removed from the stress of the day-to-day, as one of our clients calls it, “the tyranny of today”. The result is teams tend to overestimate what changes they can bring about and challenges they can take on in their plan. Often, the reality is that leadership is already overwhelmed with operating the organization as it is today, without any new strategic work added to it.
Therefore, at the end of year one, clients may find they have missed many of their year-end targets, a “downer” for everyone. So in year two, management teams scale back realistically, heeding our advice to “under-promise and over-deliver” to their board of directors, stakeholders and staff.
However, success is not just about setting realistic expectations. There are strategies we have discovered that truly make a difference in successful strategic plans. The data proves it. Here are our lessons from the journey.
The keys to improved performance
- Clarity on the Work to be Accomplished: The Vision Navigation® chart lists all the outcomes needed to achieve plan targets using brief phrases, such as “Options for new phone system assessed” or “Twitter strategy developed“. The wording makes sense and is understood at the time the outcomes are created, but six months later, when a team member is starting work on an outcome, it can sometimes be unclear. So, we have inserted a piece in our process, the creation of a definition sheet for each outcome listing the steps to be completed. Agreement between the CEO and the team member completing the definition sheet is required on both what is to be produced in the outcome and the outline of the steps to get there.
- Frequency of Accountability: The data shows that accountability sessions to assess progress on outcomes and address challenges are essential, and that the timing of these meetings is important. Every two weeks is about right. More often is arduous, and there is not enough progress between meetings. Less often and teams find themselves behind without enough time to secure the help they need to catch up.
- Leadership Intention: Leaders that drive accountability hard have the most success. Those leaders with teams who have achieved over 90% completion of outcomes in their first year with Vision Navigation® are those whose nature it is to hold team members accountable. The Vision Navigation® chart just gave them a tool to make it easier. Driving accountability means holding each outcome that team members have committed to as an agreement and deeming a broken agreement as unacceptable.
- Avoidance of Migrating Outcomes: We encourage teams to revise their plans throughout the year to keep them accurate. However, what I found in my own business and what I see with clients is that, if you allow outcomes in a given quarter to be moved to a quarter further into the year, the outcomes eventually migrate off the chart into next year, and the plan targets aren’t reached. If a team member is behind and the reasons are system-related, e.g. not events outside the team’s control like a fire delaying the construction, etc., then keep the outcome where it is on the timeline and problem solve on how the team as a whole can help to get the project back on time. This creates added pressure or accountability.
- Management by Embarrassment: We encourage clients to make their plans as public as possible. Use them when reporting to the board of directors, post them widely for staff to see, put them on the company web-site etc. The impact on plan performance is that those responsible for an outcome don’t like others knowing they are behind. It goes back to when all of us wanted to have the most gold stars in elementary school. The impact is to create an urgency to get things done without leadership intervention, rather relying on human nature.
- Shift in Team Culture: A common practice is for management teams to be relatively easy on one another. By easy, I mean sympathetic to members being overworked, having life happen, etc. As long as a team member has a reason for not getting something done, it is OK. High performing teams create a culture I describe as one of “results, not reasons”, meaning that there are no acceptable reasons for breaking agreements. It is challenging to get there, but makes all the difference.
- Assure that the Plan Remains Accurate: There is a direct correlation between the number of revisions a client makes to their plan and outcome completions. Life never goes as planned. You quickly discover that some outcomes, perhaps even whole projects, are no longer relevant. New emergent projects may arise. There are changes in team members. The data shows that clients who revise their plans 2-3 times throughout the year perform the best. Alternatively, when a plan hasn’t been revised, there is less commitment to it. It is akin to your commitment to an outdated map that you know doesn’t have the new freeways on it. You don’t use it.
Audit your practices
Whether you are using our Vision Navigation® planning process or another plan, I am confident that these principles apply. Audit your own practices against these seven keys, make needed changes and let us know if it makes a difference. To pass on your experience or if you have questions about what we are recommending here, contact us.