Ironically, one of the practices associated with a high completion rate of our clients on their strategic plan’s tasks and projects is that high performers revise their plans 3-4 times in their twelve-month plan year.
When we explain this, however, some clients feel it is counter-intuitive. Their view is that if the plan needs to be revised, then it must not have been of high quality to begin with. However, our finding is that, instead of reflecting poor planning, revisions reflect the active use of the plan as a management tool. No matter the initial quality of the strategic plan, if you are actively working the tasks you laid out, you will find that it never “goes as planned”. Eisenhower famously quipped that battle plans lasted only until the first shot is fired. The initial moon shot was on target only 1% of the time. High performance on your plan will arise in part from vigilant attention to the unexpected and the defining of plan revisions to address those changes.
What unexpected changes may accompany your journey requiring revisions to the strategic plan? To answer that question, let’s first back up to the thinking that created the plan to begin with. Each project or area of work on your strategic plan was chosen and designed to either grow the organization or improve its performance, i.e., each is simply an opportunity or threat that you deem needs to be addressed on your plan. A strategy or approach was chosen to accomplish each project, i.e., the strategy refers to the method you are going to use to seize the opportunity or address the threat. For example, what type of marketing or sales effort (strategy) are you choosing for a project to grow market share? Or, what type of system or process change (strategy) you are going to employ on a project to fix an internal problem like turnover or morale? Each project has implicit within it a chosen strategy. Once projects and their associated strategies are determined, a target is set for how much of the project will be accomplished at the end of the year, and the series of tasks or steps are developed to reach the target.
A brief example: your project may be to decrease turnover. Your strategy might be to increase communication throughout the organization so that staff feels more connected, involved and included. You might set a target of decreasing turnover from 15% to 10% by year end, and develop project steps or tasks that include a monthly newsletter, coffee breaks with the CEO, quarterly all staff meetings, etc.
So now that you have your plan, let’s go back to the unexpected changes that may warrant revision to that plan. Here are a few that we have seen more than once with our clients and our own PGS Vision Navigation® plan:
- Your strategies may be found to be ineffective. We employ a “metric” in our process, which should tell you whether the strategy (approach to a project) is having its intended effect. If not, get off it and develop a new strategy and corresponding set of tasks. Similarly, if the strategy is working, then you may wish to put more resources toward it, requiring additional project tasks.
- The target set for the project may be found to be unattainable as written. You may decide that the target you defined is in fact non-negotiable, therefore you need to assign more resources and project tasks to reach the target. Or you may choose to update your target, and leave the project tasks as they are.
- Cooperation needed to deploy the strategy may be lacking. This can result in a modification to project tasks, strategy, target or all of the above.
- You discover that additional or different steps or tasks are needed to complete the project as designed and reach the target.
- Changes in staffing may require that work on various projects be re-assigned
- Sudden changes or emergent needs in other areas of work outside your strategic plan may impact the ability of the individual or team to reach the targets on one or more strategic planning projects, necessitating a revision.
- An unexpected opportunity to grow the organization may arise, warranting a whole new project to be added to the plan.
Not addressing any of these changes could result in staff viewing the plan as no longer reflecting the real world. When that occurs, the commitment to the strategic plan dwindles, and that lack of commitment is justified because the plan is no longer relevant.
The moral of the story? Examine each project, its strategy, tasks and target at least quarterly, but preferably at each accountability meeting of the plan team (best practices are to hold these every two weeks). When reviewing a project, ask yourself whether the project is still warranted and doable given all that is occurring within and to the organization. Also, ask whether the strategy you are employing is effective and if all the steps needed to reach the target are included and accurately defined. Finally, ask if new opportunities warrant a new project being added to the chart.
Experience shows that the more you revise the plan, the more effective you will be in hitting your targets. Continuing with a plan that no longer reflects reality is like continuing to use an inaccurate roadmap to find your way when lost.
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