Executing Strategy – Planning

You have a top line strategy agreed – now you have to make it happen.  What kind of plans do you have in place to do that?  Most organisations will have plans of some description, whether strategic, or operational at department or team level, but how often are they actually used?

In some instances, plans are used as living documents, referred to and updated constantly.  Other times plans are seen as nothing more than a tiresome inconvenience that has to be produced simply to ‘tick a box’ and will offer no real value. Planning when done properly offers immense value to an organisation.  It creates the roadmap for future successes. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry famously wrote: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” I prefer:

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
Yogi Berra, former New York Yankees catcher.

During the ‘planning season’ a lot of effort goes into producing ‘the plans’ for the next 1/3/5 years.  These plans are then reviewed, signed off and then, sometimes, filed away – to be looked at the start of the next ‘planning season’!  The activity has been completed.  The output has been produced.  But the outcome has not yet been achieved and never will if that is all you do.  A plan is all about achieving an outcome.

Producing plans is part of the general business management process and the starting point must be the strategy.  In my previous blog in this series I talked about the strategy being the story of the organisation – where it wants to get to, what it wants to achieve and what it needs to focus on along the way.  While the CEO or equivalent in a public sector organisation, will generally own the Vision for the future, the ownership of the strategy itself lies with the senior management team.  Moving into the first stage of executing the strategy, the high level strategic plan will identify strategic initiatives and put a “timing and priority” framework around the strategy itself.  The responsibility for the production and communication of the strategic plan lies very firmly with the senior management team.  They will collectively agree how long the journey should be for the organisation to achieve its vision and what changes they expect to see at specific points in time along the way.

Just as I said in my previous article that the communication of the strategy is important, the communication of the strategic plan to all members of staff is extremely important to the overall success in achieving the vision.  How many times have you heard “I don’t know what it is that we are trying to do” or “I don’t understand how what I do contributes to our overall achievements”?  Everyone must feel valued and one of the ways for that to happen is through the alignment of the goals to be achieved with the activities that are completed on a daily basis by the staff  This is what leads to change.

So, with the strategic plan in place and understood, the more detailed, operational plans are created by the divisions/departments within the organisation.  The strategic plan is all about change whereas the operational plan covers both activities and initiatives that will result in change and the things that need to be done.  We cannot forget about the activities that “keep the lights on”.  But we should be asking ourselves:

  • Do we really need to be doing this?
  • What is the impact if we stop this particular activity?

When looking at operational plans I have found from time to time that people do things for no other reason than “it’s what we have been doing for the past 2/5/10 years”.  It can sometimes be very difficult to stop because it has become “expected”.  However, with a strategic plan in place, with agreed outcomes to be achieved, it may be easier to stop activities that are assessed to be neither essential to “keep the lights on” nor contributing towards a desired outcome.

“Strategic and operational plans are not a list of activities to be undertaken, it’s much more than that.”
Catherine Lavery

In my next 2 articles on Strategy Execution over the coming seeks, I will be looking at selecting the measures and then monitoring progress.  In the meantime, if you have any thoughts on the topic or would like to find out more, please get in touch.


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