Strategic planning sessions are exciting! After all, you are part of an important discussion about creating and innovating the future of the organization. One of the best benefits of these sessions is that the leadership team gets on the same page – to understand and commit to the primary direction of the organization as well as the key strategies to get there.
And that’s nice, but not enough. After you have packed up the flipcharts and walked away, you have to translate those ideas into focused action. My preference is to create a one-page plan that guides the organization’s efforts. (I have never seen the three-inch, three-ring binder ever be more than credenza-ware!).
But that’s still not enough. There has to be an accountability drumbeat that marches the organization along. Otherwise, the plan remains a wish-list. People get busy with their day-to-day activities and attend to these strategic items “when they get time.” Who’s kidding who? Who has extra time? By the inherent definition of strategic initiatives – things that we aren’t currently doing that will significantly propel us toward our desired future – we won’t do them unless it becomes a priority!
To make your strategy a priority, here are some ideas:
- Have a “champion” for each strategic initiative. This is a person – typically the person high enough in the food chain who has the most to gain (or lose) when the initiative is completed. They can be selected, elected, or appointed to oversee progress to plan and clear any roadblocks the organization encounters in achieving the goal. The champion doesn’t do it all, but they are the official program managers, nudgers, facilitators to make sure stuff gets done.
- Have the strategic planning team and champions come together on a periodic basis to look each other in the eye and ask, “So howzitgoing?” When launching a new plan, you might want these meetings to be bi-weekly, and then as the drumbeat takes hold, you can space the meetings out to monthly. In that meeting, have each champion report progress. Accomplishments, challenges, what’s needed, and what will happen by the next time they meet. Don’t forget to note who needs to be recognized and celebrated for their achievements!
- Treat your strategic plan just like you would any project. Assign a knowledgable project manager to oversee progress and help the champions work their magic within the organization. Having an overall project plan and timeline is helpful, noting the dependencies between strategies is even better! I also suggest this person report this function directly to the CEO and/or President (who is the ultimate owner of the plan!). I highly recommend a monthly scheduled one-on-one as well.
- Create a “line of sight” to the strategic goals through the performance appraisal system. There are lots of online tools to help you with this, but the easiest thing to do is to sit down with each manager and discuss how they can contribute to the success of each initiative. Sometimes, this conversation is pretty obvious. Sometimes, you really have to help them think about how they can support others in the organization. Ideally, you want to drive that “line of sight” down to each employee!
- Carve out time. There will never be enough time in the day to work on strategy. After all, it’s important work to do, but not urgent. There is no telephone screaming at you to pick it up or an email demanding to be read! So create that sense of urgency by blocking out times to work on strategy. And if something trumps your “meeting” – don’t delete it from your calendar! Just reschedule it to a better time.
- Weekly check. Some of us have crazy calendars and can’t really block off time. But we CAN identify the one, two or three things we can do this week to keep making progress. Keep this list front and center, and when you find a block of time, work on ONE thing. Doesn’t have to be huge, just the next thing that needs to be done: make a phone call, download a report, study the report, talk to a stakeholder….you get the idea! Lots of little things can add up!
- Post a “team task list” in a common area. This list has the assigned, and not yet completed tasks, responsible person and due date. Check or cross the task off the list when done.
- Display metrics. Many strategic goals have a results-oriented, as well as a process-oriented metric which can be visually displayed in a common area. Keep these metrics updated so all can see progress (and note how important they must be since they are hanging on the wall!)
So those are my ideas to create an accountability drumbeat to your strategic plan. What are your ideas?
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.