Avoiding Strategic Planning Failure

This week’s guest is Leslie Heller, a management consultant focused on business strategy, change management and growth initiatives. He has 15 plus years in consulting and business leadership roles, where he led teams of over 1,200 employees, held accountability for over $850 MM in sales and $36 MM in payroll, and implemented growth initiatives in diverse business lines. Leslie’s motivation is to create an environment where businesses can implement change and deliver value for their customers. Leslie also volunteers as a mentor with Enterprise Toronto helping young people build businesses.

 

The strategic planning process is the time to develop corporate direction and vision that create value and excitement for companies and their stakeholders. This article highlights three points to include in the planning process that increase the chances of implementing a successful strategy. While no exhaustive list of what it takes to avoid strategic planning failure exists, these points will help planning at the team, project, division, business unit and company level.

1. Strategy and Execution

We often hear that “Strategies most often fail because they aren’t well executed”, but how “right” could the strategy have been if it failed in execution? If a strategy failed in execution it is likely that one or more of the following three points was missed in the strategic planning process:

i.     Ensuring the right skill-set is in place
ii.    Ensuring adequate resources are available
iii.   Ensuring processes to track, highlight and resolve issues throughout the project life-cycle are implemented

The ability to execute a strategy is part of strategic planning. When strategy ignores internal capabilities or does not address how capabilities will be addressed there is increased risk in delivering the strategic objectives. Spend the time to honestly assess internal capabilities upfront to avoid frustrating time-consuming issues later on.

2. Beware the Fouled Up System

In the article “On the Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping for B” (Steven Kerr, Academy of Management Journal, 1975, www.ou.edu/russell/UGcomp/Kerr.pdf), the author addresses how reward systems influence behaviour, and highlights examples where the behaviour does not align with the intent of the reward system. You likely have your own examples; for instance, when next years’ expense budget is based on current years’ spend, do all managers strive to find one-time (non-recurring) expense saving opportunities? How about if they are already surpassing their Plan… near year-end? Or consider performance metrics that measure attendance and productivity when a company really wants to measure employee engagement and quality. The down-stream impact of mistaking attendance for engagement or productivity for quality is increased customer support and rework that is often difficult to address, correlate and impact after the fact. Perhaps worst of all is the risk of setting strategy on misinterpreted business unit performance.

Selecting the right tracking metrics to influence employee behaviour within the strategic plan can be tricky and needs to be addressed, not only by strategy teams but by operational leaders who are more likely to identify disconnects between the intent of the reward system and the anticipated employee behaviour.

3. Change Management

Corporate strategies result in projects and projects result in change. Even positive change creates anxiety and needs to be managed (think about the last time you upgraded your corporate coffee system!). Change management is the act of using a structured process to lead the people side of change to increase the likelihood of project success.

According to Prosci, the world’s leading benchmarking research and change management product company, the top issues that derail change initiatives are ineffective project sponsorship, employee resistance to change and not using a structured change management approach. Change management has gained considerable attention lately and change management offices have popped up in banks and other institutions over the past few years. Including change as a topic in strategic planning, and then managing change with structured processes and communication plans should be built-in to the strategic planning process.

Summary

In summary, (i) ensuring executional capabilities are part of strategic planning, (ii) figuring out the best metrics to use to align employee behaviour to a new corporate direction, and (iii) using change management methodologies, will help your organization avoid strategic planning failure. Ensure that you include these on your strategic planning agenda!

For further information on avoiding strategic planning failure and change management you can reach Leslie Heller at lheller00@yahoo.com (Note: this is a summarized version of Leslie’s presentation at the 5th Annual Strategic Planning for Boards conference held in Toronto earlier this year.)

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Tags: avoiding strategic planning failure, change, change management, company, corporate direction, execution, Jim Stewart, Leadership, Leslie Heller, People, Planning, processes, ProfitPATH, strategic planning, strategy

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