How to Execute Your Strategic Plan in 2013

Over the past several weeks, you’ve spent countless hours with your team in strategic planning sessions–assessing your strengths and weaknesses, identifying new opportunities, analyzing potential threats and setting the course for your business over the next 12 months.

The result? An ambitious, yet achievable, strategic plan.

Congratulations! You’ve cleared a major hurdle many organizations fail to overcome. But your work is far from done. That beautiful document, filled with its colorful charts, projections, tactical plans and metrics, will amount to nothing more than an extremely expensive paperweight unless you faithfully execute it.

6 Reasons Why Plans Fail

Regardless of how sound your plan is, you’re bound to encounter challenges in implementation. Here are a few of the main reasons why strategic plans fail, according to Forbes:

  1. The plan was created simply for plan’s sake (i.e., because that’s what businesses do).
  2. The planning team fails to understand the business environment or to focus on results.
  3. Business owners / CEOs / presidents don’t fully understand how a strategic plan can improve their enterprises.
  4. The right people (i.e., those charged with executing the plan) are not involved in creating it.
  5. The wrong people are in leadership positions (i.e., management fails to ensure key leaders are champions for executing their strategic plan).
  6. No accountability or follow through.

Don’t let your plan fall victim to these traps. If your strategic plan is to be an effective management tool (and not merely a “nice idea”), you must have the people, resources, structure and culture to support its success.

Strategic Implementation

Make sure to have the right people on board. Sure, it sounds obvious, but do you have individuals on board with competencies and skills required to support your new plan? In the months following the planning process, expand your company’s overall skill base by training existing employees, hiring new ones and/or accessing specialized expertise on a temporary or contract basis.

Put your money where your mouth is. Make sure that your budget is aligned with annual goals and be prepared to assign adequate resources (which could include anything from money to man hours to physical space or equipment) to accomplishing the objectives you’ve outlined in your plan.

A formal structure of management, with appropriate lines of authority, is essential to your plan’s success. To ensure it’s implemented properly, designate a plan “champion” who is responsible for rolling out the plan, garnering internal support and coordinating regular strategy meetings to review progress.

Foster an environment that connects employees to your organization’s mission, increases plan buy-in and makes staff members want to achieve company-wide goals. To reinforce the importance of focusing on strategy and vision, reward success. Develop creative positive consequences for achieving objectives and negative ones if goals are missed. The rewards may be big or small, as long as they lift the strategy above the “day-to-day” so people make it a priority.

5 Additional Ideas to Ensure Strategic Success

  1. Go beyond your executive team. Nothing breeds commitment like involvement. Ensure your plan has a broad base of support by involving your company’s high performers and thought leaders in every step of the process, from planning through execution.
  2. Communicate your plan to all employees. Vary the way you communicate your strategy, depending on the personnel with whom you’re communicating. Provide a plain-English summary of your overall strategic vision (including your mission statement and key strategic priorities) to your entire staff. Additionally, provide customized documentation to each department that places particular emphasis on the objectives that are most relevant to each group’s work. The better your employees understand what you’re trying to achieve–and how their daily efforts can support those goals–the more likely they are to help you accomplish them.
  3. Align departmental goals with specific strategic objectives. As you roll out your plan, challenge departments to create their own objectives. Ask them to build annual, measurable goals that support the company’s strategic objectives. In this way, employees company-wide will develop ownership responsibility not just for their own accomplishments, but for those of the entire organization.
  4. Set specific, real-world objectives. To make your plan a reality, include expected timing and personnel accountability for the tactical components of your strategic objectives. Ideally, there should be one individual who is accountable to company management for reaching each objective.
  5. Revisit the plan regularly. Meet monthly with senior managers, department representatives and other personnel who are accountable for reaching your strategic goals. When you get together, ask the employee who is responsible for meeting each objective to give a quick status update. If progress is on track, that’s great; but if implementation is behind schedule, discuss the reasons and create a plan to get back on track.

Final Thoughts
Creating a strategic plan is one thing; successfully executing it is quite another. To transform your 2013 plan from a “nice idea” into a true roadmap for success, make sure that everyone in your organization–from front-line employees through senior management–understands it, buys into it and is held accountable for making it a reality.