I'M GOING TO CHANGE MY APPROACH TO CLIENTS who come to me for strategic planning services. Instead of me assuming that the process of building a plan is the most important part of planning (and of utmost importance to the client), I'm going to start by questioning the organization's ability and commitment to executing the plan once it's finally adopted. My experience has been -- and I know this goes for other planning consultants, too -- the wheels fall off the plan when the organization actually has to implement what it says it wants to do. Even when we spend hours creating detailed work plans it never ceases to amaze me that they are poorly used or not used at all.
It's often not for lack of desire that organizations fail to follow through on implementation. How many of you have heard or said, "We think this is important, but...." followed by the list of what stands in the way of execution. Top responses: no time, no money, no interest; stuff changed. What??!! Didn't you just create a plan to address all of that? Where was everyone during those conversations -- zoning out with a mental latte?
A lot of the time it's because there's no infrastructure to turn goals and strategies and all the rest into real actions -- even when the most basic tasks are identified. Committees aren't in place or aren't active; boards and staff slip back into old routines and outcomes; comfortable cycles of activity aren't shaken up, rearranged or questioned. Red tape isn't cut. People aren't reassigned. Or let go.
But peel back that onion a little further and what you generally find is a lack of foundational commitment from leadership to repurpose every aspect of operations in service to the plan. If the board and staff aren't wholeheartedly ready to execute, a strategic plan just a bunch of words, a hollow gesture in service to no one. We're talking sustained commitment here, not just for a meeting or a month, but for every day, for months -- and years -- on end.
So, I'm changing my approach to the planning conversation by talking about execution first. If there's remedial work to be done, we'll address it at the beginning and we'll keep reminding ourselves about it (and planning for it) as we move through the process.
How have you managed the risk of execution failure?