Why Don’t Strategic Plans Succeed?

By Chuck Marshall, CRCM

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Do you ever take a drive without a specific destination in mind, and end up back where you started and with nothing to show for it? That’s fine for Sunday afternoon drives, an evening with family and friends, or some mindless channel surfing, but unfocused adventures like this produce very unsatisfying results when you have your business on the line.

Strategic plans that don’t begin with a solid foundation and roadmap, or include the appropriate people with the right information, or set goals that are too broad, or create action plans that don’t have enough specificity, are self-limiting and ineffective.

Here are steps for creating successful strategic plans, with suggestions on how to overcome the areas which are most frequently flawed and result in unsatisfying results.

Steps for Strategic Plan Success

  1. Specify the Purpose: Vision and Mission statements are important, but only if they are up to date, not too general, and viewed as a resource by the planning team. The purpose of a strategic plan is to set a course for your organization, and the Vision and Mission statements give this direction. Evaluate whether they provide fundamental direction regarding some basic questions:
    a. What do we do, and where do we do it?
    b. What geography will we serve?
    c. What constituencies will we target?
    d. How much risk should we take?
    e. How do we measure success?
    f. Where and what do we want to be in one, three, and five years?
  2. Consider all the People: The planning team needs the right people at the table with the right information. Has the bank involved the Board of Directors to take on the “big” issues and provide focus for management? Do the “C” suite executives have all the information they need? Are there the requisite technical specialists or those with oversight in those areas involved in the process? What pre-work has been done – assessments, surveys, peer analysis, etc.?
  3.  Set Clear and Measureable Targets: The final plan should establish definitive goals along with the specific actions to be taken to move the organization forward. It should define targets or include measurements to identify progress. Goals or actions that are too general or too all-inclusive result in lack of focus.
  4. Execute and Follow-up: Having commitment to the plan or to affect change in an organization is key. Great plans in attractive three-ring binders look good on bookshelves, but lack of execution or real accountability to take action is frustrating to those who participated in the creation of the plan. What follow-up processes are in place to insure progress toward the established tasks, actions, and goals?
  5. Facilitate the Process: Management buy-in to the plan is directly related to management input throughout the process. Use of a facilitator allows fuller involvement from all involved and allows Chairpersons, CEO’s and Presidents to listen and participate.

These seem like fundamental planning concepts, but not taking them seriously can ground your business (plan). Pro baseball players take batting practice, pro football players perform blocking and tackling drills, and businesses constantly deliver training to keep their employees up to date. The same is true for strategic business plans – they need navigation, attention, consistency, and forward momentum to reach goals.

Your business deserves your best planning efforts and keeping these processes in mind will help insure a productive planning session and a solid plan for the future.

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