Both strategic and tactical planning and implementation are part science and part art. Like a hammer or a football, the intellectualization of their function and purpose does not make a person adept – let alone effective – in using them. Both require extended experience and careful attention to detail – practice in every aspect that is either involved or affected. But the process of planning – no matter how well it is done – is still an intellectual exercise until the plan is implemented. Creating a good plan is not enough as the results depend entirely on how these plans are executed.
Plans, at best, are indicators of direction to a business. They are useful in guiding it through challenges. A plan may be brilliant – a polished gem – but may be either poorly focused and designed in its structure and conclusions or implemented in such a way as to mar its perfection. Sadly some very fine plans end up in binders behind the CEO’s desk. Knowing where to go is not the same as getting there.
I do a lot of work in the area of strategic and tactical planning and implementation with senior teams. One of the most common reasons of an organization’s failure to execute plans successfully is that they are lousy at it. Sure, I encounter teams that cannot plan effectively but, far more often, I find teams that are good at planning but less than effective when it comes to implementation.
When I encounter this situation, I immediately recommend that we do a leadership, executive and organizational assessment. The process is quick and relatively inexpensive. The programs that I use generates data that helps to diagnose the problems and point out paths to correcting them. Most teams will repeat the same mistakes repeatedly. The results of the assessments helps to break that cycle.
With the assessments completed, I analyze the data and present it during a strategic retreat. My preference is that the meetings take place off-site and during non-business hours. Usually we take a weekend. When we focus on the implementation efforts, the baselines that the assessments establish bring the challenges into sharp focus. I have had CEOs tell me that the presentation of the data alone saved his team half a day of arguing about what the problems were. Every time I make such a presentation, the clarity in the room is hard to miss. We can then put problem definition behind us. This allows us to move on to the next stage – dealing with the problems rather than defining them.
We use the assessment in discussions of recent implementation efforts by the team. By adopting a ‘case method’ approach, we begin to see how the leadership characteristics, executive skills and organizational resources of the company have conspired to produce a less than optimal results.
At some point in the retreat, one of the participants comes to a fundamental realization – that we are implementing the implementation process – that the focus is not on intellectualizing but on acting effectively. This is the great lesson of the effort. The very process of making the assessments, using them to define the challenges and then drawing on the institutionalized memory of the team to develop solutions is precisely the model for good implementation. The latest strategic plan comes onto the table and the group begins to focus on action steps. The energy level in the room tends to increase sharply.
Most organizations can significantly improve their implementation. In my role as a facilitator and adviser, I help the team develop and implement new and more productive approaches to the process. In many cases, the impact – financially and organizationally – of these new approaches has made the difference between stagnation and accelerating growth. Implementation may be part science and part art – but it is neither rocket science nor astrology.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD
I provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I also provide advisory services to CEO and senior teams – particularly mid-market companies. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we can arrange a time to chat.