Complex strategy

June 2012 » Columns » BEYOND WORDS
Gerry Salontai

Most companies today have some form of a strategic plan that is intended to guide the long-term vision and direction. But far too many plans end up either too complex or too vague to be effective. They seem to die before implementation. And yet the need to develop effective strategies that propel a company forward is the cornerstone of the business. How do you get away from the complex or vague plans that don't get executed?

Developing effective strategic plans begins with the right amount of preparation and research to find those initiatives and strategies that will drive your business. This is not a "seat of the pants" brainstorming exercise at an impromptu meeting, nor is it a research effort to find the cure for cancer. Rather, it is a process that requires the right combination of upfront preparation that is then integrated into meetings with key leaders.

The upfront preparation should include a balanced evaluation of your internal resources available to execute, your internal operating environment, the competitive landscape, and those external trends that will impact the business. This can be done by having teams create short reports in narrow focal areas that glean information from topical sources, client/owner interviews, and staff surveys. This information is then distilled by a small group of leaders chosen based on their ability to think strategically —€“ not because of their title, position, ownership position, or longevity with the company. The addition of some "next generation" leaders in this part of the process will bring fresh viewpoints and can constructively challenge the status quo. Asking industry experienced experts to make presentations can also improve the process.

The key in developing effective plans is to reduce the number of initiatives selecting those critical few that will make the difference and drive change. Some have a temptation to take on dozens of initiatives and then try to accomplish everything at once in order to conquer the world. Don't forget that you have a business to run. So you must ensure that the company has the financial capital, human (talent) resources, processes, and systems available to take on the initiatives developed. If there are shortfalls in any of these, re-think the scale of some of the initiatives or develop an initiative to overcome these. Again, don't make it too complex nor vague.

After you have a plan a roadmap the real work begins. The chance of success during implementation is greatly increased by identifying a single champion to each initiative. This person should "own" that initiative and be charged with the authority and responsibility to carry it out to completion. Using a co-champion or committee approach is fraught with problems and generally ends up with unachieved results. Having a single champion doesn't mean they do all the work, but simply designates the person in ultimate charge to attain the desired results.

Effective plans also ensure that all the stakeholders are on board and committed to success. There certainly can't be holdouts at any level of the organization that has an influencing role. And ensure plans are clearly communicated to the entire organization, so that every employee understands where the company is going, why it's important, and their role in achieving the desired results. The best plans clearly align the performance system and measurements in order to achieve the expected outcomes.

Finally, plans should be monitored and contain feedback provisions to determine how well you are doing against the objectives, the established metrics, and overall schedule. This is the best way to ensure progress, but more important is to measure if the strategy that was developed is driving decisions that will create real progress. It is also important to validate whether the external world has changed since you formulated the strategy and if the initiatives are working making a difference in the results and in the marketplace.

Plans that contain initiatives with supporting strategies that are focused on the right things, have the right stakeholders engaged, are well communicated, and are aligned to the individual goals of staff rise to the top. And, simplicity trumps complexity every time.

Gerry Salontai leads the Salontai Consulting Group (www.salontai.com), a management advisory company focused on helping companies achieve success in the areas of strategy, business management, and leadership. He can be reached at 858-756-5169 or gerry@salontai.com.


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