Fix your focus with your strategic plan
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Strategic planning seems to have no middle ground: It’s either an exercise that teams dread, or an indispensable guide for inspiration, direction and accountability. As Margaret Thatcher once described, “standing in the middle of the road is dangerous; it gets you knocked down on both sides.” Despite how polarizing this “iron lady” was, she gets credit for making decisions and taking action.
So what is strategy? As defined by businessdictionary.com, strategy is a “method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future.” Michael Porter of Harvard Business School admonishes, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” And Henry Mintzberg, an internationally renowned academic and author, advises that “most of the time, strategies should not be formulating strategy at all; they should be getting on with implementing strategies they already have.”
Whether you believe in developing a deliberate, multi-year strategy (a la Porter’s famous “Five Forces”) or you believe that strategy emerges through learning what works in practice (as Mintzberg posits), strategic planning is about focusing on a goal, making choices and getting things done. It’s about getting down the road toward the future you design.
So what can cause strategic plans to go bad? What can keep you standing dangerously in the middle of the road instead of coursing toward your desired destination? Clues as to where CEOs sit on the topic can be found in the Q2 2016 Vistage CEO Confidence Index Report.
According to the report, 73% of CEOs said the centerpiece of their strategic plan was either entry into new markets or adding new products and services. While these strategies will undoubtedly continue to require significant resources to support existing markets and products, the heavy lifting of launching new ones will create more pressure and complexity.
At the same, nearly half (48%) of those surveyed indicated that their most significant impediment to execution is resources. Add to this the fact that 37% of CEOs seem to point toward lack of organizational alignment as their biggest hurdle, whether caused by lack of communication (15%), buy-in (12%) or related to culture (10%).
The sad truth is that if the resources and alignment are not there, you do not have a plan; you have a hallucination. What makes a dusty strategic plan, well, dusty, is when its goals appear distant from the work of the team, or when its new initiatives are so under-resourced that implementation is an activity to check off the list versus something that leads to achievement.
The results of the Vistage survey send a clear message: Brilliant growth strategies that lack aligned teams and adequate resources for execution leave organizations stuck in the middle of the road. In other words, strategic plans go bad.