Strategic planning efforts can produce high levels of anxiety in organizations. Worry is caused when new thinking changes the status quo leaving large numbers of folks concerned about the value of what they contribute in the new set of priorities. Since usually a smaller number of folks have been part of crafting the new strategic direction, the majority lack a deep understanding of the need to embrace a new direction. Long-range planning efforts often fail because the majority shun rather than embrace new thinking because they fear the changes it might bring.
There are many ways to ensure your new thinking is fully embraced. Set context repeatedly.
First, what is strategic context? Strategic context should simply communicate the whys for change and includes three elements from your strategic planning:
- How are we doing today and what are the beliefs about future success (the strategic assessment)?
- What are we ultimately striving to achieve (the long-range vision of success)?
- How do we plan to transform over time to achieve our ultimate goals (the strategic plan)?
When a new strategic direction is introduced, these three elements are typically covered in detail, but once management’s focus turns to implementation, it is seldom discussed. One and done context setting just isn’t enough for the majority who, upon listening to it the first time are only listening for “How is this going to change what I do?”.
The implementation phase of the strategic plan may be lengthy. For big organizations or for a significant strategic goal, it may be 18 to 24 months before new strategic objectives are operational. Even for smaller, more agile entities, implementation requires focused effort where repeating strategic context is required. For many, this will be the first time they will be listening for “What are the new goals I should be focused on?”.
Context is also needed at decision points during the first phase of implementation.
- When ideas are vetted and detailed action plans are formulated, context is needed to align plans with the strategic goals.
- When changes in operations are clearly defined and allocation or reallocation of resources are made, context provides the decision-filter to quickly move to consensus on these shifts in process or priorities.
We see great implementation planning efforts flop at this stage because they stray from their original charter because it was not used as decision-criteria before finalizing a recommendation or presenting a detailed implementation plan. Take time to review the strategic context and increase confidence.
Finally, early or significant results (quick or big wins) also provide opportunities to celebrate and tie efforts back to the strategic plan in a meaningful way. Strategic context at these times helps to connect the dots between the long-range planning efforts and the hard work of implementing it (more on this in the next blog post).
Those that have worked tirelessly to develop the strategic plan have fully internalized it and don’t always see the need to restate all the assumptions and underlying beliefs. Yet, when they fail to provide ongoing stewardship of the planning activities, they effectively create a disconnect between strategic thinking and strategic goals.
Provide detailed context at the onset and abbreviated context throughout the implementation phase, at all decision-making points and as for quick and big wins to ensure brilliant strategies take hold within your organization and become a reality.
Read the next in this series.
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