An air sandwich? It couldn't sustain you very long, could it? Yet, time and time again we see organizations trying to drive strategic performance with just this sort of dish: big vision on the top, budgets on the bottom and nothing in between. Is your plan full of air?
Even after all my years working with amazing teams of creative and committed individuals, I am surprised at how many times terrific strategic planning breaks down during the implementation stage. This happens when a team or person takes the lofty goals from the strategy creation discussions and trys to fit them into their own view of what should happen next. Each person or group is left to decide how to embrace or integrate new thinking on their own. The high level goals are slapped on to the operational plans and what's the result? Less than enough to sustain great momentum,.
Does this ring true to you?
How do you know if your plan is an air sandwich, AND what do you do to fill it in?
You have an air sandwich if during implementation one or all of the following things happen:
- Implementation plan raises more questions than it answers. “Have we tested this with our customers?” or “What research are you planning to do before you implement?” These types of questions are a way of saying: Hold on, you are jumping into action too quickly. There is more planning needed before you can take these types of steps.
- Functional area or department plans looks just like the plan presented last year. "How does this deliver on what we agreed to in our strategic plan?" This indicates that the author(s) either don't agree with the new direction, assumed it does not impact them or didn't know how to integrate new thinking into their department's efforts.
- You hit your first set of objectives, but no one seems to understand what to do next.
How to fill in the air sandwich?
Fight the urge to get into implementation steps right after you craft your big new concepts. This can be hard, but big, new concepts are just that CONCEPTS not STRATEGIES. They are not yet ready for implementation planning, yet. Don’t let your team run off and design how to implement the concept until you have stewarded the strategy development. You need to dig deeper into the concept and the implications of embracing it BEFORE acting on it.
After you have decided that the big new concept is worthy, you should immediately assign a team to flesh this concept into a full strategy. Have this group find "the meat" and fill in the air sandwich with a full the story between the goals and your first steps of implementation. Once you have a full strategy, you can authorize implementation planning.
Start at the end and work backward. It is more challenging to think this way, but keep asking your team, “What would need to happen for us to get here?” (Here being your ultimate goal). Keep working backward and reordering until you have a solid trail from now to then!
Share and test your ideas with key influencers or “friendlies”. Listen closely to the questions they ask. Ask them how this would align with their perception of your firm’s strengths and who you would be competing against if you took this approach. Take these insights and update your plan to move ahead with more solid footing.
Don’t let your excitement of a great new idea or an engaging planning session derail your good thinking. When a strategic planning session ends, it is the beginning of a deeper, but more narrowly defined planning effort. Don't just slap together an air sandwich and think you are done. Focus the momentum your efforts have unleashed and manage the next phase of planning and strategy development to sustain your new strategic focus.