How do you ensure that your great plan doesn’t unwind during implementation?
I have written before about being patient during the implementation of your new strategic direction and also about having the confidence to believe in your plan through the messy implementation plan phase. But there is another dynamic to be aware of. A pitfall that, if not managed appropriately, will unwind a great plan.
Malicious Intent or Neglect?
By maliciously, I mean people in the organization, unhappy with the new direction, purposefully setting out to derail it during the implementation phase. I know this happens and you need to guard against it, but that is not unwinding your plan, that is sabotage. Unwinding a plan happens through neglect, during the implementation phase and is a direct result of naive leadership thinking the job is done. They believe, wrongly, that once the big picture is set, the overall plan is laid out their work is done. Nope, that is a pitfall.
Years ago, when I was a young executive, the President of our brand had a full blown temper-tantrum months after our new strategic plan had been “rolled out”. He was getting a report on progress and saw that nothing from the plan had been addressed and he just stated yelling, “We can’t implement ANYTHING!”. If I knew then, what I know now I would have said. “Shame on you. Where have you been?” He had been heavily involved in every aspect of the plan's formulation and his insights and wisdom was invaluable. But once the plan was presented to the board and "blessed", he moved on. Expecting we would "just do it", as the Nike slogan, so popular at that time, declared.
The reality is that when a new direction is defined and the plan is set, your work as a leader is far from done. Even if you have the best team of line managers around, they need you. Yes, it is the department heads and functional area managers job to create the plans to implement on the new strategic direction, but they are typically not fully equipped to drive the essence of the strategic direction through the entire planning process, and it starts to unwind. One thread at a time. First when making a change will mean a customer or key partner will be unhappy or uncomfortable. (What? They will hate this. I'm not going to tell them.) Then, when an issue is raised that was never brought up in the planning discussions another thread is pulled. (Did you talk about...? Well, how do we deal with it?) Soon, the implementation plan looks like the same plan that drove the operations last year. ("We can't implement ANYTHING!")
To see new ideas take hold or new priorities shift, you have to continue to guide the way your organization engages with this new thinking as it strives to implement. The planning process cannot address all the varieties of implementation specifics that come up and only those that created the core thinking can help translate the right response to these realities. However, the leaders that created the plan cannot do all the planning either, so what is the right balance of communication, engagement and review? Here are three practices to adopt to avoid this pitfall when moving to the implementation phase of your new plan.
1. Allow time for deep understanding. Set up enough time to review the basis of your new direction. Conduct in-depth presentations with all managers to lay out your Strategic Assessment, your long-range Vision and how you will move over time to achieve this vision – your Strategic Direction. Allow them to add to the discussion and ask questions about it. Make sure you explain why this is the best direction for all of your future success: the WHY Story.
Always be prepared to answer the “How does this affect me/my department/my job?” Typically a new direction does not immediately impact a department or function, so it is easy and honest to say, “Nothing in this new direction impact operations today.” But if it does impact a department of function significantly, you have to move fast to get ahead of that message before sharing anything about the new direction. Separate meetings are required BEFORE an organization wide-presentation. The WHY Story is critical here to provide context for a significant change.
2. Authorize the next level of strategic planning. Set up a functional or departmental planning process to deliberately and consistently engage operationally with this new strategic direction. This is NOT your annual planning process. The annual planning process is typically a budgeting process; this is strategic planning at the department of function level. It focuses on the new ideas and how to embrace them and achieve the timeline of your Strategic Direction layout by department or functional area.
Personally kick off each of these processes and tell the WHY story to each group. Make the role they play in the success of the new direction clear and significant. Again, allow for questions and clarify as they start to embrace it.
3. Manage integration across the organization. Convene cross-functional planning forums so you and all department heads can hear how the plans are developing. The key here is listening for integration points that can be optimized, call out gaps where no one has addressed an aspect of the plan that they should have, and align or eliminate rogue interpretation of the direction where new, unauthorized ideas or personal agendas have seeped into plans and priorities.
Take hold of the planning integration to guide and align the implementation. You’ve laid out the high level direction and your managers have taken that direction and crafted their interpretation. If it isn’t right, speak up. You can change it now. Don’t wait until the plans have been executed to shout about how it is not what you expected.
To ensure the ideas and goals in your plans are manifested, it is not enough to craft and present them. You must carefully curate their implementation so they are intertwined with existing priorities and operations. Your team will feel empowered and motivated by your engagement and you will see accelerated performance against your objectives. The only shouting will be over the pops of champagne bottles celebrating your success!
How well prepared is your team to lead implementation of your strategic plan?