About this time of year (the strategic planning season), a lot of business leaders get hung up trying to anticipate the future. Weirdly enough, such a preoccupation almost always ends up producing strategic plans guaranteed to generate dismal results.
Why? Because it's not events that will shape your future next year--it's how your business reacts to those events. No matter how prescient you are, you will still have to marshal the right response to future events when they occur. Let me put it this way: Twenty-twenty forward vision is no guarantee of future success.
What will the market do next year? What will my competitors do next year? How will the economy fare? What new technological or legislative or social events will impact our industry in the next 12 months? These and the thousand other questions that everyone uses to start the strategic planning process are perfectly well and good as just that--starting points. The mistake comes in how you respond to the answers.
Usually, company leaders respond to anticipated future events by detailing specific actions their organization will take. So far, so good. Most company leaders are intelligent people, so those questions--and the answers you come up with--are usually tenable, reasonable, sensible.
So where's the problem? It lies in the next part--when it's time to execute those planned actions. You discover (too late) that you simply don't have the capacity to do so.
This "capacity deficit" can be caused by any, some, or all of three factors:
What the cool kids these days call "bandwidth"--as in, "I don't have the bandwidth to do this"--everyone else calls "time." Business leaders often write strategic plans in blissful denial of the fact that almost everything contained in them is additive to schedules that are already filled to capacity. Result? When it comes time to implement, there's simply not time to do so.
Even when you allow for the additive impact of strategic plans (by adding head count, or dropping other initiatives that aren't producing positive results), consideration is rarely given as to whether your team has the skills required to effectively implement the plan.
Note that this doesn't necessarily imply that the team isn't competent. It's often the case that the skills, knowledge, and experience required to effectively implement a new strategic plan are simply different from those required previously, and there's no guarantee your existing team possesses those new skills.
This is where I see even the strongest plans fail--even in the hands of a very strong team. Place a Visionary plan in the hands of a Processor team, for example, or a Processor-generated plan in the hands of an Operator team, and you have a recipe for ineffective implementation.
So before you call "cut and print" on next year's strategic plan, ask yourself this one vital question: Can your team actually execute it? Have you considered time, ability, and fit?
Ensure that you and your team have everything you need to succeed in 2015. Join us at Inc.'s New York City headquarters for the ultimate year-end strategic workshop, led by Les McKeown. Get details here.