How many times have you heard the word strategy in your career? More than you can count, I'm guessing. Strategy, "they" say, is what you need to get from Point A to Point B. But one of the most common complaints we hear from executives in big and small companies is that their strategic plans break down somewhere in the execution. According to a survey, an overwhelming 74 percent of executives don't have faith that their company's transformative strategies will succeed.
Why is that?
Many studies have concluded that the vast majority of strategic planning fails, up to 67 percent actually. In part, it's because the traditional way of thinking about strategic planning is totally backward.
Strategic planning was initially invented to provide a step-by-step plan to managers and doers within businesses to ensure they get it right. But, it turns out, giving someone a plan is far less effective than aligning your team on a vision or endpoint -- meaning, getting people clear on where they need to go as the starting point. That's the difference between strategic planning (analysis) and strategic thinking (synthesis).
Businesses grow, they shrink, and they evolve over time. To execute brilliantly, the strategic plans need to adapt in real time to the ultimate vision or future looking to be realized.
So how can you increase the likelihood of your strategic plan succeeding? Here are a few things we work on with clients to initiate a new method of strategic planning.
Think from the outcome realized and work your way back
Most people, when strategizing for the future, think in linear terms: "We are here and we need to get there," with "there" representing their long-term goals. Try flipping that model on its head.
Mark Johnson, author of Lead From the Future, argues that strategic planning requires a series of outcomes not from the present to the future but, rather, from the future back into the present -- as "future-back thinkers." Others may refer to it as reverse engineering.
Starting from the endpoint and working your way back is a highly effective way of designing a road map to realize the strategy or future you intend. And as a practice, reverse engineer many different pathways to get to the same place.
Master enrollment conversations
No matter how you define leadership, we say it's largely dependent on a single key skill: mastering enrollment conversations. By the way, enrollment is not about convincing, manipulating, and persuading others. It's the total opposite.
Consider this: You've successfully enrolled someone in your strategic plan or vision when you generate a possibility in their listening such that they see or recognize that possibility for themselves.
A leader's sole purpose is to realize a future that was not predictable or going to happen anyway. That's where management stops and leadership starts. Your main focus should be on getting your team aligned and inspiring coordinated actions throughout your company. To do that, you continuously must have conversations with various business stakeholders, each and every day. And your interactions will collectively determine the ultimate success you experience as a leader.
Do you think this kind of leadership skill is missing as the strategic plan gets distributed throughout the organization? Imagine what would be possible if key business leaders invested time to enroll their team in the vision behind the strategic plan (the future they are looking to fulfill) as opposed to mandating a step-by-step execution plan?
If you want people to get on board with your vision, you're going to need to involve them in the process and enroll them in that future. This small tweak will be a game changer when it comes to effectively planning for your company's ultimate performance.
Ensure quality is present
It isn't enough to just have a plan. You'll need to invest the time to have many conversations designed to clarify and address whatever comes up. Whatever time you think will be needed, double or triple that.
Ask yourself this: What unquestionably needs to happen for quality to be present? You can think of quality in your relationships, quality in performance or output, quality of alignment. We say that for quality to be present, a number of conversations need to take place. Period.
Constant, consistent feedback paired with evaluating what works and what doesn't is key to creating systems and plans that have the potential to last.
There's a reason so many businesses fail at executing their strategic plans as initially designed. In my opinion, the missing link is attributed to a focus on the steps in the strategic plans, versus holding the vision or future as the north pole guiding light. As McGill management professor Henry Mintzberg said, "the most successful strategies are visions, not plans."