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Turning a Plan into Action

“How does our Strategic Plan actually…happen?”

This is a question that a client in York, PA, asked a few weeks back, and it’s not an uncommon one. The CEO believed that he had the right goal, but little seemed to be getting accomplished.

Jack Welch said “…strategy is straightforward. Pick a general direction and then implement like hell.” He’s right, of course (as he often is). Without actions and execution, how many strategic plans end up in binders in an office?

Success of a strategic plan depends, ultimately, on individual accountability. The next step in making the plan “happen” can’t be nebulous and/or too general. Developing actions such as “the purchasing department will review the process”, or “sales will increase calls to customers” with a date of “ongoing” (I hate “ongoing”) is a waste of time. Because in those two situations, who will the CEO go to for follow-up, praise for success or coach when it’s not done? An entire department? And when is a task that is “ongoing” really due?

To ensure that a plan is carried out, a specific action has to be as detailed as “Marty will call 3 customers each week beginning March 23”; it’s easy to measure and Marty knows what he’s responsible and accountable for. Even in the situations in which a process really is being reviewed, who starts it? What specifically happens next? In that example, you’d be much better off agreeing to “a meeting will be held by April 5th and initial recommendations will be presented by Brad by April 15th.”

The suggestions above will result in the Senior Manager knowing whether or not the company is on the road to realizing the strategic plan. Without accountability from specific tasks, names and dates, he or she is just hoping.