The Essence of Strategic Planning Success

By Rick Houcek

Did you know, according to a recent collaborative study, only 12% of companies successfully execute their strategy?

That is horrible!

And if you’re leading the charge in your organization or team, and it’s happening to you, let me share with you a 9-step process, a system, a formulaic approach to reversing those results.

You want to establish an unfair fight in the marketplace.  No, I don’t mean unethical or illegal.  I mean you want game-changing, competitive, strategic advantages your competitors likely don’t have.

In my experience, having led almost 300 offsite strategic planning retreats for aggressive growth-oriented small and mid-sized businesses, these are typically the causes of failure:

  • No clear vision for the company or no buy-in to the existing vision by the leadership team.
  • No crystal clear, laser-focused action plan.
  • Lousy, weak, unclear, non-specific, non-motivating, poorly-communicated goals. Or no goals at all.
  • No one reliably performing important action steps, deadlines being missed, work incomplete, lackluster performance.
  • No bullet-proof system of accountability.

When I lead leadership teams in offsite retreats, here are the 9 critical steps that generate success:

  1. You’ve got to pick the right team. You’ve got to make sure the people at the table represent all disciplines of the business.
  2. You’ve got to do a pre-retreat questionnaire – best done involving everyone in the company so you get input from all corners of the organization, to flush out bit opportunities and thorny problems.
  3. Use an outside facilitator. Facilitation from the inside tends to not be objective.  When you use an outside facilitator it’s someone who can call a spade a spade; someone who can spot the snickers and darting glances, and call those out, get to the bottom if it, and resolve the issue.  Someone inside will be too timid to do that to co-workers.  When the CEO facilitates – although the title definitely give her or him the authority – a big unspoken problem arises.  Attendees believe the leader has a pre-determined plan already in mind, won’t pre-announce it, and will use the power of the gavel to force her will, ever so subtly.  Attendees believe this to be true, even when it isn’t.  So leaders are well served to use an outside facilitator.
  4. Do one-on-ones before the retreat between each team member who’s on the retreat team and the facilitator. This allows them to establish a rapport so no one is a stranger going into the meeting.
  5. The CEO needs to have no pre-determined plan going in – so the team can collaborate and create the plan together. This is essential in order to get buy in.  The team has to know and believe that they are genuine co-creators of the plan and that the CEO does not have a pre-determined plan up-front.
  6. You need to create a crystal clear 3-year strategic vision. You have to answer simple questions like – in 3 years who will we be and what will we be selling then?  Who will we be selling to?  Where, geographically, will we be selling?  What is our USP in 3 years?  That’s a unique selling proposition that differentiates us from competitors and provides compelling and enduring value to customers.  What strategic initiatives will drive our growth over the next 3 years?  How do we define success?  And what are the non-negotiable traits of all employees – the culture piece?  Those are all components of a 3-year strategic vision.
  7. You must define 3-year financial targets for years 1, 2, and 3, so everyone knows how high the mountain is we are climbing.
  8. You must create 1-year goals with action steps and people responsible by name for the action steps so you can track action.
  9. You need tough accountability that includes consequences for non-performance and monthly check-up meetings to make sure the plan is happening.

Put these 9 critical steps to work for your company to drive your strategy and implementation success.


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