The last two Delfi Blogs have addressed the importance and means of anchoring a business strategy solidly in the future world in which your business will operate. Today we will tackle the reality that the vision must be followed by the venture. Or expressed another way….”it is not enough to simply stare up the steps – we must actively step up the stairs”, if we are to achieve our strategy.
We often hear the phrase “all talk and no action” to describe someone who thinks or promises ‘big’ but delivers ‘small’. This is a common excuse why some businesses have stopped doing strategic planning – because without an operational plan to implement the strategy, exactly nothing happens. The vinyl trophy gathers dust on the shelf – and no one wants to invest the renewal energy for a plan that goes nowhere. So let’s focus on “stepping up the stairs” and turning your strategic vision into action and reality ….via the very important “operational plan”.
As with our last two Blogs, there are some simple questions to guide you on your way. Let’s assume that you have built a business strategy for the year 2020 centered around 4 strategic imperatives – or areas where you definitely want to focus your efforts towards over the planning period. Now pick one of these imperatives – and remember your identified target accomplishment in this area. Imagine you are reading an article in Canadian Business about your success in this strategic area. What is being reported ? What are your employees saying ….your customers or clients, your competitors ? Then step by step – in reverse order – identify what you had to do to get you to this point of success. Getting a person to the moon is a lot easier to do if you know how to get him home. Operational planning is the same reality – knowing what you had to accomplish and in what sequence to reach this success point forms the basis for operational planning. Then for each of the steps in this first success sequence, ask the question again and fill in a little more detail. Next, move onto the next strategic imperative in your strategic plan, repeating the same two-phase questioning exercise. At the end you will have a long list of component actions that must be completed to be successful.
Please re-read the next sentence several times and let it sink in. “Rome was not built in a day – your strategic plan is a multi-year plan rather than a single year plan”. So start chunking the work into manageable work packages and set an appropriate timetable that will let you reach your destination by the end of your planning period. Few people will attempt to climb Everest– but they are ready to walk up smaller hills. Or as a fearless downhill skier friend once said in a coaching manner – “relax….this monstrous scary downhill is nothing but a bunch of smaller easier hills one after another”.
Just a few more steps and you have an operational plan. Beside each work package, document your “who, what, when” analysis to establish who has the responsibility, what has to be done and by when. Then analyze and plan the required resources to accomplish the work, and finally, agree on the measurements that will be used by everyone to track ongoing performance against the plan. Put it all in a nice spreadsheet using an easy colour coding for “all is well”, “oh..oh”, or “call 911” and do a quick visual review at regular leadership or team meetings. Link results to your internal performance management and compensation system…and viola – an operational plan designed to move from Vision to Action.
It does take some discipline and focus – but the basics really are this simple. The strategic imperatives of your plan were just that – imperatives – critical things to be accomplished by a fixed date. Your operational plan is the way that you must methodically step up the stairs. You must do the walk to get to the goal.
After developing s strategic and operational plan with our Delfi clients, we follow-up with an annual half-day review exercise at the end of each year of the plan. This is a great time to ensure that the client did not miss a huge trend that might change then business, and to reflect on the past year and the success or challenges with the targeted achievements. Then if all is well, it is time to finalize the operational plan for the new business year and re-start the engine with a set of new tasks. Once you have established the rhythm of this process, planning and achieving targeted results gets quite routine – and vision turns in to action and reality.
And if you don’t own a business, but have a personal aspiration like a new body image, or improved health status or stronger financial position, then the same principles apply. Unless you plan your journey and step up the stairs towards your goal, success will elude you.
You can read more about the Delfi Strategic Planning process call Vision to Action – Strategic Planning With a Difference at www.thedelfigroup.com.