Firms tend to develop their own natural cadence of strategic planning, varying from renewing the plan annually to updating it every three or four years. Irrespective of a firm’s planning rhythm, some operate under the misconception that once their plan is developed and committed to paper, the job is largely finished. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, and I’m heartened whenever a client tells me that they have been consistently employing their plan as the roadmap and navigational tool it is intended to be.
Managing the implementation
A major part of a strategic planning workshop is brainstorming strategies and their associated actions. We all know that planning workshops can generate a lot of enthusiasm and energy from the participants who genuinely want to address their firm’s key issues, and see the actions they take on as a place where they can make a difference.
While the deadlines for actions can range from several weeks for “easy” actions to heavier lifts that may take a year or even more, often in the workshop firms tend to cluster their action deadlines within the first few months. This ultimately proves unrealistic when they return to the office and encounter the realities of their day job. As a result, the firm leader—who functions as the “principal-in-charge” of the strategic plan’s implementation—has to reinforce the importance of completing actions by their deadlines, while occasionally making necessary adjustments for those who may have over-committed.
Keeping it going during the first year.
Like a rocket lifting off, the greatest effort is getting the initial plan off the ground. But keeping the momentum going month after month requires an ongoing commitment of time, effort, and attention by the firm’s leadership. Considering the hard work that goes into developing the first generation of a strategic plan, it’s a shame to let it atrophy from non-use during or shortly after its first year.
By far the best system for managing the plan’s implementation is to convene monthly meetings of the planning team to assess progress, and invest time in coaching and supporting the individuals who have tasks to complete.
A common syndrome among firms in their first planning year is that they feel they have checked off their actions, having accomplished most of them. But without keeping the strategic plan fresh and current, the monthly planning team meetings may seem increasingly superfluous and can too easily fall by the wayside, displaced by various other priorities as the team members go back to business as usual.
Strategic planning teams are like rubber bands: without being constantly stretched, they naturally revert to their relaxed shape.
Keeping it going long-term.
After kicking off a strategic plan, lots can and does change—internally within the firm and externally in the marketplace. Internally, firms typically see big progress during the first year as they address issues, complete actions, and make gratifying headway. Meanwhile, externally, the economy ebbs and flows, the marketplace evolves, technologies and project delivery systems evolve, and competitors come and go. It’s crucial to keep the plan current and relevant.
Regardless of their planning cadence, firms don’t necessarily need a consultant to come back to help renew their plans. The firm leader, as P.I.C., can marshal the forces, do preparatory work, reconvene the planning team to take a fresh look at the firm internally and its external environment, and develop new strategies and actions to continue to take the firm to its next level. But without this restarted effort to identify and address new or lingering issues, the original strategic plan will become essentially a one-year document, leaving the firm to coast without an ongoing useful roadmap to its future.
Maintaining meaningful momentum isn’t easy! If you have thoughts about this, I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.