Strategic planning: rethinking action plans
A common mistake in strategic planning comes when the “strategic planning” team communicates the strategic plan to functions and individuals and asks them to “incorporate the strategy” into their operations.
The last part of the last sentence is OK, but the rest of it implies that the functions are doing is the right thing but they should just be more strategic about it. Functions and individuals need to be brought into the strategic planning process and given permission to re-evaluate what they do in light of the strategy. Action planning isn’t just about taking new action, it’s about not doing (which is an action) things that don’t make sense anymore. If the organization can select strategic focus areas, then individuals and functions informed by the strategy should be empowered to reinvent themselves in light of the strategy. If people don’t see their actions leading to the goal, then what they are doing, the actions they are taking will be seen as superfluous to the mission of the organization, and they will be right.
This does not imply that all mundane work be eliminated. Much mundane work accrues to the strategic mission, but it is rarely if ever put into a strategic context, so it seems even more mundane than it may be.
Much mundane work accrues to the strategic mission, but it is rarely if ever put into a strategic context, so it seems even more mundane that it may be.
So the idea is to link strategy to everything. Action plans from strategic planning committees need to be negotiated, not just put forth. The team charged with strategy may have very little visibility as to resource availability or the timeline required to meet a goal. The only way a strategy will work is if it is invested in and trade-offs are taken between what has been done and what needs to be done to meet the objectives. That means either staff and invest, or stop doing some things. Many organizations become strategically crippled because they don’t know how to undo previous decisions in light of a new context. One of the easiest things for a manager to communicate should be: hey, just stop doing that.
So if we look at the hierarchy of actions, those at the strategic planning level should be seen as most volatile early in their inception, because they are suggested, but not yet negotiated. They should be communicated in this context, and not as decrees from on high. Action plans need to be accepted, and the commitments against them recorded and communicated as part of the ongoing learning. Negotiation is learning – learning about boundaries, about impediments, about individuals and resources, about processes and about expectations. Those all need to be taken into account so the negotiated outcome is a realistic and achievable outcome.
So if your organization has published a bunch of action plans that don’t seem to correlate to your work, you start the negotiations. Getting some of them done may prove valuable to your career, and they will likely give you a great opportunity to stretch and to learn. Don’t let the fact that your manager didn’t ask you to step up stop you from stepping up. Strategy requires leaders, and if you don’t think the named leaders are leading, engage them and force them to dialog about how to get where they think the organization should go. The action plan is the article of dialog that drives strategic action. If you aren’t constantly learning and pushing, then you are probably running in place, which in strategy, usually means being pushed backward or constrained without even knowing it.
Go take meaningful action. Feel free to share the results here.
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