[read time: 4 mins]
If the last time you thought about your strategic plan you couldn’t immediately recall what was in it, couldn’t remember where the binder was, and then needed to dust the binder off once you found it…my guess is your strategic plan was stale.
One of the core challenges to effective strategic planning is building in a frequent review process to ensure that your plan stays relevant, you are tracking progress and accountabilities, and there is a clear line of sight between the ongoing operations of the business and your long-term destination as an organization.
Now the word frequent means different things at different stages of your business growth. In start-up mode the shear number of shiny objects you have to choose from means a monthly review of the plan is appropriate. In our discussion we’re going to focus on established companies and organizations that are well past the start-up phase, and as a result, quarterly follow-ups to the strategic plan are appropriate.
About every three to four months changes in people, the economy, competitors, your market, the industry, customers, or technology will put pressure against your strategy to the point that your strategic plan no longer feels relevant and timely. At this point, most organizations will shelve the plan due to lack of relevance to the current situation and, inevitably, all of the hard work, energy, and enthusiasm that went into creating the annual plan falls short with 75% of the year still left to unfold.
Bringing your team together to go through your strategic plan for a few hours on a quarterly basis is the surest way I know to revitalize your plan and maintain its relevance all year. Here is a four-step process to facilitating your own quarterly strategic planning follow-up session:
Step 1 – Evaluation. Start your session by evaluating your plan using the following questions: What’s working well? What needs improvement? What’s missing from the plan? How have we been celebrating our success along the way? The answers to these four questions will provide an overarching view of the validity of your plan, where it needs to be changed, and what things need to be added that you didn’t know about when you first built the plan.
Step 2 – Review. For each of the three to seven core objectives you are focused on this year, ask the person responsible to walk the group through their action steps and to update the team on progress, delays, missed targets, unrealistic timelines, and finally, new actions. The rest of the team will provide insight, support, and feedback to help ensure that everyone understands the current status and how they can support their peer moving forward.
Step 3 – Revise. If an objective needs to be removed or reprioritized or a new objective needs to be formed based on new data, this is the time to engage the team in discussion, frame the objective, choose an owner, and build an action plan with accountabilities and timelines. If you’re not sure whether or not your objectives are properly framed, here’s a quick test: if there’s no way to measure your objective so we can throw a party to celebrate completing it, it’s not an objective. The most common framework used to test an objective is SMART: is the objective Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely?
Step 4 – Next Review. With the team together, now is the best time to select a date for the next quarterly review. It might seem strange to make this a step, yet in my experience without getting a date in the calendar now, the quarterly sessions can end up being semi-annual instead.
Whenever I’m asked what the number one thing a CEO can do with their team to improve the quality of their annual strategic planning process my answer is always the same: review it more frequently and at a mininum, once a quarter.