Half-Life of a Strategic Plan

Posted June 7, 2013 in Latest News & Insights

A dear friend of mine came over a few months ago for a glass of wine and asked me, “What’s the half-life of a strategic plan?” She’d just completed one with her team. Everyone voted to implement it immediately, and yet one executive began to stray from it within a couple of days!

“Half-life” brought me back to physics class and studying the periodic table. My recollection was that half-life had something to do with how many years it takes for a radioactive element to become inert. That’s true, I learned (again), but half-life is also more generally “the time required for a quantity to fall to half its value as measured at the beginning of the time period.”

Why is it that strategic plans start to lose their value so quickly? And what can be done about it? How can leaders boost the half-life of their strategic plans?

The answers to these questions lie here:

  1. Leadership Styles
  2. Quality of the Planning Process
  3. Trade-offs & Resources
  4. Organizational Habits

Organizational Habits
When organizations or departments first begin to design, build, and implement strategic plans, they often struggle with moving from concept to execution. If they’re confused about roles, rules, or accountability, they’ll simply return to the routes and processes they’ve used in the past. Backsliding can start as early as the planning process, so no wonder my friend witnessed it so soon.

Having an objective person to champion the plan, guide the organization through the process, and ensure everyone stays on track can be very helpful. Bad habits are tough to get rid of if there isn’t someone routinely monitoring progress for the first year or two.

Leadership Styles
The Just Ask Leadership Assessment identifies and explains four leadership styles: Innovator, Director, Judge, and Professor. Innovators are action-oriented and open to new and different perspectives; they’re great with brainstorming, but not so much with execution. These visionaries, who often run entrepreneurial companies, have the most trouble sticking to a plan—even if it was their idea to have a plan in the first place! They feel like all their great ideas are going to be missed out on if the plan takes precedence. What they do not see is the level of chaos that their freelancing creates for their coworkers—especially in larger organizations.
Professors, like Innovators, struggle with planning. Directors and judges, who excel at evaluation and execution, are the leadership styles that work best in this area.

Quality of the Planning Process

The quality of the planning process can dramatically affect the half-life of your strategic plan.

  1. The best strategic plans are not steered by any one person. If you are a leader, you have hierarchical power and that will have an undue influence on your team no matter how open you think you are to others’ ideas. An objective person can help ensure that one person does not demonstrate too much influence on the group.
  2. A strategic plan needs to be strategic. Unless you spend your day thinking, writing, and speaking about strategic planning, you may wind up with a plan, but not a strategic one. Each aspect of the plan must fit together as a system–not some disjointed planning concepts.
  3. The planning process should involve all or many of the stakeholders…and do so without abusing their time or effort. Group Mind Express, Turning Technologies, and other technologies allow you to take advantage of the wisdom of the crowd, increase the level of engagement, silence the noisy minority, and reduce the need to sell the plan after it is completed. Because everyone was involved, they understand what trade-offs were considered and how the choices were made. The explanation was the process.

Trade-offs & Resources
A quality plan will provide trade-offs–what you are doing and, as importantly, what you are not doing. It will not leave issues ambiguous. A good strategic plan takes into account that resources are limited and that allocation of those resources is what drives the strategy. When team members go off plan, they are diverting resources that are needed elsewhere. On the other hand, when they adhere to the plan, the organization achieves a competitive advantage in the market place. Everyone knows what resources are available and to what end. This knowledge helps everyone understand and respond to the threat of new entries, bargaining power of buyers, bargaining power of suppliers, threat of substitution, and competitive rivalry.

What’s the half-life of your organization’s strategic plan?

[fancy_box]Today’s blog post is courtesy of Gary Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of CO2 Partners, LLC, which helps high performers and CEOs elevate their leadership capability through executive coaching. [/fancy_box]

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