Building a Strategic Plan, Part IV

Sep 30, 2011

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of four articles exploring the Startegic Planning process and its role in business success.

Part I   Part II   Part III

Implementation of your hard work in the strategic planning process turns strategies and plans into actions in order to accomplish strategic objectives and goals.

Implementing your strategic plan is as important as creating your actual strategy. The critical actions move a strategic plan from a document that sits on the shelf to actions that drive business growth.

But frequently, aftermarket managers and business owners fail to implement the strategic plan they worked so hard to create.

This is where the inner stimulus of proactive planning needs to be paramount. Not taking the critical action steps in implementing your plan can quickly put your work effort into the tank-and we all know how difficult it is to resurrect after you’ve tanked.

As a reference to the metrics of implementation, according to a recent Fortune magazine study, nine out of 10 organizations fail to implement their strategic plan, for many reasons. Learn from the following and don’t fall into the same lackluster situation:

  • 60 percent of organizations don’t link strategy to budgeting
  • 75 percent don’t link employee incentives to strategy
  • 86 percent of business owners and managers spend less than one hour per month discussing strategy
  • 95 percent of a typical workforce doesn’t understand their organization’s strategy

Remember, a strategic plan provides your business with the roadmap it needs to pursue a specific strategic direction and set of performance goals, deliver customer value and ultimately to be successful. However, this is just a plan; it doesn’t guarantee that the desired performance is reached any more than having a roadmap guarantees the traveler arrives at the desired destination.

In setting the implementation process into motion, consider the success you will enjoy by doing so-the ability to hold your team accountable and to create a process to monitor and adapt your plan. For those who have a plan in place, spending time and energy on the planning process and then not implementing the plan is very discouraging.

Although the topic of implementation may not be the most exciting thing to discuss, it’s a fundamental business practice that’s critical for any strategy to take hold.

The strategic plan addresses the what and why of activities, but implementation addresses the who, where, when, and how. The fact is that both are critical to success.

In fact, aftermarket companies can gain a competitive advantage through implementation if done effectively. The following tips will enable you to discover how to be tactile and avoid common mistakes.

Avoiding the Pitfalls

The initial steps are to understand the most common reasons strategic plans fail:

  • Lack of ownership: The most common reason a plan fails is lack of ownership. If people don’t have a stake and responsibility in the plan, it will be business as usual for all but a frustrated few.
  • Lack of communication: The plan doesn’t get communicated to employees, and they don’t understand how they contribute.
  • Getting mired in the day-to-day: Owners and managers, consumed by daily operations, lose sight of long-term goals.
  • Out of the ordinary: The plan is treated as something separate and removed from the management process.
  • An overwhelming plan: The goals and actions generated in the strategic planning session are too numerous because the team failed to make tough choices to eliminate non-critical actions. Employees don’t know where to begin.
  • A meaningless plan: The vision, mission and value statements are viewed as fluff and not supported by actions or don’t have employee buy-in.
  • Annual strategy: Strategy is only discussed at yearly weekend retreats.
  • Not considering implementation: Implementation isn’t discussed in the strategic planning process. The planning document is seen as an end in itself.
  • No progress report: There’s no method to track progress, and the plan only measures what’s easy, not what’s important. No one feels any forward momentum.
  • No accountability: Accountability and high visibility help drive change. This means that each measure, objective, data source and initiative must have an owner.
  • Lack of empowerment: Although accountability may provide strong motivation for improving performance, employees must also have the authority, responsibility and tools necessary to impact relevant measures. Otherwise, they may resist involvement and ownership.

It’s easier to avoid pitfalls when they’re clearly identified. Now that you know what they are, you’re more likely to jump over them.

Cover Your Bases

As an aftermarket business owner or manager/department head, your job entails making sure you’re set up for successful implementation. Before you start this process, evaluate your strategic plan and how you may implement it by answering a few questions to keep yourself in check.

Take a moment to honestly answer the following questions:

  • How committed are you to implementing the plan to move your company forward?
  • How do you plan to communicate the plan throughout the company?
  • Are there sufficient people who have a buy-in to drive the plan forward?
  • How are you going to motivate your people?
  • Have you identified internal processes that are vital to driving the plan forward?
  • Are you going to commit money, resources and time to support the plan?
  • What are the roadblocks to implementing and supporting the plan?
  • How will you take available resources and achieve maximum results with them?

You don’t need to have the perfect answers to all of these questions, but you do need to give each question equal consideration in your review.

Implementation

The implementation process is a series of steps that include pieces to the puzzle. This process can sometimes feel like it needs another plan of its own, but as you follow a plan of attack you’ll feel confident you’re making progress. The following comprehensive implementation steps will ease your process:

  • Finalize your strategic plan after obtaining input from all invested parties.
  • Align your budget to annual goals based on your financial assessment, especially if you’re funding the plan.
  • Produce the various versions of your plan for each team decision-making group.
  • Establish your scorecard system for tracking and monitoring your plan.
  • Establish your performance management and reward system.
  • Roll out your plan to your company as a whole. Everyone is on the same page at the same rollout and feels a part of the movement.
  • Build all department annual plans around the corporate plan.
  • Set up monthly strategy meetings with established reporting to monitor your progress.
  • Set up annual strategic review dates, including new assessments and a large group meeting for annual plan review.

This is a communication process as much as a planning process. So communicate. Good communication unlocks many organizational mysteries, so it’s not surprising that communicating your business strategy is critical to your success.

A Strategic Plan Manager

Lastly, it would be to your advantage to select a member of your team to oversee implementation of most aspects of the strategic plan.

This may be the owner, manager or a department head who is respected, has organizational management skills and is a good communicator. After all, this person will wear a number of hats and must be respected within your company culture. Consider this person the strategic plan manager.

The common duties are to make sure the process is running on schedule and monitoring other staff who are responsible for meeting specific goals. This manager is also likely to be responsible for providing monthly reports and facilitating your strategy meetings.

The duties of the strategic plan implementation manager may read as follows:

  • The individual needs to have enough respect in the company to keep you and everyone else on top of their responsibilities.
  • The manager understands the strategic planning process and the strategic plan itself.
  • The manager has a good understanding of the business or company and its footprint within the aftermarket.
  • The manager has the ability to get along with all employees.
  • This person has good attention to detail and is deadline-oriented.

In most cases, the right person for the job is not the business owner.

This four-part series on the strategic planning process was designed to give you a deliberate system of attack. Ideally, you can reference this series and share the ideas with others as you grow through mutual communication.

As my Professor Files articles continue, I’ll be formulating ideas on additional series tackling business applications that offer real-world content to help build your business. As always, I am available for consultation or to muse on ideas.