August 2013

Charting Your Course For Success

Business Strategy and Implementation, Business Success, Improvement, Leadership Development/ Executive Coaching, Mergers: How to Manage Organizational Change, Project Implementation: How to Create Ownership


In order for any business to end the year successfully, it must have begun the year properly by establishing achievable goals at the micro and macro levels. Setting a clear course toward those goals includes gathering accurate formative and summative measures of success and maintaining the flexibility to anticipate and adapt to the unknown. A leader who is clear on the direction of the organization will more easily maneuver around possible bumps in the road ahead.

Given there are a multitude of factors influencing organizational success, not the least of which include developing human capital, usefulness of procedures and policies, growing market share, and coping with the inevitable unknowns, how can a business effectively set broad goals, chart its course, and act accordingly?

The simple answer to that question is in effective strategic planning and purposeful implementation. However, like anything this important, a simplistic answer does not adequately express the depth and breadth of the task at hand. To complete a thoughtful strategic plan, as well as implement this plan successfully, takes time and effort. The basics of writing and implementing a successful strategic plan are as follows:

Clarifying Your Core Values

Prior to writing a strategic plan, an organization needs to ascertain and communicate its guiding beliefs. Core values precede strategy because they represent what the organization believes in. They clarify its purpose; why it exists.

Ask the Following:

  • What do we value and believe about our organization, our responsibilities, our people, and our work?
  • Why are we here doing what we do?

Creating Your Organizational Vision

Next, through representative leadership, the organization must have a vision. The vision establishes what the organization will be, do, know, and look like in the future. In this phase, it is wise to be bold. Use consensusbuilding communication techniques, such as wall charts or document sharing applications to mutually develop where your organization will be by the end of the coming years.

Ask the Following:

  • Where do we want to be in one to two years? (Be VERY specific.)

Scaffolding Your Strategic Plan

Now that there is mutual agreement on your direction toward a clear destination, it is time to formulate the means to get there. Once the picture of the future has been created, it is best to work backward to determine what has to be changed today in order to reach tomorrow.

The strategic plan itself will be in the form of a living document that will likely evolve throughout the year as new information unfolds, but overall its focus will remain the same if the strategies were founded on accurate baseline information. Developing specific incremental steps to get to your future destination should include clear measures of success along the way. Further considerations should include environmental factors, physical plants and facilities, competition, potential threats and opportunities, and any other existing parameters or limitations.

Ask the Following:

  • Given our long-term vision, what factors will influence our success?

Implementing the Plan and Assessing Progress Toward Goals

Ask the Following:

  • How will our leadership, management, and/or supervisory staffs make meaning of this plan in its entirety? (This is a macro point of view.)
  • How will each individual and department on a micro level respond to this plan?
  • What human capital and talents will be required to meet these strategic goals?
  • Who will review the procedures, systems, policies, environments and resources that must be changed in order to best support our people to achieve these goals and objectives?

Aligning Individual and Department Objectives with Organizational Goals

Organizational goals and outcomes are useless if the people within the organization do not fully support and “own” them. This may seem obvious, but in our role as professional consultants and objective observers we often hear leaders say one thing and go in one direction only to witness the employees saying something else and going in an entirely different direction.

Ask the Following:

  • What concrete evidence do we have that our people, processes, procedures and programs are aligned with our vision and our strategic plan?
  • How often and in what ways do we need to revisit the vision and strategic plan in order to ensure successful commitment to its goals at all levels?

Strategic Plan Implementation

Most organizations we consult with have well-written strategic plans housed in fancy binders, but often these plans are not utilized because the leadership and the line staff don’t know how, or aren’t motivated to implement the plan.This happens for any number of reasons. But, regardless of why, if an organization doesn’t intend to refer to the strategic plan regularly, ensure its effective implementation, follow its recommendations or at least hire a consulting firm to help to make its goals a reality within the organization, then it would be wiser not to even start the process in the first place.

If your strategic plan is just sitting on a shelf gathering dust, or your individual or departmental goals are not aligned with the organizational vision, it might be because of these reasons:

  • The organization’s goals and objectives are too vague.
  • No one feels “ownership” of this document or process.
  • Leadership and management don’t regularly communicate and revisit the vision or demonstrate the value of the strategic plan.
    • NOTE: This “de-valuing” may be due to the mistaken belief that strategic planning is only an executive-level function.
  • The strategic plan’s components aren’t directly related to or aligned with individual performance expectations and objectives.
  • Individual and departmental goals are not aligned with organizational vision and goals because communication or trust issues exist within the organization.
  • There is little or no reinforcement and monitoring of progress toward macro or micro goals because these features are not clearly delineated within the plan.

Becoming a Wise and Innovative Leader

Unfortunately, many leaders don’t recognize obstacles until after the fact. But, make no mistake about it: It’s the CEO’s job, the business owner’s job, and the department manager’s job to not only chart the course, but also anticipate challenges. In highly competitive markets this is not only good business, it is crucial to survival. And those leaders who have the experience and wisdom to be innovative and proactive will find success beyond their reactionary peers. Through thoughtful strategic planning and implementation, your organization can make it to the next level.