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Another year, another strategic plan…or worse yet, another month, another strategic plan. Does this sound familiar to you? Well, it does to me. The most difficult thing to do when you’re a strategic consultant like me is to make sure your clients stay focused and that they keep their eye on the ball.
My philosophy is very simple: A good plan implemented and followed to fruition is always better than a great plan abandoned before its time.
A good plan has to be given time to work. A good plan is only as good as the commitment and dedication that people are willing to give it.
During all my time in business, I have seen good, even great plans abandoned way before they had time to work. I have seen great plans stall when a company leader loses interest in the plan laid out for his company. In one particular case, the owner was known for jumping from one project to another, leaving a trail of unfinished projects in his wake. As you can imagine, this habit created a Groundhog Day environment in his company. That is some kind of leadership, isn’t it?
To some people, there is something so much more appealing in starting a new plan from scratch than in persevering with the current plan that many companies have been hurt by a leader’s new plan addiction. Business, like life, is a marathon—not a sprint. There are no quick fixes because even the quickest of fixes takes a certain amount of time to gain traction.
Here is the way it works. A team comes together and puts a plan together. That plan must begin with a clear and complete understanding of where the company wants to be in one year…in three years…in five years. Then this team has to work backwards to today, to present time, in order to establish the steps they’ll have to take to make this plan come to life. They have to be fully aware of when the plan will start producing the results they are seeking. These steps should be marked with dated milestones so that the team will know exactly where they should be in the plan and on what date. Done correctly, this method will provide a visionary and somewhat patient team with a good idea of where they should be and when they should be there. Without a strong implementation roadmap most plans will fail.
When you set out on a car trip you have to know exactly where you are going, how far it is, and when you can expect to get there. You wouldn’t dream of starting out on a cross country trip from say New York City to Los Angeles without first of all knowing how far Los Angeles is from New York City, how many hours it is going to take and where you are going to stop on the way for the night. Think of how discouraging it would be if you just set out in a general western direction without any insight of how far you were going or when you were going to get there, and when you were going to have to take breaks. Think about your strategic plan as only stating the ultimate goal without any steps on how to achieve those goals. Get the picture?
They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step and of course that’s true, but then it takes another step and another step and another one and so on. Without that understanding, without the patience to take all those steps, the journey will never be completed.
If this sounds basic and obvious, it’s because it is and it’s pretty simple as well, but for some reason people, especially business owners, have a very difficult time getting it. I think it’s that entrepreneur thing. They are always looking for the next new thing and have a hard time focusing on the thing that is right in front of them. I have also found that this lack of focus and attention has led to the downfall of many companies that would and could have made it if the owners had just had the patience and tenacity to diligently follow the plan as it was laid out originally.
If you are an owner or a company leader and you see yourself in this column, then all I can say is change. Figure out how to have the tenacity, patience and courage, because it does take courage to follow a plan when it reaches the darkness before the light stage and the courage to stick to the plan and drive it all the way to its successful destination. It’s only common sense.