Now that we are beginning 2015, many nonprofit and government leaders are rethinking their strategies and strategic plans. Just like most New Year’s resolutions, strategic goals are easy to plan but difficult to implement. We have a little advice for leaders trying to get out of that typical cycle. Here are five mistakes we typically see:
Not talking with your stakeholders and customers. Planning out what you want to do in a vacuum is a satisfying exercise. If you didn’t need to deal with your customers, you would have a fantastic strategy. Customers and stakeholders force you to make tough decisions and deal with the realities of world. On the positive side, if you can truly understand what they need, it is an inspiring way to ground a strategy. Try to find avenues to interact and talk with your customers and stakeholders through formal interviews, working groups and scan for existing sources of data about them.
Not prioritizing initiatives. Most leaders I’ve worked with get into the planning phase and take on too many things. As they say, the eyes are bigger than the stomach. You only have a finite amount of time, attention, and resources. The more you subdivide those resources, the less impact you have on each initiative. Focus on the magic three to five initiatives. Lou Gerstner only had six strategic priorities when he turned around IBM in the mid '90s. I think most organizations can do with at least one less.
Not putting a name next to each initiative. Accountability is key and my rule is that if more than one person is accountable, then no one is accountable. You also need to remind that person that (s)he is responsible. Putting their name next to an initiative on a public document is a great way to do it. Put one person’s name next to an initiative and you’ll notice that things get done. It isn’t a gotcha type activity, it is a clear communication of leadership priorities.
Not scheduling accountability and check-in meetings. Plans have a tendency to go off into the ether the instant they are created. The only way you and your team will stay on top of them is if you commit to and schedule out regular meetings with set agendas to check in on the implementation process. Our leadership team meets weekly for 90 minutes based on the best practice outlined in a book called Traction. I’d recommend the same for your team. Once a month is too long a gap to create a leadership rhythm and more than once a week is overkill. Make sure to revisit the status of those strategic priorities at every meeting. It takes several repeated check-ins for people to believe you are serious about your priorities.
Not communicating your decisions and progress. Organizations, customers and stakeholders have a need to understand what decisions their leadership make and how they make them. As a leader you are in the room so the results seem obvious. That isn’t true for your customers, stakeholders and employees. In many cases it can seem that they have an insatiable need for more information and more communication. Create a short and clear public document about what your priorities are. Then you can send out a leadership communication after each leadership check-in on the status of those priorities.
Good luck with your strategic planning efforts and let me know what other mistakes you see.