Creating a plan

Not the Typical Strategic Plan: Creating a Plan for Performance

by Bill Cousineau

In Part 1 – Planning for Breakthrough Performance, we discussed the issues of traditional strategic planning. We summarized it by saying that in too many instances, the polished business plan is nothing more than a highly thought-out collection of concepts and ideals, tied together by wishful thinking. None of which result in customers flying through their doors with money in hand, nor in an organization that is united, focused and intentional in its execution.

By contrast, the Strategic Action Plan describes how an organization defines success and how it intends to create value for its stakeholders, customers, and team members. The critical distinction is that this is a living document that does not sit on the shelf collecting dust. This document is used to not only guide priorities and decisions, but it is a plan that is measured, tracked, monitored, and discussed regularly.

Before you begin to create the Strategic Action Plan there are critical prerequisites and five steps in the process:

The Strategic Action Plan will be ineffective without knowing the organization’s:

  • Purpose, Vision, and Mission
  • Values – how the Purpose, Vision, and Mission are lived out
  • Current Business Assessment and Compared to the Vision

So many organizations either give lip service to these prerequisites or short-circuit them. But if leaders really want to achieve breakthrough performance, they must spend the time creating and communicating their Purpose, Vision and Mission throughout the organization. They must dissect and examine how their values are being lived out daily with their associates, customers and business partners. Clarity is essential in their business assessment of both where they are, and where they expect to be.  Once they have truly dialogued in these areas, and reached consensus, only then can they begin to develop the action plan for achieving the breakthrough results and for implementing the next five steps.

Five Steps in the Process

Step 1: Breakthrough Thinking – what are the key initiatives to be accomplished in the next 3-5 years? This knowledge provides the organization with the long-term focus it needs to make decisions in the proper context.

Step 2: Critical Initiatives – what are the Must Do, Can’t Fail initiatives? Must Do, Can’t Fail actions are the crucial building blocks to achieving the initiatives defined in Breakthrough Thinking. If the organization cannot achieve this year’s Must Do, Can’t Fail initiatives, the whole plan is in jeopardy.

Step 3: Key Processes – which processes support the Must Do, Can’t Fail initiatives? These are the processes required to achieve the Must Do, Can’t Fail initiatives. This step converts the Strategic Action Plan from an Executive Offsite Activity to a living document that is owned by the total organization.

Step 4: Process Goals – what are the extent of the improvements required and when do they need to be accomplished? This step helps the organization understand the progress it has made, and provides the organization with interim targets and objectives. Too often plans are developed with the hockey stick effect, a long period where no improvement happens (the shaft) and at the end, (the blade) almost as if a miracle happens, great improvement is achieved.  By contrast, business growth rarely happens this way.

Step 5: Ownership – who?  This is one of the most difficult, most overlooked, but most important steps in the plan. This step is where plans succeed or fail. Too often it is late in the planning process and participants are tired and just want to be done. In such a case, it is suggested that a break be taken for up to a week between Steps 4 and 5. Give leaders time to absorb the data from Steps 1-4 so the organization fully understands the Must do, Can’t Fail initiatives before defining the “who”. They should come back to the Step 5 session with a clear RACI – a matrix defining who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. Here is the definition of each role:

1. Responsible – the person who does something as part of their job or role to complete the initiative.

2. Accountable – the person who is expected to justify actions taken or decisions made to deliver the completed initiative.

3. Consulted – groups or people whose opinions are sought by the person responsible for completing the initiative.

4. Informed – those groups or people that should be kept up-to-date on progress with the initiative.

The RACI matrix helps everyone have clarity about the one business leader who is accountable for completion of the initiative on time. It also specifies who is responsible for getting the task done, who will be consulted as the tasks are being completed, and who should be kept informed throughout the process. This may sound easy, but sometimes is  harder to define than it looks.

Other questions that need to be answered in Step 5:

  • Are these initiatives resourced such that they are guaranteed to be successful?
  • What resources are overloaded?
  • What does the organization need to stop doing to free up resources to focus on our Action Plan.

Bring the Plan to Life

Successful execution begins with organizational communications to the total organization so that everyone understands the plan, the Must Do, Can’t Fail initiatives, the RACI matrix, visual metrics for continuous communication, and the frequency of more formal communications. This communication has two key outcomes. The first outcome provides alignment throughout the organization. The second result is executive and organizational accountability. This level of communication requires leaders to be transparent about what is to be achieved as an organization, how it will be achieved, how it will be supported as an organization, and how customers, and the organization, will benefit from the carrying out the plan.

Organizational metrics should be tied to our Must Do, Can’t Fail initiatives in such a way that each month leadership can know whether the plan has been achieved or not. Quarterly reviews by the executive team serve to celebrate successes, understand and remove barriers, and assure the resource plan is properly managed. Those Accountable should present to assure that they are staying close to the key initiatives.  Accountability cannot be delegated. Those who are Responsible should be present to answer detail questions and hear the dialogue that takes place.

Let’s go back to where we started: “Every organization is perfectly designed to get the results they are getting!” When looking at your planning process, where do you see opportunities to improve?  Are the goals and objectives clear to the total organization? Do the Must Do, Can’t Fail initiatives provide clarity to the organization on how they will be accomplished? Is there cross-functional alignment with accountability and metric tracking? Are leaders at all levels fully engaged and fully transparent in their communication? The Strategic Action Plan process, if completed properly and given the proper focus and oversight, is an invaluable tool to engage the organization in achieving their vision.


Read Part 1: Planning for Breakthrough Performance

Bill Cousineau is a retired global executive who has served and led organizations as small as a $70M dollar firm in the large farm equipment industry to divisions within companies such as the $6B Kohler Company. Additionally he been active leading online bible studies on leadership, business, and finance.