Not the Typical Strategic Plan: Planning for Breakthrough Performance

by Bill Cousineau

Some years ago I worked at an Aerospace company. At one offsite location, a man by the name of Dave Hanna coined the phrase, “Every organization is perfectly designed to get the results they are getting!” That phrase has always stuck in my mind. Think about it: As leaders in business we may find ourselves plateaued or under-achieving our organizational goals. These times call for us to look deeply at every aspect of our business and leadership to determine why the desired results are yet unattained.

When a business really takes this key statement to heart, they begin to peel back the layers of their company and come to reveal the deficiencies in their strategic planning process. My experience has shown that as leaders examine their planning process, they realize they do not have consistency of purpose. Their organizations tends to work as silos, optimizing their individual silo at the expense of the larger organization.  How can this happen?  No matter how much time Executive Teams spend preparing for and conducting their Strategic Planning session, their plans fail to achieve the desired results.

In Part 1 of this article, we will discuss the difference between traditional strategic plans and developing plans that engage the organization for breakthrough performance.

Traditional Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning, Policy Deployment, and Business Planning are just a few of the names given to a process that most businesses go through at some point in time. For some companies, the time interval is annual, for others bi-annual, and for still others, it is when their conscious gets the best of them. Strategic plans typically have these common attributes:

  • Executive Summary   
  • Company Description   
  • Industry Analysis and Trends   
  • Target Market   
  • Strategic Position and Risk Assessment   
  • Research about the Competition   
  • Descriptions of plans for technology, management, and company organization   
  • Cursory tip of the hat to vision and growth strategy   
  • Financial projections that are not realistic

Unfortunately after these sessions, which have consumed significant amounts of time and energy, the resulting plans are often put on the shelf.  The organization gets back to business as usual because the traditional business plan has little, if any, relationship to reality and practicality.

On the other hand, some organizations find themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum. Executives come out of these sessions with the conviction that everything is important and has to be implemented now. No prioritization of initiatives takes place. The attempt to accomplish everything at once causes fights over limited resources. Chaos prevails instead of intentional change management. Few, if any of the desired results are achieved.

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.

Bottom line is that traditional business plans fail for five primary reasons:

1. Goals & Objectives Not Clear – lack focus as an organization

2. No Alignment Cross-Functionally – each function has different priorities

3. No Accountability and Metric Tracking  – unstable processes or incompetency of the organization to make the proper measurements.

4. Financial & Sales Outcomes Only Defined – no plans on how to achieve them

5. Lack of Engaged Leadership – check it off the list, and then back to business as usual.

Planning for Breakthrough Performance

I have found that focused and intentional leadership provides the best strategy and framework for breakthrough performance of the Strategic Action Plan. An organization’s Strategic Action Plan describes how it 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.

The Strategic Action Plan provides a visual management tool:

  • To set and communicate core business objectives, which prioritizes the strategic work of the organization.
  • To build consensus by aligning all functions in the same direction, which in turn, inspires accountability across the entire organization and focuses resources to the proper initiatives .
  • To create the linkage and fit of all initiatives, and how they drive the strategies impacting the key metrics and objectives. This enables the organization to adapt to change in real time and discover issues early.

Although the numbers are an important indicator, it is really about the process the organization goes through before, during and after the Strategic Action Plan process. If leaders are intentional about facilitating the organization through the process, with deep dialog about the issues, opportunities, and resourcing, the desired results will be achieved. The key for leaders is to focus the organization on the process; the results will follow.

In Part 2 of this article, the Strategic Action Plan framework will be discussed as well as how to engage the organization in the process. In the meantime, have your leadership team begin to look at the organizational processes and discuss the opportunities that exist.


Read Part 2: Creating a Plan for 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.