“How do I move this plan from paper to execution?”…

… So asks the CEO of a medium-size service organization. He is frustrated. His organization is nearing the completion of the second year of a three-year plan and is preparing to hold the annual update retreat to review progress and make adjustments for the third year.

When his leadership team completed the plan two years ago, most of the senior leaders were excited about having a clearly-defined direction that would position the organization for long-term success. But, at the first update last year, it was clear that the plan was barely looked at over the 12 months. The plan had failed. While some of the initiatives had been implemented, many had been completely ignored.

They all agreed to do a better job of making the plan a “living document.” But, this past year was much like the first, with little focus on the strategy. The organization made its revenue and profitability targets by implementing tactical ways to work harder and cut costs. But, it was no better positioned for the future than it was 12 months before. And, now, with another strategy retreat just a month away, the CEO had concerns about his ability to focus the organization on executing the strategic plan.

Like this organization’s plan, why do most plans fail? What are the pitfalls? Why is it so hard to get a plan executed?

While there are a variety of reasons strategic plans don’t successfully follow through, the pitfalls of execution are a primary cause of this. We’ve found that there are generally four “whys” that result in lack of execution. Here are two of them.

The Urgency Principle

Many plans fall victim to what I call the urgency principle, which is derived from Stephen Covey’s urgency versus importance matrix. In most organizations, it is easy to focus on responding to what’s clamoring for our attention (urgent but not necessarily important) or get caught up in the crisis of the day (important and urgent). But, since strategic plan initiatives typically fall into Covey’s quadrant 2 (important but not urgent), the strategic plan takes a back seat to responding to the needs of the moment – the urgency principle.

Infrequent Review

Management gurus learned long ago: that which is measured, improves. Unfortunately, all too often, we don’t go back to the plan until it’s time for the update – 12 months later. When a lack of review gets combined with the urgency principle, it is easy to see how strategies ripe for execution can die on the vine due to lack of attention.

Lack of Alignment and Lack of Accountability

These are two other threatening reasons your plan could be in jeopardy of failing. These primary pitfalls underscore the importance of doing your strategic planning the right way – avoiding those pitfalls, knowing the process and components of strategy development, the importance of group buy-in, and the importance of execution. Is your team currently doing strategic planning the right way?

Contact us for an executive briefing to see how your team’s plan is doing.