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Ending the Year on Track

By Trever Cartwright

Every year at about this time, many executives scratch their heads and wonder, “Is fourth quarter here—already?” For some, the natural reaction to the reality of another year nearly over is to reach for their strategic plan and begin a close review of their company’s performance.

If this reaction feels familiar, taking time out now to conduct a careful organizational review of the progress you’ve made can be helpful by setting the stage for any needed course corrections.  It will also send a strong message to your employees that the implementation of your strategic plan is a priority for everyone.

As you take time to assess your organization’s year-to-date performance, keep in mind that under-performance doesn’t always equate to a flawed strategic plan or that the thinking that led to the plan was misinformed.

As you think about ways to end 2017 on track and begin setting the stage for a successful 2018, consider the following key points:

1. Make the assessment of results inclusive.

Oftentimes, strategic planning is done in an exclusive manner, behind closed doors with only the most senior leaders in attendance. Then, with the best of intentions, these same leaders emerge from their star chamber to announce the strategic plan to the organization. Months later, frustration at the top begins to surface, particularly if company performance is weak. “Why aren’t people on board with our strategic direction?” is a common question leaders ask. Meanwhile, many employees may be asking a very different question: “Why are you making your strategic direction my problem?” It’s an all too common scenario.

Going forward: Break this pattern. Make strategic planning, as well as the assessment of strategic results, as inclusive as possible. Include a cross-section of employees in both processes. Your company’s solid performance is a byproduct of fully engaged employees who feel like they are contributors. Over the next few weeks, consider reintroducing your strategic plan to your employees with the goal of truly engaging them in what the plan means not only to your company but to employees personally. By taking steps to ensure your employees have ownership of your strategic direction, you will increase the likelihood of consistent, quality execution and, ultimately, the results you’re after.

2. Whether you’re on track or not based on the goals you identified in your strategic plan, look at how engaged your leadership team is in delivering on the results you’re seeing.

Leaders often drive hard, and then drive off. It’s an easy pattern to fall into. Once the strategic plan is done, it’s announced and that’s it. Employees scratch their heads and wonder what to do next or may not fully understand what’s being asked of them.

Going Forward: Drive hard—just do it with your people rather than without them. Be willing to do the heavy-lifting alongside them. Strategic planning and the organizational change that typically follows as part of implementing your plan needs to be an ongoing, collaborative process that has fully engaged leaders who are right there with your employees, working right alongside them. When employees see their leaders working the plan and actively embracing the change that often comes with them, then employees are far more likely to take ownership of the plan and more willingly embrace needed change.

3. Make sure you’re getting the whole story.

When results are not tracking to the strategic plan, executive leadership understandably becomes anxious. The easiest choice is to abandon the strategy or particular change initiative that doesn’t seem to be sticking and substitute it with something else that might work better. Keep in mind that a “start-then-stop” pattern within your organization produces cynicism among employees. It’s why employees are likely to whisper during the all-hands meeting in which you’re communicating strategic direction, “Flavor of the month—let’s see how long this lasts.” And it’s how “wait-and-see” organizational cultures are born.

Going forward: Take time to accurately diagnose all factors that may be causing the results you’re seeing. In fact, your strategy may be exactly right. However, the approach you’re taking to engage employees may need to be redirected. For example, your rewards and recognition system may not be commensurate with the boldness of your initiatives or perhaps your employees lack the needed competencies or skills they need to perform at even higher levels. Ask yourself, “Are my people well-prepared to deliver on the requirements of our strategic plan?” If the answer is no, that should tell you something.

If you’re experiencing a temporary slump in your organization’s performance, you can break out of it by conducting a deliberate assessment of what’s going on. The objective is to take the right action that either supports continued performance or accurately addresses under performance.

It’s far more important to assess and then understand the truth of the situation rather than react and over-correct based on assumption, fear or frustration. While it’s possible your strategic path needs to be adjusted, it’s equally possible that a few specific tweaks in the way you’re engaging your employees are all that’s needed to put performance back on track.