Every year at about this time, many leaders scratch their heads and wonder how time passes so quickly. As we head into the final stretch of 2019, now is a good time to pause and carefully review the progress your organization has made thus far. Doing so will allow your team the time it needs to get clear, get focused, and get moving on any needed strategy adjustments to ensure you end the year on track and lay a solid foundation for 2020.
An intentional pause will send a valuable message to employees at every level of your organization: the successful implementation of your strategic plan is a top priority for everyone at every level.
As you take time to assess your organization’s performance, keep in mind that under-performance doesn’t always equate to a flawed strategic plan or that the thinking that led to the strategic decisions you made while developing your plan were ill-conceived. For any business, making course-corrections when and where necessary in order to achieve their strategic objectives is simply part of a well-organized plan management process.
As you consider ways to end the year according to your plan and take the right steps to set the stage for 2020, consider the following three points and their implementation:
1. Break the “us vs. them” pattern.
Oftentimes, strategic planning is done in an exclusive manner, behind closed doors with only the most senior leaders deliberating the future. Then, with the best of intentions, these same leaders emerge from their star chamber to announce the details of their strategic plan to the organization. Months later, frustration at the top begins to mount, particularly if company performance is lagging. “Why aren’t people on board with our strategic direction—we told them where we were going?” leaders commonly ask. Meanwhile, many employees ask a very different question: “Why are you making your strategic plan my problem?” It’s an all too common scenario—and one that can be avoided.
Going forward: Break the “us vs. them” 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—plan creation and plan assessment. An organization’s good performance is always the byproduct of fully engaged employees who feel like they contributed to the plan’s creation vs. simply complied with it once it was written and announced. The same is true for identifying and then implementing any needed course corrections along the way.
At your fiscal year’s mid-point, consider reintroducing your strategic plan to your employees with the goal of re-engaging them in what the plan means not only to your company, but to them personally as stakeholders in your business’ success. Share with them where “we’re” at mid-way through the year. Celebrate the wins and be real with where your organization may be falling short. Ask them what they might need as they think about achieving their end-of-year goals. And, most importantly, really listen to their response and be willing to be influenced by their guidance. No strategic plan is ever etched in stone. Strategic plans can only be created given the information available at the time they are developed. Things change. Your operating environment is in constant motion. This means that sometimes, the best laid plans go awry. Taking this reality into account is a worthy principle to consider—especially when it comes to implementing strategy.
By taking steps to ensure your employees feel real ownership of your organization’s strategic direction, you will increase the likelihood of consistent, quality execution and, ultimately, the year-end results you have targeted.
2. Keep driving hard—but with your people rather than without them.
Whether your organizational performance review reveals you’re on target or not based on the objectives you set at the beginning of the year, take time to assess the level of engagement you’ve experienced and observed among your most senior team members. Their visible engagement and their influence are the currency of success when it comes to strategy. Do you observe them modeling the way when they talk about the plan with their respective teams? Are they genuinely fired up about the direction of your company? If they’re not, make it your priority to find out why and take focused steps to make sure their heads are in it. Only then can they inspire enthusiasm in others and encourage a sense of ownership among your employees.
Leaders often drive hard then drive off leaving employees dazed in the chaos of their wake. It’s an easy pattern to fall into. Once the strategic plan is done, it’s announced and that’s it, right? Actually, the most observant leaders, upon a closer look at what’s really going on, find that their next-level managers and employees are either scrambling or stuck, wondering what to do next or, worse, simply not understanding what’s being asked of them, let alone why.
Going Forward: Keep driving hard—just do so with your people rather than without them. Be willing to do the heavy-lifting alongside them. Strategic planning and the organizational change that often follows as part of implementing a strategic plan needs to be an ongoing, collaborative process that has fully engaged leaders who are fully willing to jump into the trenches with their people each day. When employees see their leaders actively working the plan, and when they hear their supervisors talking enthusiastically about the plan, then they are far more likely to want to take ownership of it. Ownership of an organization’s strategic plan may start at the top, but it certainly can’t stop there.
3. Make sure you’re getting the whole story.
When results are not tracking to the requirements of an organization’s strategic plan, executive leadership understandably becomes anxious. The easiest choice is to react by abandoning the strategy and substitute it with something else you imagine might work better. Keep in mind that a “start-then-stop” pattern within any organization produces cynicism among employees, not to mention a lot of unnecessary frustration and mixed messages. This is a primary reason why employees roll their eyes and think to themselves, “flavor of the month.” And it’s how “wait-and-see” organizational cultures are born and then perpetuated. When “wait-and-see” becomes part of an organization’s fabric, it makes the successful execution of a strategic plan nearly impossible without dramatic intervention.
Going forward: Take time to accurately diagnose all factors that may be causing the results you’re experiencing. 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 to perform the level of strategic and critical thinking your plan demands. Ask yourself, “Are my people equipped to deliver on the requirements of our strategic plan?” If the honest answer is no, do something about it. Chances are, your employees are more than willing to execute, it may be they simply aren’t adequatelyprepared to do so.
Once you have completed your organization’s performance review, if you’re experiencing a slump in your organization’s performance, you can break out of it by conducting a deliberate assessment of what’s going on in order to accurately diagnose the matter. The challenge before you is to take thoughtful action that either supports continued good performance or effectively addresses areas of under-performance.
It’s far more important to assess and then correctly understand the source 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 and some course-corrections made, it’s equally possible that a few well-timed tweaks in the way you’re engaging your employees are all that’s needed to put performance back on track.
Contact us to learn more about how we can help you end the year according to your plan and take the right steps to set the stage for 2020.
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