Developing Leaders – Building Teams

3 Big Mistakes Executives Make in Planning for the Future

Failing to plan is, ultimately, planning to fail.

Yogi Berra once said: “If you don’t know where you are going, you are certain to end up somewhere else.” We all plan for the future in our families – kids to college, buying a house, financial stability in our retirement years. We should do the same for our businesses. An executive leader of an organization – large or small – should know the strategic plan and who the strategic planners are. If the CEO is not committed to an institutionalized planning process, he or she will likely become merely a caretaker who is unable to raise the organization to higher levels of performance. In his book Executive Leadership, legendary leadership guru Peter Drucker highlights key traits of successful executives, 2 of which are: establishment of priorities and effective decision making. Good strategic plans are exceptional ways to enable and communicate both. If you are interested in learning the 3 big mistakes made in strategic planning – and how to avoid them – read on!

1. Not Invest in a long range Plan

Comprehensive planning for the future is hard. Many leaders have little experience in the process – and hence avoid it. Cases where companies have succeeded without a plan are the exceptions. Whatever the reason, failing to plan for the future will most likely result in an organization failing to achieve its full potential.

A strategic plan helps establish intentional order in a potentially chaotic environment. It helps organizations emphasize the vision, mission, and values, while defining shorter term priority objectives. It serves as a forcing function to make executive decisions about the future such as growth, organization structure, acquisitions and divestures, personnel development, and facilities. When used properly, the plan guides the investment of finite resources and provides the framework to build a system of accountability. The plan can be an effective tool for engaging others who may be interested in serving, investing in, or doing business with the organization. The bottom line is the plan helps you gain control of the future.

2. Not Choose the Best Team to Draft the Plan

No CEO writes the plan alone and no CEO should delegate this task to those people who are simply the “most available.” Draw on the most talented and experienced people from throughout the organization for this task. If help is needed – hire experienced consultants. The CEO must establish a system that allows this specialized planning to take place. In his book 5 Levels of Leadership, John Maxwell says the highest level leaders create “crucible moments” for developing their leadership teams. The development of this plan can be a great “crucible moment.”

The plan must be credible and transparent for all to understand. The CEO must be directly engaged with the team to keep effective planning on track, adhering to the established milestones. The CEO must schedule regular sessions to clarify intentions, facilitate decision making, review drafts, and discuss sensitive items that may not be appropriate for open discussion.

3. Fail to Implement the Plan and Track Progress

Plans that sit on the shelf and collect dust do no good. Developing the plan is key, but the real hard work is implementing the plan and tracking the progress on achieving the objectives. The CEO must clarify intent on use of the plan and apply rigor to the implementation throughout its duration. This implementation process ensures focus is placed on the mission and priorities. Effective communications between the accountable people and the leadership can  result from this process. Achievements are highlighted, as are shortfalls of required resources or other obstacles impeding progress. The hidden talents of members of the team will also be discovered!

As a cautionary note, being too rigid in adherence to the plan can be troublesome when circumstances dictate modifications. The leadership must balance the rigorous implementation with flexibility based on current events, business developments, changes in personnel or technology, or even acts of nature that affect the plan. Do not be so locked into the plan that you miss opportunities or waste time pursuing obsolete tasks.

I wish you the best in your leadership journey!