Why is it so hard to implement the plan? There are many reasons, but in this discussion we will limit ourselves to seven.
Let’s begin with the one that is the hardest to control — a change in the environment. It’s difficult to implement a plan in a company if the senior managers get killed in an accident, it’s difficult to implement a plan in a nonprofit organization if major tax law changes negatively restrict deductions, and it’s difficult to implement a plan in a community if a major natural disaster occurs.
Peter Drucker, the expert on management, advises organizations to have a strategic planning session at least once every three years because in today’s world the environment is changing so fast. The environment refers to political, economic, physical or social conditions.
There is a city I know of that started a community planning process. It hired a strategic planning consulting firm to come to town and facilitate the process. It named two very prominent people in the community to be co-chairs. It had committee meetings all over town and allowed ample opportunity for public input. Finally, there was the draft of the comprehensive plan for the community. Today — almost three years later — the city government is still having meetings gathering comments on the plan.
It is a classic example of a plan that will never get implemented. Why? Because now the environment in the community has changed.
Another reason that plans don’t get implemented is because the goal was to plan, not to implement. That might sound silly, but I have seen organizations that had strategic planning retreats just so that people could go through the process. The leader was actually using strategic planning as a teambuilding exercise.
One way to recognize this is when a set of goals is published, but no one is named as being responsible for their completion.
Thirdly, a plan will not get implemented if no one feels ownership. Members of the organization must not only buy into the plan, they must feel that they had a part in creating it. One of the reasons that small breakout groups are so effective in the strategic planning process is that they offer the opportunity for everyone to feel that they had input. If their input is later adopted by the group as a goal, they tend to become champions of the plan.
Next is probably the main reason that implementation does not happen. No one took responsibility. As I mentioned in my last column, when I facilitate strategic planning sessions I usually ask people to sign their names beside the goals they will be personally responsible for achieving. Those signatures become powerful reminders of their enthusiasm for the plan. Even the best intentions can fail, however, if no one follows up. There is nothing like knowing that on the first of every month the person who signed up for the goal has to report on the progress being made. Also, the person doing the follow-up must be diligent and must find a way to motivate.
Number six on my list deals directly with the person responsible for the implementation. It is not uncommon for that person to move away, get promoted, get transferred or otherwise leave the scene. Who will step in and fill that role? Sometimes the person who was so motivated and passionate at the strategic planning session becomes unmotivated or suffers burnout. It may be a relief to that person to be offered a way to be replaced by someone else.
Finally, it could be that the goal was not worthy. Earl Nightingale once defined success as the continual achievement of worthy goals. Viktor Frankl, the noted psychiatrist who was interned in a German POW camp in World War II, talks early on in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” about goals that have no meaning or purpose. One way to demoralize the prisoners was to have them move a pile of rocks from one end of the yard to the other.
The next day they were required to move the rocks back again. So one it went. At first the prisoners worked well with their new goal, but when they realized that there was no purpose in the effort they gave up hope. Worthy goals have purpose and meaning.
In conclusion, a lot of effort these days is appropriately spent on strategic planning. But if implementation of the plan does not occur it was all for naught.
Phil Hardwick’s column on Mississippi Business appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.