From the Ground Up

by

Published: March 4,2002

Imagine that you are planning a trip for your family for spring break week. After watching the Winter Olympics everyone in the household is inspired to embark on a skiing trip.

Suddenly, it is time to plan.

In preparation for the trip you would probably gather the family together and discuss some basic decisions that must be made. Where should we go? Should we fly or drive? Which resort should we stay at? Should we stay at a house, a condo or a hotel? Do we want to invite anyone to go with us? What kind of clothes should we pack?

Obviously, going on a ski vacation for the first time involves lots of planning. So you visit a travel agent, seek out friends and coworkers who have been on ski trips and even go to the library. And let’s not forget the mother of all research tools — the Internet.

After all the decisions and planning, you purchase the airline tickets, put down a deposit on a condo and even make a dinner reservation at one of the nicer restaurants in the destination town. Finally, the big week is almost upon you.

Your daughter calls you at the office three days before scheduled departure and says that the family of a friend has invited her to go with them to their condo at the beach. They will pay all expenses because their daughter wants a companion. When you get home later the same day your son hands you a brochure about a great science and mathematics spring break camp that has a late registration fee of only $30. Your spouse then points out that this whole ski trip idea was the result of being overly influenced by the Winter Olympics as evidenced by the fact that, “We had never even talked about this until that TV put it in our living room.” You are quick to point out that the family will stand to forfeit almost a $1,000 if the ski trip is canceled. The family is quick to point out that the family will save thousands more by not going.

Alas, the ski trip never gets off the ground. Daughter goes to the beach, son goes to camp and parents have a few unexpected nights alone.

In this example, the family had an inspiration, then a vision, then a plan and then a — well, a plan that never got implemented. So it is with many businesses, nonprofit organizations and community development agencies.

Everyone loves a good strategic planning session. It’s fun to envision the future, to dream and to go through the process of adopting specific goals. I know because in my regular job I spend a lot of time acting as a strategic planning facilitator for organizations.

Unfortunately, I discovered a long time ago that many organizations are just like the family described above. They are good at planning, but not so good at implementing the plan.

In order to improve the odds of implementing the plan I now require that any group I work with appoint a “scorekeeper” who will call me once a month and report on the progress of the goals that were set at the strategic planning retreat. The results over the past three years have been interesting. About 30% of the organizations have not only had their scorekeeper call each month, they have completed the entire year’s goals in less than six months. Another 30% have called for about six months, but have then faded away, presumably accomplishing only a portion of their goals. Then there is the 40% that I have never heard from. They might be like the family in the above example. Members of the group had other things come up that they would rather do. Priorities changed. The inspiration to plan was greater that the inspiration to implement.

After discussing this with several other facilitators in Mississippi, they agreed that failing to implement plans is a reason that many organizations are not as successful as they could be. The phrase about the plan gathering dust on the shelf is now so well-worn that it is not even funny anymore.

If your organization is doing strategic planning, do not forget the importance of implementing the plan. In my next column we will look at some ways to make certain that the plan gets implemented. If you would like to share some ways that your group actually implemented your plan, please let me know and I will share it with the readers.

Phil Hardwick’s column on Mississippi Business appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is phil@hardwick.com.


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