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5 tips on implementing your strategic plan

Adequate resources, management support and sustained follow-up are crucial to success

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You’ve done the hard work of creating a strategic plan for your business. Now what? If your company is like many others, the plan will sit on a shelf, ignored.

The phenomenon has a name: Failure to implement. It’s like having a roadmap to your destination, but never getting in your car to drive there. The problem could be lack of time, support, or resources for carrying out initiatives, or no follow-up to make sure the progress stays on track.

“A lot of companies have a great strategic plan, but it’s poorly implemented,” says Nyron Drepaul, a Senior Business Advisor with BDC’s Advisory Services who helps companies prepare strategic plans. “It’s a shame because the value of a strategic plan is realized in the implementation. It’s important to get it right, or your planning work will be wasted and your business will fail to achieve its goals.”

Initiatives in the strategic plan are often seen as outside everyone’s day-to-day work. Management has to reinforce the message that the strategic plan is part of the day-to-day work.

Drepaul offers five tips for implementing your strategic plan:

1. Allocate adequate resources

Adequate human and financial resources are critical for implementation success. A key output in strategic planning is an action plan that lists concrete initiatives to achieve your goals. It includes a timeline, the names of employees who will carry out each action and key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor progress.

An appropriate budget should be allocated for each initiative, along with time, support, authority and any needed training for employees to accomplish it.

“Employees often don’t get the time, support or resources they need,” Drepaul says. “Initiatives in the strategic plan are often seen as outside everyone’s day-to-day work. Management has to reinforce the message that the strategic plan is part of the day-to-day work. That is half the battle of implementation.”

Some companies make the mistake of thinking that once they have a strategic plan, they don’t need to spend any additional money on executing it.

“If the plan involves actions, it requires a budget for each action,” Drepaul says.

2. Assign the team responsible for implementation

The strategic plan should list which employee will carry out and take responsibility for each initiative, along with who else will provide support or be involved.

It can also be helpful to appoint champions for key initiatives; they can act as change agents in their department and as a point of contact for other employees. A champion can be someone listed in the strategic plan or another employee.

“The key is for your team to take ownership of the plan,” Drepaul says. “The worst is if ownership is only with the CEO. You need to delegate authority and responsibility.”

Also consider whether you need outside help to implement or support certain initiatives (for example, an operational efficiency expert or website designer), or even a coach to support the entire strategic plan.

3. Schedule regular review meetings

Regular meetings (monthly is typical) are essential to the successful implementation of the strategic plan. They provide an important mechanism to monitor progress, recognize achievements, resolve problems and take any needed corrective actions. A more thorough review is useful each quarter; this is a good time to see if your broader goals need to be revised and any tactics need to be changed.

“Regular meetings are the infrastructure of the implementation process,” Drepaul says. “One of the main causes of implementation problems is a lack of regular effective meetings. Some people say they’re too busy with their day-to-day. This is your day-to-day. If you only meet once a quarter and fall behind, it’s harder to get back on track.”

Ensure meetings are productive and effective by setting an agenda and making them action-oriented and efficient.

4. Watch your key performance measures

Your strategic plan should include key performance indicators (KPIs) for each initiative. These may be measures for individual employees, departments and the business as a whole.

You must keep a constant eye on the KPIs, reviewing them at meetings and in between. This can be monitored by a suitable KPI dashboard.

“Remember that what gets measured gets done,” Drepaul says. “This is a fundamental principle of behaviour and organizational change. You have to have the right metrics; otherwise nothing will happen. The right metrics are critical for driving the desired actions, behaviour and results.”

5. Be agile and ready to adjust

No plan survives the first contact with reality. It’s important for your implementation plan to be agile and flexible.

“You can’t predict the future exactly, so be prepared to adapt and adjust the plan as conditions change internally and externally,” Drepaul says. “You have to recognize that executing the plan is interactive and requires continuous adaptation, all focused on moving the needle toward your desired future state. A strategic plan is a living, breathing document.”

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