Excellence University Blog

Strategic Execution Plans: The Next Phase In Strategic Planning

by John Spence

February 4th, 2008

I was recently invited to return to the Wharton School of Business for the fourth year in a row to teach a special class on strategic planning for the Securities Industry Institute. I called them last week to ask if it were possible to shift the class more from “planning” to strategic “thinking” this year, but was surprised to find out that 98 executives had already signed up for the class based on the catalog description of it as a solid look at how to write and effective strategic plan. So I decided to go back and take a hard look at the class and see if I could update it a bit and was surprised to have an epiphany of sorts.

I have long decried that one of the factors that inhibits the ability to write a good strategic plan is the lack of “strategic thinking” that typically goes into the planning process. If a practitioner is not spending serious time and effort on the thinking part of the equation, there is the possibility they can do the planning part of the process (the methodology, the framework) superbly, only to create a flawed plan because it was based on poor information and ideas. Then I realized that was another major issue that I simply had not been stressing enough; the execution of the plan.

Everybody knows that even a brilliant plan that is poorly executed is almost worthless. And there can be no denying that every strategic planner in the world will jump up and down about how important it is to “execute to plan” – but then it struck me – almost none of them make planning for effective execution part of the strategic plan!

What I am suggesting, and will now add to all of my classes, is that a strategic plan is NOT complete, until you have also written a clear, specific, and measurable and detailed “Strategic Execution Plan.” A carefully constructed document that spells out precisely how the plan will be executed; what will be measured and how; what success and failure looks like, how you will review and track the execution, and what the rewards and punishments around those key measures.

It has been my experience that most organization spend very little time doing any real strategic thinking, then spend a lot of time, energy and money on an elaborate “planning retreat” that focuses heavily on process, and then walk away from the plan and simply expect that they can pass out the plan and it will be dutifully implemented by their people. I say no, not unless just as much energy, time and effort goes into creating a system and a process for ensuring effective execution as well.

I now see planning as a three part process: Strategic Thinking + Strategic Planning Process + Execution Planning/Process. This is why I have decided to utilize ExcellenceUniversity’s Execution Boost Support System with more of my clients this year. I’ve come to realize that you can be incredibly innovative and have stunning ideas that you run through a wonderful planning process, but without the detailed and specific systems in place to ensure execution, the plan will simply go up on the shelf as credenza-ware, only to be pulled down for next year’s planning retreat – dusted off – and push all the dates out 18 months. That is no way to use a strategic plan – and I encourage everyone reading this now to consider developing a Strategic Execution Plan as soon as possible.

Article Filed under: I. WATER (Team/Group Excellence)

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