This year, our expert consultants have been recommending a more agile approach to strategic planning; rather than hunkering down for two days in a conference room and emerging with a fully fleshed-out plan for next year, we've advocated for several shorter sessions with some time between each to gather more data and see what you can learn from the constantly evolving market conditions. As the year comes to a close, however, it is time to put some stakes in the ground and make some decisions about what to focus on in the coming months. Now's the time to ink a few clear objectives, which can always be adjusted as we learn more down the road.
Once you've done the hard work to put together a plan for 2021, how do you pressure test it to feel confident in the plan before sharing it across your company and with your key external stakeholders? Leaders likely feel more uncertain than usual this year considering many of us proudly shared 2020 plans only to have them thrown out the window completely in March.
We recommend pressure testing your plan around the following areas:
- Financial Test:
- Does your plan help you achieve your company's financial goals? You need to be sure the activities you are committing to for the next year will generate enough profit and revenue to keep your business running.
- Have you budgeted for the right resources to make your initiatives successful? Ensure you don't create your financial and execution plans in silos; the two processes should be iterative and integrated so that you have budgeted for the right people and resources to achieve your plan.
- Do you have a plan B for hitting your financial plan? Plan for various scenarios: How will you continue to be healthy financially if there are more shutdowns or if you lose a key customer?
- Focus Test:
- Have you defined a clear focus to grow and improve the business? Have a clearly stated theme or main thing that your whole company can easily remember and rally around.
- Do you have too many priorities? We've seen time and again that when companies have more than 3-5 priorities for the year, they achieve fewer of them than when they settle on a tight list of top initiatives. In an uncertain environment, it is even more important to have fewer priorities so you can save some energy for handling unexpected events.
- Are your team's priorities connected to your top initiatives for the company? Simply put, are individuals and departments working on the right things to move the company's plan forward? Is there anything in left field, or do the plans align with the company's goals?
- Energy Test:
- Do you have enough people working on your top priorities? Make sure you have enough energy - teams, resources, time - behind the top initiatives for the company.
- Is anyone overloaded? If you've got departments or individuals with long priority lists that would be impossible to achieve, address it now. Deal with resource dependencies and overloaded team members upfront so you don't burn out the team and find out later that your priorities just weren’t realistic.
- Accountability Test:
- Do you know who owns each of your goals in the plan? Every goal in your plan should have one clear owner. You may have many team members working on a goal, but there should be one person who is ultimately accountable for getting it done.
- Does your plan have clear success criteria for all your priorities? Each of your goals should also have clear criteria defining what a successful outcome looks like. Without a vivid picture of success and failure on each, you risk having teams work hard on the wrong thing.
Run your plan through this list, and see where you may have vulnerabilities. Don't risk investing in a plan that's destined to fail. Your resources are too precious at this point to do that. Have confidence in your plan by ensuring you are meeting your financial goals, focusing everyone on the right priorities, marshaling resources and energy around the top items to achieve, and providing clarity and accountability for achieving results.
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