Is Your Strategic Plan a Living Document?

April 27, 2005 · by James P. Cramer

I've been writing to you about impending mega transformations in the design professions and the A/E/C industry as a whole. Now we see a convergence of these trends and unfolding economic activity that will shake up each building sector unlike anything we have seen before.

I've been writing to you about impending mega transformations in the design professions and the A/E/C industry as a whole. Now we see a convergence of these trends and unfolding economic activity that will shake up each building sector unlike anything we have seen before. Between now and 2030 our built environment in the United States will double in size. The baby boomer generation (a crowd of 75 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964) will have a soon-to-come retirement range of nearly two decades. One-third of all secondary school teachers in the U.S. will quit by 2008. The oil and gas industry will lose 60 percent of their veteran employees by 2010. These and so many other game-changing events will have signal impact on architects, engineers, designers and construction organizations. Combine demographics with technology and we see converging situations that will require leadership, foresight and agility.

At no point in our lifetimes have these trends given birth to such expected profound changes. We must not squander this time of change. Opportunities for some will be crisis for other professionals who are unprepared.

One of the reasons people do not engage in strategic planning is because they have been nonplussed by their past experience with strategic planning. And the plans themselves have often been put in a file and made little difference. The message of my letter to you this month is that you must strategically plan your future during this time of sea change and just as importantly, you must implement that plan with unfailing diligence.

You have no doubt heard the phrase, "plan the work and work the plan." Or perhaps, "failing to plan is planning to fail." With these words and perspectives in mind let's discuss the all-important aspect of implementation of your firm's business and strategic plan.

Is your plan gathering dust on a shelf? If so, you are not alone. Strategic plans often fail to yield full benefits simply because the commitment to the plan itself softens over time. The best-laid plans can go stale and the potential benefits are frittered away if the implementation loses discipline.

Of course, a well-designed strategy is key to success. But all too often, in the process of strategy, the implementation itself stalls. As common as this is, you can be alert to the danger signs and actually play a role as the leader who keeps energy high and commitment strong. Effective leadership is just as important as the plan itself. A leader anticipates that there will be a certain gravitational pull on the strategic directions. You can and must coach the plan through the doldrums.

To keep your plan on track, be sure to include a section in your plan that covers action steps and roles and responsibilities for each strategic direction. Let's say that you have five to seven new strategic directions, each detailing what you want to do differently in the future to achieve your vision. Each strategic direction in your plan then should have a leader's name next to it. Often it is advisable to include a schedule or a timetable that will be required to achieve the strategy.

The implementation tactics should also be given careful consideration. Too often professional practices fall into a habit pattern of scheduling out strategic initiatives on a simple calendar basis and not giving enough attention to the quality of the tactics. Tactics, like strategy, need to be thoroughly thought through before "pulling the trigger" on actions initiatives. Tactics are both art and science. They go hand in hand with strategy and will determine its success or failure.

Even when your tactics are well thought out the plan can still get sidetracked when a firm discovers that resources to achieve the plan are not properly in place. Resources can include money of course, but also include time, sufficient skills and even attitudes. Be certain that the resources that you need are lined up to give the strategic directions and tactics the fuel they deserve.

Sometimes a plan loses momentum because the commitment is fleeting. It is essential to get an organizational commitment to your strategic plan. We recommend that there be a one-page short version and then a longer, advanced version to be used by the leaders and policy makers. Your plan will reaffirm the vision and the significant strategic directions of the firm. These strategic directions are the firm's priorities for change. Ultimately they will ensure that your vision is realized.

Ever so often it will become obvious that the necessary leadership to achieve the plan is lacking. Strategy requires the highest-quality leadership throughout the process—not just during process, planning and launch. You must personally know that you have done all that is possible to design and execute the best possible strategy for your firm. Your own energy level and commitment should become contagious. As strategy unfolds, leaders get more respect.

Each month, monitor stalls and successes at the policy level of the organization. One the reason that firms do not achieve their strategic direction goals is that feedback systems are incomplete (or perhaps calibrated to older values) and plans have not been updated. Sometimes we see data overload and other times insufficient gathering of relevant, usable information. We recommend a strategic dashboard that lists directions, targets, status and specific accountabilities. When a well-functioning strategic plan is in place there is a consciousness to the plan. When the dashboard indicates a problem, then you can take corrective actions.

Strategic planning is not an easy process and should not be taken lightly. Still, it is essential to create a sustainable, not just "best of class" organization—one that anticipates game-changing events that we can now predict. Your role is to navigate the watershed experience inherent in change and to keep motivation for change high. There is a lot to contemplate, and there is a lot on your plate. You must make a no-exceptions stance to create a plan and follow that plan in order to have successful long-term success in this changing profession.

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How Firms Succeed 5.0

Winning Work Isn't About Who You Know, But Who Knows You

Implementation of Strategy

Be sure your plan has clarity and commitment from each principal.

Create action steps, then delegate responsibility and time requirements.

Allocate resources differently to align with your new strategic directions.

Establish a strategic dashboard with feedback provisions to measure what is most important to your firm.

Coach the plan daily and give it more energy than you've ever given before.

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