When any organization gets through a planning cycle, they often come away with a clear path for moving forward. As I’ve discussed several times on this blog, the step where many organizations fail is in executing that plan. Even for those teams that pursue plan execution diligently, too often they still find their plan has key flaws that prevent long-term success.
If you’ve made it this far – you know how to put together a good plan, you know how to create a culture of execution, but the initiatives you’re working on aren’t moving the needle on your overarching goals – you’re likely wondering, “Are we working on the right initiatives?”
You’ll likely encounter this question with any goal setting exercise, personal or professional. Are the activities you conduct on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis driving the outcomes you hope to achieve?
I still remember several situations where I’ve asked myself that question.
For me, one case was health/fitness related. I committed to “becoming a healthier person” with hopes of achieving key fitness milestones such as weight loss, increased endurance, and more. I had measurements and deadlines, so my plan was good. However, I vividly remember being a few months into my “plan,” frustrated with the lack of results and finally wondering, “Am I doing the right things to achieve my goals?” For instance, maybe instead of counting calories, I needed to focus more on the amount of protein I was eating, to reach my goal of becoming stronger.
In this situation, I was able to analyze my activities, adjust my plan, and kickstart my approach to achieving my goals.
Unfortunately for most organizations, adjusting a plan is an afterthought. You’ve likely heard a few of the following questions:
Why adjust the plan if we spent so long developing it in the first place? Are we even sure that we need to adjust the plan? What happens if our new assumptions are incorrect?
Regardless of your situation, it’s important to properly address the key question, “Are we working on the right initiatives?” and adjust. After you’ve asked yourself this question, walk through the following self-assessment steps to identify the answer and best path forward.
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Does your plan have key performance indicators and/or measures, or does it resemble more of a to-do list?
Measurable outcomes are the key way to understand if your plan is working or not. Without benchmarks, you may have a plan that’s working properly – and be asking the wrong question altogether. If you don’t have any measurable outcomes, consider the 3-5 key metrics you discuss amongst your team, department, or organization. Use these as the baseline metrics to measure your business against.
Internally at AchieveIt, we have it broken down by the organizational teams. Sales has targets related to increasing new business, finance has expense-related targets, marketing has targets focused on increasing our reach, engineering is focused on development schedules, and customer success is focused on growing our customer base. So, taking measurements each department deems important helps us establish a baseline to define key targets to measure against overall.
In my fitness example from before, I had key measurable outcomes related to weight loss and endurance. More specifically, I wanted to lose a certain number of pounds and be able to decrease my average time per mile. Can you imagine trying to “be a healthier person” without ever stepping on a scale or visiting the doctor? There would be no way to understand the progress of your plan, and the same applies for any business.
If you do have quantifiable outcomes, the next question is to make sure your initiatives, activities, and projects are directly aligned with your outcomes.
I can’t tell you the amount of customers I’ve spoken with that have a “Strategic” or “Business” plan with a separate “KPI scorecard” or other outside document. While this is fine and manageable in some businesses, many times there are zero connection points between the document and the plan itself. You can see the fatal planning flaw. Why work on a ton of initiatives and projects if you aren’t even sure how they will impact your key performance indicators?
Instead, align your initiatives and projects directly with your outcomes. If a project doesn’t align with an outcome, decide whether the initiative is worth pursuing or if you are potentially missing a key measure. Through completion of your initiatives, the outcome should start moving in the right direction.
When I was trying to “be healthier,” I knew the specific outcomes that would measure success and developed activities that would hopefully push this outcome in the right direction. I increased the number of times I went to the gym and spent more time running to increase my endurance, hopefully setting me on the right path towards my goals.
Unfortunately, as I encountered, and as you likely have too, I was completing the activities but not seeing the results I had hoped to achieve. It didn’t matter how many times I went to the gym if all I was doing was checking a box to say that I went. When I tied my amount of time on the treadmill to my speed per mile, I was able to connect my goal of “time running” to my KPI of “increased mile time,” and that mindset made a big difference.
Like my situation, you may encounter situations where you’ve passed the first two questions but still aren’t seeing the results you hoped. At this point, it’s important to constructively criticize your plan and truly ask, “Are we working on the right initiatives?”
For me, I identified every single potential activity that could influence my outcomes. With this lens, I could identify what potential gaps existed in my plan. Or perhaps there were activities I considered pursuing but put on hold based on available time.
In my situation, I spotted a large roadblock to improving my eating habits: the weekend happy hours and nearby Chick-fil-A were too much to turn down, negating many of the positive activities I was conducting. An increased focus on dieting activity was then added to my plan to give it the boost I needed to start seeing results.
For your organization, it’s critically important to identify the initiatives that aren’t working, but also those that are. In many cases, you can also align the resources, timelines, budget constraints, etc. to increase this analysis.
If you are spending a ton of time and money on initiatives that aren’t moving your outcomes in the right direction, don’t be afraid to pull the plug and apply those resources elsewhere. Your plan shouldn’t be set in stone. This is the key step in achieving the results you aim to achieve.
For many clients, I recommend having a brief conversation on this topic quarterly – analyzing your plan and whether or not your aligned for success and measuring outcomes. The more and more you have this discussion, the easier it will become to identify the key initiatives, projects, strategies, and more to move your outcomes in the right direction.
In many situations, there is actually a fourth question to ask. There are some measures that simply take longer to react to activities and it’s important to identify these metrics before abandoning successful initiatives and activities.
While there is no perfect science for this question, it should not be forgotten as you would hate to abandon activities too early, when results are just around the corner.
While it’s likely I hadn’t given myself enough time for my fitness results to occur, I was able to combine my “plan adjustment” with enough time to achieve the results I aimed for from day one.
No matter your organization’s size, industry, or focus on strategy and planning, you can apply these basic principles today to improve your execution. Our clients combine these principles with the AchieveIt platform to have direct insight into outcome and initiative performance, identifying areas that may not be working effectively and enabling true agile planning.