BASIC BUSINESS CENTS: Turn plan into strategic action

Lou Schultz

Strategic planning isn’t enough; organized follow-up to achieve the planning is mandatory.

That sounds like a simplistic statement, but we often need reminding of the simple things. In my career I noticed, too many times, a strategic planning effort without follow-up accomplished nothing.

Once a year, the company would name its best and brightest individuals to a team to develop a new strategic plan. They would work hard and collect a large amount of data, which was incorporated into a large three-ring binder to support the strategies. They made their presentation to management of the excellent strategies and received pats on the back for their good work. Then the strategy binders were put on a shelf and there they sat for another year until the new strategy team would pull out the binders and say, “I wonder what we said last year.”

Strategy is typically developed after top management determines where they want the organization to be in a specific time frame, like five years. They then strive to obtain consensus of employees on this goal or vision along with mission or purpose, and values. After this, the planning can determine the steps necessary to achieve the vision.

An interesting exercise can be done at this point to determine priorities. Each strategy is compared to the others to see which is primarily the cause and which is the effect of their relationship. The one with the most causes is the highest priority and frequently results in surprises.


For example, the highest cause might be building teamwork, and the lowest a net profit of 25 percent. If you don’t build teamwork, achieving mutual trust and respect up, down, and across the organization, then the chance of achieving the end result for the other strategies is diminished. On the other hand, if you accomplish the other strategies, chances are the financial goals will be achieved. This is not obvious without the cause and effect exercise.

Now comes the hard part: MAKE IT HAPPEN! Instead of putting the new plan on the shelf, devise a plan to get results. I have found it helpful to develop a matrix chart with a row for each strategy and column headings such as:

  • Proposed action: Detail the approach to achieve the strategy.

  • Why is this important: It helps people function on the task if they know its importance.

  • How will we measure it: Knowing the starting point and desired point displays progress. Often the progress is not appreciated if we do not measure it.

  • Objective: Defining the goal should be paramount in the mind of everyone impacted by the strategy.

  • Leader: It should be made clear to everyone who has the major responsibility to achieve this goal.

  • Completion date: A timetable for expected achievement of the strategy helps people to focus.

Top management should review progress with each leader monthly and provide help if needed. This is extremely important because it demonstrates management’s commitment to accomplish the strategies.
The top executive at one of my clients held monthly operations meetings with his staff. He said he would start each meeting with the review of progress on their strategies. He said if they had time left over, they would discuss existing problems but if time ran out, he assumed the staff would solve their problems on their own.

Another top executive of a client had a map of their vision and strategies on his wall. He said when an employee came to his office with a request, he would ask them if their request was granted, would it help them reach their vision? If the response was positive and could be explained, he would grant the request. If the answer was no, it probably would be rejected. He was showing focus on what was important.

A good plan coupled with follow-up attention to progress on strategies will obtain results. Neither is sufficient by itself.

Lou Schultz is a Certified SCORE Mentor and can be reached by email at

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