Take Your Strategic Plan Deep Into the Playoffs

Tracy Doyle

Fall is strategic planning season for most businesses. It’s the time when Greater Cincinnati business leaders gather to review the past year’s results, plan for the future and debate the most pressing question: will the Bengals win a playoff game this season?

Traditionally, only seven out of 10 companies will develop a strategic plan to guide them into the next year. Even more astounding, only one in 10 will fully implement their plan. I guess that means the Bengals have a lot of company.

For you, this year is going to be different. You’re going to involve your key managers, develop a brilliant strategic plan, execute it, monitor your progress and make adjustments along the way. Sounds like a plan.

If you have the blueprint and track record to pull this off year after year, congratulations. For everyone else who wants to lead their team deep into the playoffs – and win the Super Bowl of whatever business you’re in – here are a few ideas to consider.

Incorporate PAR into your planning. Here’s what that stands for:

Prioritize – focus on what matters most.    

Adapt – see change as an opportunity.

Be Responsible – take ownership of the outcome.

Just like par is the standard of excellence on a golf course, so too is PAR the key to excellence in business. It’s your road map to identifying tasks and finishing them, which in this case is developing and implementing a killer strategic plan.

Prioritize – focus on what matters most 

The difference between success and failure often comes down to whether leadership has the ability to focus the organization’s attention on the things that matter most. That’s what a good strategic plan does: narrow the list to the ones that will have the greatest impact in the coming year. 

Consider the following questions to help identify your highest priorities:

  • What are the top three goals we want to accomplish?
  • What are the most significant trends that will impact our markets over the next five years?
  • What are our most pressing short-term and long-term threats?
  • Are we properly positioned to attract, retain and motivate our number one competitive advantage, our employees?
  • What emerging markets offer significant growth opportunities and leverage our current strengths?
  • What are we doing to develop technological competitive advantages?
  • Is our corporate vision statement engrained in our culture, and does it send us in the right direction?

To best create a strategic plan, many companies leave the office for a day or two. A fresh environment and an outside facilitator can help people break from their daily routine and crank up the creative juices. Be sure to include the right people, too. Ideally you want both the executive leadership as well as key team members who might be able to offer new insights.

Set clear goals, keep to your schedule and write all ideas on those giant wall sticky note sheets. Then analyze each topic and come to agreement on your priorities. Make sure you break down your top strategic initiatives into detailed action steps with due dates and metrics. 

Adapt – see change as an opportunity 

As you develop your strategic plan it is critical to ask: “How and what do we need to change?”

Regardless of how successful you’ve been, the world – and your marketplace – is changing, and probably changing faster than you think. This is your opportunity to look into the crystal ball and do the things now to get ahead of the curve.

As you undertake strategic planning, recognize the importance of fostering an environment that encourages innovation. It will allow you to move faster, build loyalty among your customers and employees and discover new ways to stay ahead of the competition. Companies that adapt fastest are often the ones that win in the long run. 

Strategic planning is your best opportunity to commit to making the changes you’ve been considering. Let your team know that the best thing for everyone in the long run is to get ahead of the change curve and see change as an opportunity. 

Be Responsible—take ownership of the outcome.

Responsibility starts at the top and flows down to the front-line workers. As you develop your strategic plan, be crystal clear on who owns what and by when. 

The upshot of virtually every plan is a reallocation of resources. Make sure the people who are responsible for making things happen – especially the biggest changes – have the money, staff and time to accomplish the objectives. Incorporate these into the budget for the upcoming year. 

Leadership needs to hold each responsible person accountable for delivering on their piece of the strategic plan. This can only happen with regular meetings to review progress. If your financial results come out on the 10th of the following month, schedule your meetings immediately afterwards. Keep the focus on your top strategic plans. If there has been a major change in the marketplace that necessitates rethinking the plan, gather the people who have ownership in that area and revise your plans.

True responsibility means not just talking about what you’re going to do but taking action on it and being accountable for the results. It’s critical that everyone involved understands what it means to “own the outcome.” Because there are always other groups involved in supporting the plan, good communications is often a key differentiator between those who get it done and those who fall short.

Once you have finalized the plan, leadership needs to communicate it to the entire organization. Work hard to get buy-in at all levels because without it you’ll be swimming upstream all year. 

Strategic planning is your opportunity to imagining the future that you want. Great leadership, teamwork and discipline will make it a reality. As for the Bengals going deep into the playoffs, it all comes down to execution. I like their odds. Who-Dey!


Krissi Barr is president of Barr Corporate Success and co-author of “Plugged.” Her Cincinnati-based consulting firm works with businesses throughout the country and specializes in strategic planning, executive coaching and training.