Dave Conrad: Make sure to follow through on plans

Dear Dave: I started working for an organization in Rochester about 6 months ago. What I've noticed is something I am not used to – management knows how to write good plans, but they do a lousy job of executing them. It's such a waste, because we spend so much time collecting information and planning. Any ideas? — R

Dear R: I'm reminded of the saying, "If you fail to plan, then plan to fail," but in your case, it's more like, "If you fail to execute the plan, then plan to be executed." However, I know exactly what you mean and I have seen this problem before.

I am amazed at why managers would not implement a plan that they have spent so much time on. They have spent time gathering data. They have taken the data and analyzed it. They have planned from the facts they have uncovered. Then, they very expeditiously put the plan on the shelf and every-so-often glance at it and say, "There it is — one heck of a plan!"

One study reveals that each year the average organization spends 20,000 person hours on planning, budgeting, and forecasting for every $100 million in annual revenue. With an investment of this magnitude, it makes sense that most companies would run their plans.

SUBHED: Executing the Execution


The strategic planning process in most organizations, if there even is a process in place, can be flawed. The planning process in many companies consists of executive retreats each year, wherein the senior management of the organization discuss planning and where they want to take the business.

The output of this process is often a plan document full of ideas with some goals, objectives, and milestones. Unfortunately, in many cases, that's where the planning process for that year often ends.

Why do most plans go unexecuted? Is it simply human nature, or are there other demonic forces at work here? The lack of execution typically has a lot to do with the lack of a system, structure, and flow for actual plan execution. The firm, Project Leadership Associates came up with 5 barriers to executing a plan:

1. The underlying plan strategy is not clear: Many companies have unclear basic organizational strategies. This leads to confusion, ranging from "fuzziness" in direction, to silent conflict among staff, to a breakdown of understanding among managers and employees.

2. The plan is overly optimistic: Runaway optimism builds failure into the plan, corrupting the

entire notion of execution in the minds of the people required to follow through and in the processes required to maintain the 'realistic' plan outcomes.

3. No one is accountable for results: Accountability is the unseen force that motivates

individuals to follow through on their commitments. A primary driver of accountability is clarity


on "who is on the hook for what."

4. The plan has not been actively deployed: At first hearing, most employees will not understand a plan enough to apply it to their activities and responsibilities. At worst, the result is mismatched expectations regarding what management has actually committed to.

5. The plan is static: Within many of the plans that end up in overstuffed binders locked away in the credenza, there is an unspoken assumption that nothing happening either inside or outside of the company can change the validity of the plan. Wrong!

Successful plan execution is a living, dynamic process. That's why it is important to distinguish between planning and execution — an ongoing process for reviewing and maintaining progress.

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