I have two dogs—Brownie and Linus. Brownie is a three year old dachshund and Linus is a two year old Chiweenie. They are good friends, but make no mistake—they plot to prevent each other from succeeding at his or her intentions on a regular basis. For example, Linus is an attention hound—he just can’t get enough affection. So Brownie knows that if she wants Linus’ rawhide bone, all she has to do is come get petted by either my husband or me. Without fail, Linus drops his bone and runs to get petted, too—at which point Brownie grins in her doggie way while she steals away with Linus’ bone. On the other hand, Linus plans his revenge by patiently waiting inside the house watching the dog door. As soon as Brownie tries to come inside, Linus runs full speed at her and chest butts her off her feet. They do this over and over again, apparently expecting there will be a different outcome eventually. One would think Linus would ‘see through’ Brownie’s sudden need for attention and stay with his bone. And one might think Brownie would anticipate Linus’ impending charge as she comes through the door. But they don’t, and the same results happen again and again!
Unfortunately, I have seen executive leadership teams that display these same types of behavior. These leaders continue the same patterns of unsuccessful behaviors regarding their strategic plan, expecting there will be a different outcome eventually. It’s usually after this point when they realize they aren’t making any progress that they call in an management consultant, hoping to find a way to achieve different outcomes.
Strategic planning is an imperative part of leading an organization, but it isn’t the planning that determines a company’s success. The plan is just the documentation of intention. It’s what you do to implement the plan that is key to success. Executive leaders need to determine the direction of their organizations. It is necessary and admirable for them to spend time, effort, and money to develop a company’s vision. Afterwards, though, to guarantee success, the leader must lead her team to the finish line by actually following through on the plan. Sometimes that means moving in a different way than you used to, identifying new talent, removing obstacles, asking different questions, or even hearing new ideas.
Doing the same things over and over hoping for new outcomes is not only the definition of insanity but also a guarantee of, at best, maintaining the status quo and possibly even losing ground.
So how do you move from intention to actionable plans? Ask questions! I believe you have access to lots of answers or you wouldn’t have made it to your current position in the organization. Unfortunately, what commonly happens is that executive leaders get caught up in daily operations, running as fast as possible but making no progress. And they stop asking appropriate questions!
The questions we ask are what lead to new ideas and innovations. It is the questions that lead to different but defined actions. It’s important to identify specific actions, who is responsible for completing them, the time frame involved, and the desired outcome. Only by following this process can you implement your strategic plan.
The strategic planning process is a great way to think through the intentions of your company. But you don’t want to be like Brownie and Linus—although very cute—repeating the same actions over and over again expecting something to change. To break the status quo, you must intend to break it and take action to have a different outcome.