I recently facilitated a strategic planning session involving three teams tasked with the job of creating a project plan.  While two of the teams huddled and debated, the third tackled the exercise with confidence and focus, finishing a full 45 minutes ahead of the others.  (It then, in the spirit of competitiveness, proceeded to rib the other teams about their tortoise-like progress.)

Impressive?  Sure, they finished early, but how good was the project plan?

Interestingly, in our debrief session, one thing became abundantly clear:  while the ‘hares’ got the plan done quickly and efficiently, they neglected to define the desired outputs. The destination. The desired results.   In their haste to complete the plan, they also failed to create success metrics for measuring progress.

It’s an error that can be fatal for businesses. But unsurprisingly, it’s also very common. All too often, organizations approach strategic planning as a check-the-box exercise, rather than as a strategic session that requires honest thought, reflection and – most importantly, clear outputs and metrics.   Consequently, they put ambitious strategies and growth targets in place, without first determining where they are going and how they will measure progress.

After 30 years in the business, I like to think of strategic planning a road trip:  You can’t answer the question, “Are we there yet?” if there are no markers for success along the way.   The journey, as they say, is almost as important as the destination.

Below are three important guidelines for developing any plan, strategic, operational, annual or project plan.

  • Make sure the destination – the output – is hawk-eye clear. The very first step is clarity of goal.  Ask yourself “Why are we doing this?”  The answer to this question needs to be expressed in terms of results (e.g. Improve Customer Loyalty, Increase Sales).
  • Separate ‘outputs’ from activities. Try this test: Do any of the words describing your desired results, end in ‘ing’? Example: Analyzing, Reporting, Proposing? If so, you are focusing on activities, not the result.  Asking the question ‘why’ will lead you to the output.
  • Establish your success metrics.

Here are some ideas for success metrics for Customer Loyalty:

  • Percent of revenue from repeat customer sales.
  • Net Promoter Score: How many of your customers would recommend your company versus how many would not?  Admittedly a tough metric, and not for those that are not totally committed to customer loyalty. Apple uses it.
  • Customer Loyalty Survey (ask questions about why they come back or don’t; why they recommend you to others, or don’t) and KEEP IT SHORT!

With these guidelines in mind, you and your teams will be able to check your progress along the path to your destination, and correct your course if necessary.  The ultimate payout is (of course) long-term business success and increasing shareholder value.