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Before we jump into the specifics of how to realize every objective in your strategic plan, I would like to share what I have observed as an epidemic of over planned failure.
There are literally thousands of books and articles out there on how to set your mission, vision and values followed by a good strategic planning session and setting of ‘SMART’ operational objectives. Many organizations follow these models like a bible.
Shortly after creating a set of clear objectives, much time and effort is spent creating a dashboard to measure performance against them. Then things don’t go as planned and objectives get missed. Timelines are not met, budgets are blown and the organization starts to struggle. Fingers start to point and at least one person starts to feel like a bit of a donkey.
So, with all this intellectual gold out there, why do so many organizations fail at obtaining their carefully planned objectives more than they succeed? Is it the models? The people? The new generation?
It’s none of these. They simply forget to mind the gap.
Organizations put a lot of time and energy into creating a strategic plan. They organize, measure, select, hire and create clear, specific, achievable objectives and then ship them off to management to execute. This is where the expectations gap is created (or, in all too many cases, the expectations chasm).
Nowhere in this process does anyone address the “how” to achieve these objectives and fit them into the existing set of everyday tasks. Managers are simply provided with their objectives and told to get them done by a specific date (After all that’s what the “T” stands for in ‘SMART’ objectives! Isn’t it?). Many managers fail to achieve their objectives. This result is, in every case, attributable to the absence of at least one of three elements required for success.
For every objective, there are three elements that are inexorably linked and absolutely required for success:
If you have a personally accountable manager your job becomes much easier! These folks will hold themselves accountable for achieving their objectives. Unfortunately, using Pareto’s principle, this applies to only 20% of your managers. The rest must be held accountable by you for achieving their objectives.
You must provide your managers with the authority to manage the objective. Sounds easy right? Let’s explore this a bit. Have you ever been asked to manage someone who does not report to you? Not so easy is it? If your manager does not have the authority to manage the resources necessary to achieve the objective, he or she will either miss the objective altogether or miss the deadline.
This is the overarching constraint to any objective. Resources include people, money, expertise, equipment and time to name a few. Of these, it is important to note that time is unique as it can only be managed, it cannot be bought or controlled – it will march on, whether you achieve your objective or not.
If even one of these elements is missing, the person who has been assigned the objective will, no matter how good he or she is, end up missing the objective. This is where I assign the term assponsibility because, at the end of the day, the objective is not reached and the person leading it ends up looking like a donkey. It is critical not to assign assposibility to anyone, and you should certainly never accept assponsibility for an objective that does not provide you with these 3 elements. I know this having done both at some point in my career.
Let’s say you have established your objectives and feel you have skillfully avoided assponsibility by providing your manager with the authority and resources required and holding them accountable for execution against your objectives. What if they still have concerns?
Easy! Ask them to clearly state what elements of the objective(s) are not achievable or aligned and, assuming they don’t just require some additional clarity, be ready to listen to their concerns and either adjust the objective or provide additional resources to help them succeed! After all:
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein
I would be remiss not to conclude with a final important step. Once your manager does succeed, always recognize his or her success. Why? Because the next set of objectives is just around the corner!
Reap the rewards!
It has been my experience that using this approach works in most pursuits – it is not just applicable for businesses. I have applied this to everyday decision making.
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