Failure in strategic planning is the most commonly shared managerial experience. You have probably been to entire retreats of several days to create the Strategic Plan. Most of those statements that were argued and discussed, nuanced and negotiated, now reside on the President’s shelves. Most of us have forgotten the 1, 3, and 5 year goals by the time we review the plan again. There are several ways that the plan can fail.
- Lack of a believable Strategic Plan
- Lack of 1 year, 1 quarter, and 1 week planned actions to execute the Strategic Plan
- Lack of energy to execute the 1 week plans due to Satisficing
Satisficing – ‘Satisficing’ means to make something satisfactory. For example, you need a good chair for your office. No one has job satisfaction just because they were given a Herman Miller chair. People don’t accept another job because it came with a SAYL. But it’s also true that staff will complain about the absence of a good chair. Their productivity will suffer until they are given a good chair. If the struggle goes on long enough, they might even quit over the lack of a chair.
Satisficing is those conditions and actions that are necessary to keep everything going smoothly – to keep all parties satisfied. The problem with satisficing is that it does not move your company ahead. Fixing the holes in the boat so that it doesn’t sink is not the same as setting off for your Caribbean vacation.
What are examples of Satisficing that dooms Strategic Planning?
Let’s assume that you have a good strategic plan to build a community center in 5 years. Your first year plan is to choose the location and type of financing. Your three month goal is to meet with 3 realtors and 12 banks. You weekly plan to spend an afternoon each week with 1 bank, 1 realtor and 2 followups.
As you prepare to execute current actions for the future Strategic Plan, you check the morning mail before you leave the office. There is a claim for unemployment and the HR staff is on vacation. You drop the plan to meet the realtor. It takes an hour to document why he was fired and mail the document as well as scanning it.
You have just satisficed. It was necessary. No company can ignore unemployment claims and the many other issues that arise in the work week. Even worse, we all face satisficing issues next week that we are not expecting. It’s easy to consume the week with satisficing activities. It’s like checking the boat motor, checking the electronics, buying the stores and fuel – and never leaving the dock.
How can you protect the Strategic Plan?
Avoid your temptations – Strategic plans are not tried and found wanting, they are found hard and not tried. Satisficing activities are often easier than our real agenda. Even in my example, the Strategic activity of looking for suitable real estate sites and talking to 12 banks and following up on realtors and banks sounds like something I don’t want to do. The unemployment claim is far easier to tackle and can burn up at least one hour.
Arrange Your Management Team – Harnish lists key roles in any company. They include Director, IT, Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, Innovation, Controller, Talent development, HR (Harnish, 2014:38). The point is that if you don’t have clear delegation for the critical core areas of a company, all satisficing flips back to the Executive Director. If your title is Chief Satisficer, throw away your strategic plan. You cannot lead in both areas.
Sometimes, in my own company, I feel guilty as I see people working hard and I’ve saved time today for reading and reflection. I wonder if people think that I’m not working hard enough as I take 2 principals to lunch on Tuesday. I don’t take any sales calls. I only get involved with parents after the manager of that program has tried to solve the problem. The fact is that I need to protect my time to accomplish the Strategic Plan.
Reclaim Vacant Time – ‘Jell’ is one example of a program where all the members of the team report in the morning what they will accomplish in the next 24 hours. It increases self discipline. I work until 6pm, but I notice that if I run out of tasks after 2pm, it’s easy to waste time on satisficing. My call to the Board Chair can stretch to include reflections on vacation. My search online can expand to read the news.
Those messy tasks that don’t have a specific deadline could be stuffed into my vacant time, but motivation is lacking. Believe me – telling your management team on Jell that you will be doing some of these things is a great stimulant to keep pushing.
If you have a Strategic Plan, then your company has accepted that the future needs to be changed. It’s a sacred trust placed in your hands. The most important task of the Executive Director is to make a Management team that can execute the Strategic Plan. Don’t let anything steal your energy from bringing the future to today.
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