The Planning-Execution Gap is a phenomenon that rattles almost every organization. The gap comes in all shapes and sizes, but there are important similarities, and you will usually hear people saying things like this:
- “We have a clear strategy, but we just can’t seem to execute.”
- “We’ve been dealing with this issue for a long time, but we just can’t overcome it.”
- “Only the ED understands everything that’s going on around here.”
- “We try to be all things to to all people, and everything seems like a priority – but we never get anything done.”
A big challenge when leading your association through business planning, is bridging the gap between strategy and execution.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of helping your organization’s leaders articulate a nice strategy, but that doesn’t mean it can or will be executed. Many organizations will have a sound strategy at one end of the planning spectrum, and good projects and actions at the other, but the two just do not connect.
The participants in your planning process are human. Sure they would love it if they could execute their plans to move the business forward, but it takes hard work and many don’t really want to make the necessary changes to close the gap.
As a result, many organizations live with the Planning Gap because it is easier to “do” business planning once a year, and forget about it. Everyone seems surprised that very little actually got accomplished in the following year, then justify the shortcomings in a variety of ways, and repeat the process over again.
When it comes to making and executing strategy, it is human nature to want action. Association executives and managers are action oriented people and we crave execution. When we have a vision for where we want to go…we just want to get there. But is our need for action putting our strategy and our project outcomes at risk? Are we putting our association at risk?
As difficult as it is, we must all do a better job to clearly understand, state and test the critical underlying assumptions of our strategy and projects. First we need to agree that in order to believe our strategy or our project plan, we have in fact made some assumptions. Next, we must answer a few key questions and state our assumptions as clearly as possible:
- To actually achieve our project objectives or vision, what would we need to believe to be true?
- Whether we have said them out loud or not…either implicit, or explicit, what assumptions have we made?
- If wrong, which assumptions are actually critical to our expected outcomes?
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Finally, we must test our critical assumptions. This is the hard part because human nature means we would rather go ahead based on gut than find out our assumptions are flawed. Testing assumptions can be complex if the project is important, risky or costly. At the very least, try this:
- Ask yourself the question: what is the one question I would rather not ask members or staff or volunteers until the project is complete? Now go ask that question?
- Who is the one person that will be critical of this project and the assumptions we have made? Now go find that person and subject your assumptions to their criticism.
- What is the most critical financial assumption we have made. Now go do the legwork and due diligence to prove or disprove that assumption.