Have you ever felt a letdown after Christmas? You know you shouldn’t feel that way, because you have all these nice new things. Right? But then realize that what’s most special about Christmas is the experience – the anticipation, the sharing, the revealing, the time with family.

 

At some point, with all that behind you, you kick back and look at all your new stuff. And you feel a little deflated, because Christmas itself was the best part – and now it’s over.

 

I think this is a pretty close approximation of what many companies experience, and it’s called Strategic Planning Letdown.

 

If you do strategic planning on a regular basis (and you certainly should), then you know it can be a fun, exciting and even inspiring experience. You go off-site, maybe for a day or two. You do some fun team-building exercises. And you set big goals that you expect to pay off in the form of a realized vision for the company’s future.

 

By the time this strategic planning session is over, you might feel a little exhausted, but it’s a great form of exhaustion. Because you can’t wait to get to it.

 

Then you get back to the office. You’ve got 1,000 e-mails in your inbox. A supplier didn’t come through with a shipment you needed. A customer is unhappy about something and it has to be dealt with right away.

 

Sure, you want to do all the things you talked about in strategic planning. But today you need to take care of all this. Maybe tomorrow. Actually, tomorrow looks crazy too. Maybe the next day. Or maybe not . . .

 

Before long, just about everyone who took part in the strategic planning session feels like the session itself was the high point. There’s little to no followup, either because no one feels they have the time, or because there’s no plan to put the ideas into action, or maybe because no one is taking charge to make sure it happens.

 

It could even be some combination of all of the above. But as the disappointment of the strategic planning outcome sets in, people can become disillusioned.

 

Coming up with a big and inspiring new plan is great, but if the company doesn’t show it can follow through, then the result could be worse than if you’d never done it in the first place. Now people will question whether it’s worth their time to participate in future planning sessions, since the track record suggests the company will put the giant pads of paper containing all the ideas in a closet somewhere – and never act on them.

 

This is all very unnecessary.

 

When I take companies through strategic planning sessions, one crucial step is to make sure there are clear action steps to follow the session. We identify who is in charge of moving them forward. We assign action steps with timelines.

 

We even make sure these assignments are incorporated into the company’s regular planning system, which will work whether the system is sophisticated like Trello or as basic as a typed-up to-do list.

 

I have a friend who owns a company consisting of two full-time employees. They share their to-do lists on a Google Drive document. For a company like this, following up on strategic planning priorities would get a big push forward simply by putting those items on the Google doc and making sure they don’t get taken off.

 

With my clients, we always have a followup session 90 days after the initial one. So there’s a built-in incentive to move the priorities forward. No one wants to show up at the followup session and say they didn’t do any of what they agreed to do at the first one. And the CEO certainly doesn’t want to show up at the followup session and have everyone say they dropped the ball, because that’s an indictment of the CEO’s leadership.

 

The key to all this is to make sure the strategic planning session is more than just an uplifting, emotional, visionary experience. It’s fine for it to be all of that, but it also needs to be the start of an ongoing action initiative with real measurements of success.

 

If you can see coming out of the planning session how you’ll undertake the action steps and achieve the goals, you’ve done a good job. If you’ve thought through the hurdles and you know how you’ll tackle them, you’re in a great position to get the most out of these efforts. And if you return to the office with a different perspective on what you need to do and how you’ll spend your days, then all this has been an excellent investment of time and money.

 

But think all this through before you wrap up the session. Otherwise the letdown is a real possibility, and you’ll wonder why you ever did it in the first place. You wouldn’t want to spoil Christmas like that, would you?

 

Written by: Wade Wyant

Red Wagon Advisors, West Michigan Scaling Up Coach