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Christy Johnson


Four Reasons Why Businesses Fail to Achieve Sustainable Goals

Best practices to avoid the pitfalls

Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2019 - 13:03

It’s worthwhile to nurture a culture of change by creating a new business strategy for the year ahead. However, the strategy can fail when organizations don’t have a plan to create lasting and sustainable change. By the time March hits, it’s typically “new year, same company,” with plans for meaningful change pushed to the side by the day-to-day responsibilities and commitments that take over our calendars.

However, the highest-performing companies establish processes to ensure they get strategic work done all year long—and they see results.

Most businesses fall short in achieving sustainable goals for the following four reasons:
• No plan established to manage change and implementation
• No companywide commitment to clearly defined goals
• No process for long-term monitoring
• No agility or adaptability

Below are some best practices to combat each of these pitfalls.

No. 1: Company establishes goals without a strategic plan to reach them

Far too often, organizations get excited to reach new revenue numbers, launch new products, and open new locations. The wish list is long and exciting, but without mapping out the road to a better future, strategy is no more than a “wish” to change your organization without any underlying plan for action.

There are many methodologies organizations use to create strategies to reach their goals. Keep in mind the search for a type of plan that works for you is highly specific to your industry, organization, and team. Although a five-year plan may work for a large Fortune 500 company, a smaller tech startup may need to use sprint planning to remain highly adaptive and pivot quickly while still working toward its goals.

Most organizations know they must have a plan in place to reach their goals. However, a lot of times, they just need help optimizing the final touches on their plan to make it fully executable. Heads of strategy often outline the beginnings of a plan, but steps like assigning realistic due dates, evenly spreading out workload, and putting together productive cross-functional teams can be lost in the excitement to get started.

Taking the time to build accountability and commitment into a plan gives it a much better chance to help teams work in alignment toward their goals.

No. 2: No strategy to maintain the plan’s focus and momentum all year long

The main reason businesses struggle with long-term focus on execution is that they fail to develop a plan for implementing the plan. The most important part of the plan-implementation process is assessing how each initiative fits into current operations. If any of the initiatives don’t fit, establish steps to create new processes, and allocate the resources necessary for their sustainability.

Even when heads of strategy take the time to do an in-depth plan development and rollout, the real work quickly dissipates without a process established within the culture to stay focused on, and committed to, execution throughout the year. Leaders must have a plan and timeline in place to implement new processes so they can monitor change management and accurately budget resources.

After implementation, however, how do you keep momentum going? It’s all about establishing a regular cadence of milestones and having the team check in with the plan frequently. This looks different for every organization. If you’re more agile, these check-ins may be weekly or even every day. If you’re more traditional, monthly is usually good.

Having regular status-update meetings enhances accountability and emphasizes the importance of the organization’s goals from the top down. It’s important to create a culture where open and honest communication is expected, and people feel comfortable celebrating successes and asking for help when they’re off track. But to be able to do that, your organization’s overall progress must be clearly visible and easily accessible.

No. 3: Failure to monitor progress of goals and assess along the way

To optimize execution efforts, you need to track and monitor progress toward your goals. Use dashboards and filtered reports so you can break down the information every way you need it—high level for leadership, detailed for teams, by status, by due date, by metric, etc. You can do this manually in Excel, but that’s asking a lot of one person to chase down updates and compile and format tons of information.

Business intelligence tools and project management software solve some of these tasks, but typically, heads of leadership gravitate toward strategy execution management tools. Choose your tool with caution, and make sure it provides the visibility you need.

Once your data are organized so you can get the full picture across plans, departments, and all your other business silos, be honest with yourself. Assess what’s effective, what’s taking up too many resources without the promise of a payoff, and what’s superfluous and can be reallocated to allow more time to work on initiatives that actually move the needle.

This step is difficult. Generally, we don’t want to stop working on projects; we just want to keep piling more on. However, teams must be realistic and honest in their approach and only dedicate time to the most effective initiatives.

No. 4: Fail to make changes and evolve strategy throughout the year

Once good habits are established, and you’re checking in regularly on your strategic projects, begin to assess the direction your organization is headed. Is your outbound sales strategy not broadening your pipeline like you hoped it would? Should you pivot and focus on inbound marketing strategies instead?

Our strategies do—and should—constantly change. However, it’s a struggle to help your team feel aligned and dedicated to achieving targets without them feeling like the rug is being pulled out from under them with every shift in strategy. It’s a fine line to walk between being responsive but also creating organizationwide commitment, understanding, and buy-in to reach goals.

In fact, it’s a balancing act among 1) organizational agility, 2) operational excellence, and 3) holistic resource allocation. You need to be able to do all three simultaneously and effectively to propel your organization forward while keeping your employees aligned and in tune with company goals.

A lot of high-functioning organizations suffer from the “champagne problem” of having too many good ideas. To an extent, this can be detrimental to your plan, since chasing “shiny objects” or things like new industry trends or technologies can sometimes be less productive than maintaining a process and strategy and grinding away at your goal with consistency. Be protective of your plan by remaining focused on your core goals, and only shift strategy when your contextual data indicate the need for a change.

Finally, end the year with an in-depth review. The best way to learn what works and what doesn’t? Your own team’s past data.

It’s important to review the past year for two reasons:
1. You can get a holistic view of how your organization performed overall, and you can draw a line from the activities performed to your results.
2. Past experiences are the best way to keep your team from falling victim to the planning fallacy. This review keeps teams grounded in expectation-setting and gives you a jumping-off point for the coming year.

Aim for consistent, year-over-year achievement

Whether you are trying to achieve an overarching strategic plan or create departmental plans, remember to keep a regular cadence of checking in with your team. Well-defined checkpoints and agreed-upon due dates help drive your work. Remember to be flexible and constantly assess whether the moves you’re making are affecting the metrics you want to impact.

It’s difficult to balance giving enough time for change with being agile, but watching your numbers (and the context around them) over time will help determine what’s right for your organization.

Regardless of your organization’s size or industry, think about ways to incorporate principles of execution, focus, and measurement across your business. Develop action plans for every goal, combine them with meticulous tracking, and ensure successful implementation by incorporating accountability, visibility, collaboration, and alignment into your organization’s culture. This is the way to go beyond simply making business resolutions to effecting real, sustainable change and making your strategic plan succeed this year.

First published Feb. 12, 2019, on the SmartBrief blog.


About The Author

Christy Johnson’s picture

Christy Johnson

Christy Johnson is CEO of AchieveIt, a leading provider of cloud-based enterprise software for planning and execution. Under her direction, the company has more than doubled in revenue and has been named to the Inc. 5000 two years running. Prior to joining AchieveIt, Johnson served as chief operating officer for Buckhead Investment Partners and BIP Capital, playing a key role in the rapid growth of both companies. Johnson is a visionary and thought leader for business growth and entrepreneurship with a passion for helping people and companies turn their potential into success. Follow her on Twitter.