Strategy Plan Success – Event or Process

One of the most common factors that leads to disappointing results in the organizations Strategic Planning initiative is when they are executed as an “annual event” and not an ongoing business critical process that get updated and refined year over year. Following is a short list of concerns and recommendation for your consideration:

1.     The Strategic planning process is executed as more of a sprint than a marathon. Lots of up front energy and inspiring thought-provoking ideas of what could be followed by vaguely worded action items and off the organization goes running fast and hard. Soon the demands of the daily business take precedence and strategic plan initiatives fizzle out. As soon as the plan goes off track momentum is lost and initiatives die.


My approach is to define success and then backwards engineer the plan to build a road map.

Ambition becomes Accomplishment when adequate time and resources are invested along with disciplined planning and follow-up. Strategy without a defined execution plan is a no go. Spend the time to fully define who, what, how, where and when. Using Smart Goals is good way to ensure there is enough manageable detail to reasonablyexpect success. A common flaw is committing to do too much, too fast. By spreading the initiatives over a realist timeline you will only commit to what can be realistically accomplished.

2.      The Strategic Planning process focus is mostly on crafting the strategy, which is the inspiring and the creative side of the process. The Execution Plan, which is the way to turn the vision into reality, is where the advancement begins to become real. Organizations typically gather under prepared senior employees to an offsite location for a multi day meeting to do “Strategic Planning”. At every break they get on their cell phones back to the business and remain immersed in the details back at the office. The message here is the initiative is a disruption to their ongoing “real priority”.


Senior leadership has to inspire and provide real purpose to harness the energy and creativity of their organization leaders to commitment to the plan. This requires that the plan becomes a major part of their jobs and not an additional commitment on top over their existing demands. No one has an extra 20+ hours to assume more responsibility as they are already maxed out. These new commitments must be prioritized and replace something they are already doing. Hard choices must be made.

3.      The strategy must be real and urgent. Well meaning strategies that are more fluff and lack substance have low buy-in and little chance of success. They may be real goals / needs but lack the detail and defined roadmap to success needed.


I have seen great visions evaporate because they lacked both clarity and definition. Taking the time to ensure the vision becomes a realizable initiative is essential to gain buy-in and commitment.

Time and Profitability

Time and Profitability

Time waits on no one and once spent it is lost.

For most organizations time is its most important asset. Waste it and it’s gone and with it the profits to keep your organization viable. How an organization spends its time can be the difference between success and failure.

Below is a tool to help assess how your organization spends time and the associated impact on profits. The tool is designed to bring awareness and understanding of the usage of time into four different quadrants.


1.       Planning             5- 10%

2.       Execution             85% +

3.       Fire Fight            <   5%

4.       Crisis                    <   1 %


Time in this quadrant is spent on defining how and what the organization will deliver. Activities such as strategic planning, competitor analysis, product/service development, procedure definition, process mapping, performance measures and problem solving are done here.

Time spent is this quadrant is extremely valuable to your organization and should ensure your business has a focused plan for success.  Depending on the size and maturity of the organization I recommend spending somewhere between 5 – 10% of the time here. The right amount is determined by the time needed to ensure the organization remains successful.


Time used here is spent delivering the products and services of your organization. In high performing businesses time spent here will be 85%+. This means 8.5 /10 or better the transaction is to standard.

To qualify as time spent in this quadrant, time must be used to meet performance standards.  For instance, the time required to take a customer order and ship the product or perform the service should be in compliance with the process standard/job definition. If the required customer order information is missing or incorrect, the product is not available, you use excessive labour or other disruptions occur, that time is captured and allocated to time spent in quadrant 3 or 4. I have included an example below.

Fire Fight

Time spent here is the incremental/reactive (Fire Fight) time spent to redo or correct for a failure. In a struggling organization time spent here can be moderate to excessive. For instance, a construction project with a 25% labor overrun, a capital project severely over budget and behind schedule or a failed service delivery would be an example of this. Any event where more labor, especially management intervention, is required than would be expected qualifies here.

Here is an example of a personal experience. I recently ordered 500 new business cards. The original order arrived and there was a minor error on the card. I called the company and, as promised, they agreed to correct it at no additional cost to me. While the original order was online it now involved a customer service representative and took approximately 20 minutes.  The reorder was shipped express mail and was received about a week later. I opened the shipment and found they shipped me only 100 cards. Back on the phone again and another 20 minutes later they apologized and agreed to ship the order a third time and because they only ship in 100, 250, 500+ order sizes they informed me I would receive 500 more business cards. So now I have 1100 new business cards and this vendor spent their profit and more fulfilling the order. This could be a onetime occurrence but I doubt it!

I see these things go on everywhere. Redo’s can crush an organization’s profit and can be a leading cause of business losses. No business can sustain prolonged under-performance and the associated overspending on labor. Take a second and consider instances that occur inside your business.


To qualify as time spent in crisis, the circumstances are dire and the resulting cost/business impact would be considered extreme. Events here can be classified as internal and external.

Internal crisis are or should be controllable, whereas, external events are caused, arguably, as events beyond the control of your organization. I will explain why I say arguably, shortly.

Internal events are things like chronic labor overruns, major inventory mismanagement, extreme excess non valued added labor spending or simply failure to maintain a healthy organization culture and efficient customer focused workforce.

External causes include changes in government policy, major changes in economic conditions, changing customer preferences, disruptive competitive offerings or actions including anything from new entrants, price actions or new technology:

My arguably comments is relevant to the extent of your organization’s responsiveness to addressable events. The best example of this might be Yahoo, an undisputed market champion that fell prey to Google and others due to lack of focus and failure to correct course.


By classifying the time your organization spends in each of the quadrants, you can raise awareness and take the appropriate corrective action. This tool is intended to start conversations that will lead to addressing required changes as opposed to accepting that this is the way things work around here. Most organizations have standards; however, often the prevailing practice becomes the de facto standard. In some case an organization is knowingly underperforming and accepts this as acceptable due to weak leadership. Say for instance our standard is to return customer calls within 2 hours but call routinely don’t get make until 6 or more hours and no corrective action is initiated. Or more severe would be no investigation into labor overruns.

I recently led a strategic planning session for a client where – during a mid morning break – several managers began a conversation identifying several inefficiencies that we’re occurring and had been occurring for a long time. As I listened each manager shared their displeasure with the situation. As the break ended the conversation dropped.

Based on my observation I offered the following. First off all, you agreed this was a clear case of unnecessary disruption that was causing ongoing fire fighting to overcome these efficiencies. No one has taken ownership of any of the issues and no one has committed to addressing this issue for resolution. In short, they had accepted this as the way things were done. Reluctantly these issues were added to the ‘To-Do List’ by the leadership team.

This is not an isolated example. I have had similar experiences in many companies I have worked with. This is the low-hanging-fruit that successful organization harvest. Failure to identify and harvest the fruit results in decay and waste.

In my next post I will address how to best deal with undesirable findings in Time Management.

Stephen Howell

Horizon Executive Consulting

How to write the perfect e-mail

E-mail is one of the most used forms of communication today, make sure you’re using it right


By: Matt Beauchamp, Owner of MRB Ink

E-mail is one of the most used forms of communication today. Most of us use it all day everyday. We receive countless e-mails all day, often opening one to find a long rambling message that quickly has us deleting it.

We’ve all seen these e-mails. The ones where we wonder if the writer had any idea what they were doing when they crafted their message.

The funny thing is, we’re likely guilty of writing these e-mails as well.

When we’re contacting someone for the first time, why is it so hard to write that perfect e-mail?

Not to worry, we’ve got some tips to help you write a great e-mail that gets your message across and gets your e-mail read. We’ll even give you an example of the perfect e-mail.

Why are you writing?

First you need to establish WHY you are writing the e-mail. Are you looking to get a reply from the recipient? Are you paying them a compliment with no reply necessary? Are you inquiring about something? Or is the point of the e-mail just to open communication lines for sometime in the future?

Once you have established the point of your e-mail, it’s much easier to craft something more specific, which in turn will make it more likely to reach your goal.

Get to the point

People want to know why you’re writing and they want to know fast. Skip long-winded introductions, compliments and stories about how you know a friend-of-a-friend. Tell the reader why you’re writing and what you want from them.

If you need a reply make sure they know it. If no reply is necessary then let them know they don’t need to get back to you. They’ll love to hear it!


Keep it simple, stupid! It’s almost shocking that this needs to be said, but it’s true. There’s nothing worse than receiving an e-mail that is cluttered with pictures, and hyperlinks and different kinds of font.

Keep your message straight forward and to the point. If your message can be said in only a couple of sentences, then do that. Trim excess sentences and words to ensure that you only have the real meat of what you’re trying to say.

What’s in it for them?

Too often e-mails are about what’s in it for you, why the receiver should help you, etc. Don’t be afraid to tell them what’s in it for them.

Make sure if you’re stating benefits that they are reasonable. For example e-mailing Mashable and asking for a shout-out on their front page isn’t reasonable. Make sure you do your homework and that the receiver actually does what you are asking.


As your writing your perfect e-mail, think of it the same as introducing yourself to someone face-to-face.

When meeting someone for the first time it’s not likely you would excessively shower them with compliments, or give them your whole life story. More realistically you’d do a quick introduction of yourself, then listen to them as they did the same.

In writing an e-mail this equates to hitting the send button after an introduction.

20 questions

Try to minimize the amount of questions you ask in an e-mail. The more questions (especially open-ended one) you ask, the less likely you are to get a response.

Keep your questions to one or two max per e-mail. Make sure you ask direct questions like, “Can we meet for coffee next week to discuss the proposal?” Don’t expect all of life’s questions to be answered in one e-mail. Avoid questions like “How can I get rich quick.”

Remember you can always ask more question in additional e-mails. They key here is to keep the lines of communication open.


Here’s an example of a terrible e-mail.

Dear Matt,

I hope you are doing well! I was curious if you had any concerns about your online marketing and how it works or figuring out what is going to work you’re your project. I know firsthand how frustrating and challenging it can be to keep focused on your marketing with all of the different channels out there and all of the information.

When I first started my own company, I didn’t even know where to start with my marketing projects. Should I go with social media? A website? Who should I call? Luckily over the years I figured it all out!

We’ve had tremendous success with companies like ABC Corporation, where we took a marketing budget and expanded their company base by 50%. Would you like more customers? Do you want to see increased profits?

Would it make sense for us to chat? Either by phone or in person? If you don’t feel like we can be of service then please let me know, otherwise I would love to talk to you about what areas you are trying to address and how we could help. Could you please get back to me?


Jim Smith

Thankfully this is not an e-mail I have actually received, however I have received some VERY similar to this. Long, with too many questions, and only a vague understanding of what they could do for me.

Using the tips we’ve discussed above, here’s how this e-mail should be.

Hi Matt,

I’m writing on behalf of <Insert Web URL>.  We create online marketing programs that make it easy for businesses to grow.

Here are some companies we have created successful programs for <Insert list of related and well known sites>. Creating a program with us takes very little time and most companies see results they love within the first two weeks.

I have openings on Wednesday and Friday of next week to share these strategies with you, which day would work for you?


ABC Marketing Company


Take Home Points

·      Get to the point

·      Keep it simple

·      Clearly state next action

·      Present benefits

·      Edit for conciseness

·      Limit questions