Why Resolutions Don’t Stick

Many of us make New Year’s Resolutions. Some of us succeed. Many of us don’t. Lots of us have tried so many times and failed that we don’t bother any more. We can become jaded like that.

Companies can view strategic planning in much the same way. Leaders may go through the motions of setting a strategic path and then, over time, for whatever reasons (some good, some bad), they will come off the path. The resolutions (i.e., strategies and tactics) contained within that plan become irrelevant and so, the next time it comes to creating new resolutions, many in that organization will be jaded and half-hearted about setting these goals in the first place. For such leaders in these organizations, planning becomes a fire drill and, ultimately, a grand waste of time.

For the organizations where I’ve worked, either internally or as a consultant, when strategic planning is not a grand waste of time, I have noticed two important characteristics.

First, there is someone there who is good at translating big ideas into practical actions. Most leaders lean toward a detail orientation or big picture thinking. Rare is the person who can work across that entire spectrum and feel comfortable and confident considering the connection points between the extremes. These individuals, shaped typically by a diversity of historical experiences, can think way up there in the clouds but work effectively down there in the weeds. Needless to say, these are very valuable organizational resources.

Second, the strategic planning methodology, approach, and mindset focuses on creating baby steps, on walking before running. In other words, there is a clear and delineated commitment to taking the big goals and chunking them down into smaller, manageable, and simply track-able (i.e., measurable) actions that are easy to understand and even easier to know if they have been accomplished.

This is no different than deciding on New Year’s Eve that this is going to be the year you lose 30 pounds. If that’s where the aspiration ends, then it will very likely lie in tatters on the floor within weeks if not days. However, if the commitment is accompanied by smaller, habit-forming steps such as sleeping at least 8 hours per night, walking 7,500 steps a day, and skipping all snacks while watching Yellowstone, then you have a solid chance at success. We can make great progress on bigger goals by forming the right habits and actions that eventually move us closer to success on that bigger goal.

Strategic planning exercises should be structured similarly.

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