Companies that get past the initial hurdle of understanding where they need to be often find themselves at a loss for how to get there.

When it comes to running your business effectively, what seems like common sense is often far from commonplace. Even companies that get past the initial hurdle of understanding where they need to be often find themselves at a loss for how to get there. Under pressure to get “something” done, executives spend too much time on non-strategic activities and too little time on key strategic priorities.

Successful companies must establish a culture that eliminates non-value added activities and projects wherever possible. That, however, is easier said than done.  This article reviews three pitfalls that often prevent companies from designing and executing plans to achieve their desired objectives.

Pitfall #1: You know your company should be built from the top down, but it is built from the bottom up

Try asking a college student how to build a successful business—top down or bottom up? Chances are he or she will say the former, where the CEO is the boss and makes the decisions. Furthermore, most will answer confidently without any real business experience because it seems like common sense. But in today’s world, top-down organizations are actually the exception rather than the norm.

For an organization that is built from the bottom up, how do you redefine your corporate structure without wreaking havoc on your ongoing operations? Start by aligning your corporate plan across all executives and getting their commitment that projects going forward will truly support top objectives. Create clearly defined accountability measures so there are no questions about who is responsible for ensuring alignment. Consider offering incentives for extraordinary team efforts that lead to success.  At the same time, eliminate competing priorities so the focus remains clear. Lastly, remember that a clear focus on the end goal shouldn’t restrict how you get to the end goal—encourage teams to take risks so they feel empowered to introduce new ideas and creative approaches, as long as those approaches are supported by a solid business case. This helps employees feel vested in the company’s future.

In addition, it is important to hire leaders who excel in program and people management and who know how to delegate effectively and develop future leaders. Create a reporting structure that maximizes efficiency and transparency all the way to the top, invest in talent management, and make tough performance decisions. You’ll be glad you did.

Pitfall #2: You know where you want your company to be in the next few years, but you don’t know how to accomplish what is necessary to get there

Many businesses today are focused on “more”: more output, more products, more revenue, more profit. From a corporate planning perspective, it is more effective to focus on less; that is, on fewer, but more important initiatives. If your employees don’t understand your company’s ultimate goal or vision and how they are instrumental in getting you there, it won’t happen. The burden falls on you to clearly communicate the key corporate objectives. Don’t get derailed by a need for consensus.

How do you clearly communicate these objectives to everyone in your company and, more importantly, get them onboard?  Start by supporting your key initiatives with a pragmatic business case (and associated benefits) so your teams ask “how” to get there, not “why” you are going there.  In addition, by understanding the skills and weaknesses of your executive team, you can assign the right people to the right initiatives and address targeted development needs most efficiently.

It also is important to create a culture of openness and accountability and to encourage your teams to ask for help when they need it. Motivate people to accept responsibility when things do not go as planned. Tactical failures do happen, and these should become learning experiences that rally the team together—not politicking and/or finger pointing exercises that waste valuable time and energy.  Too often executives work in silos and bury bad news out of fear. Instead, encourage transparency, support those who ask for help, and most importantly reward those who embrace a culture of teamwork and collective success. Finally, design your supporting measures and metrics carefully, making sure they encourage behaviors that support your objectives.

Pitfall #3: You know what you need your employees to do, but you don’t know how to get your employees onboard to do those things

Today’s workforce is more complex and diverse than it has ever been. For many companies, communication hasn’t kept up with changing demographics and workplaces.

Once you have communicated corporate objectives, your employees must put those objectives into action. One of the most important steps is eliminating fear of internal politics and encouraging open idea sharing, and a good way to accomplish this is to bring back corporate debate and constructive meetings. Companies today constantly complain of meeting fatigue, often because meetings result in no resolution or outcome; however, meetings offer a forum for each employee to bring unique perspectives and knowledge to the table. To use meetings effectively as part of the planning process, develop clear goals around desired outcome(s) and push for the best solution, not necessarily unanimous agreement.

When communicating with your teams, make sure you emphasize a goal of working smarter, not harder. The last thing employees want is another item on their to-do list. Instead, demonstrate the actual business impact and outcome of the key corporate objective and the importance of prioritizing this above all else.

Looking ahead

Remaining relevant in today’s economy demands thoughtful and effective corporate planning. If your company struggles with some of the planning pitfalls described above, consider an effectiveness diagnostic to highlight potential improvement opportunities—opportunities to both improve your bottom line and enhance your ability to achieve goals.