Knowing When to Deviate from Your Strategic Plan

November 2, 2021 Jamie Notter

There is a frustrating truth in the world of strategy that is rarely acknowledged: you should follow your strategic plan—except when you shouldn’t.

We all faced this back in 2020 when the pandemic hit, of course, as both long-term and short-term plans suddenly became meaningless. But even when things are more stable, the absolute truth is you cannot predict the future, and the rough model on which you based your plan is just that—a model—which means it is by definition going to be wrong (all models are wrong, but some are useful).

That means at some point during the three years of your plan, you are likely to hit a moment when you realize your model is so wrong that you need to change the model. How will you know when to do that? It all depends on the connective tissue you’ve built between the 3-year goals and your operations.

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For example, let’s say a pillar of your strategy is to grow your non-dues revenue, particularly in sponsorship related to your annual meeting. And that’s going well, because you’re showing significant growth in sponsorship numbers. At the same time, however, you’re starting to see quality issues in the execution of the meeting. It turns out that sponsors are wanting to be more involved, like partners in the event rather than just vendors. And that changes a lot of your work flows, making it hard to maintain the quality your stakeholders expect.

This could warrant a change in strategy. Perhaps you want to scale down the growth in sponsorship to protect the quality of the meeting, or perhaps you want to change the strategic directory of the meeting to enable the growth in sponsorship. But either way, the reason you knew to make the change was that you could connect the dots between what was happening in sponsorship and what was happening in the meeting.

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That dot-connecting is what we help clients do in our Priority-Based Execution system coaching. When you track the right numbers and have the right kind of internal meetings and information flow, the senior team ends up adding this issue to their strategic meeting agenda BEFORE things get out of hand.


Photo by Jehyun Sung

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.
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