We Have A Vision And A Plan, Why Can’t We Gain Momentum?

I knew the company was struggling the moment the CEO told me his strategic plan was all in his head—and not on paper.

My team had been called in to work with an Australian industrial construction company that was in the realm of $500 million turnover a year. While still not a blue-chip company, it was reasonably complex, with about 700 employees and a large customer base.

Although it was an established company, I had observed there was a tendency to get lost in their own processes and systems. The systems were complex, and even the good systems that were in place were not being followed. The lack of connection to the front line—and lack of transparency—meant that issues were completely out of control by the time they showed up to the executives.

By the time we arrived to assist, the company was in total chaos. It was clear they were on track to lose millions of dollars in this immediate financial cycle. They couldn’t retain their margins in projects, and their operations were out of control. All their senior executives were just putting out fires, day after day.

After only one conversation with the CEO, I realised that, although he was involved in every aspect of the business, he had not shared the information in his head with anyone else. My first task was to pull the executive team together and create a business plan. There was so much change going on in their market we couldn’t even look at doing a longer-term plan.

The leadership team were very caught up in day-to-day chaos, and not many of them saw the value in the business discipline that is sitting down and making a plan. Before we did a deep dive into the business to create a plan, I advised the CEO not to waste time doing it if he and the rest of his team were not going see it through in an organised, methodical and disciplined way.

Without a commitment by the executive leadership team to meeting regularly for discussion and planning, hiring professional assistance was going to be a waste of time and money. There was no point getting everyone on board, only to watch as the executive team missed key objectives because they lacked the discipline to rise above the daily noise to deal with them.

There was an agreement to take a methodical approach, and the CEO communicated the plan throughout the business. Unfortunately, after the plan had been established, they didn’t revisit it regularly, and the day-to-day chaos took over once again.

This is a common issue when the team is not driving a business through a solid plan (though it is rare if the plan has been agreed to up front.) Even though a plan needs to be team-driven, the CEO or leader still needs to openly champion the commitment and, in this case, that was missing.

We had also made plans in each division where the rubber hits the road, usually the next step if the executive team requires more support from the teams in the next level of the organisation. This built the same disciplined process into the teams supporting the executives and the CEO.

In this case, the challenge was that these teams also lacked the ability to both create and follow through with a strategic plan. While they at least realised what they needed to do, following through effectively with plans was not a process that had been driven from the top. The teams were not set up for success.

As they were a complex industrial construction business with very immediate and dynamic daily challenges, this lack of discipline and control led to significant losses. Projects were rushed at the contract negotiation phase meaning the organisation sometimes signed up to projects they shouldn’t have done.

Then, the projects themselves were poorly executed, they ran late, and over budget. The mindset throughout all levels of the company was very much one of, ‘let’s just get this problem project out of the way and then we’ll be alright.’ Project after project turned bad, and, as a result, they were always in a state of chaos.

You may think this sounds dramatic and surely nothing like your company, but I will tell you, this is not an unusual thing. In fact, it’s quite common. This company is just one example of many I see that have experienced substantial losses. This organisation stands to lose multiple millions this year alone as a result of not being disciplined about the way they go about their business.

Strategic plans are not just required for growth. This example is an established business, with high sales growth but very little discipline in implementation of their processes. With no plan for people to work to and no clear approach for execution, they are just putting out fires, and they will keep putting out fires because they can’t see the next one coming. This means they don’t benefit from all the great sales activity, as even with growth there is no profit, which of course is not sustainable.

If you struggle to draw a clear vision that everyone can follow, especially when you understand the business inside and out, don’t worry, you’re not alone! It’s tough. You don’t have to just get the immediate management team on board, you have to get the rest of the organisation on the journey also—and that can be anywhere from 100 up to thousands of people. They all need to hear a story that is clear enough, that they can follow and that makes sense to them individually.