It’s that time again.

The ideas have been shared, the options have been discussed, the critical decisions have been made, and the planning session is coming to an end.

Everyone agrees on what needs to be done and all that remains is naming the strategic initiatives and defining the action steps, the responsibilities, and the timelines.

It is almost time to celebrate, return home, and implement the plan.

But wait…there’s a problem.

The discussion about what to do stalls as action items are identified and those 7 dreaded words appear once again…

  1. Evaluate…as in taking a look at undefined or unconsidered alternatives in the hope that we will surface a guide map to where we want to go;
  2. Investigate…code for the need to learn more about things we should already know more about (or should have studied before the planning session or at some point during the past year);
  3. Consider…which really means that we did not finish our discussion because we didn’t push hard enough to make a real decision or didn’t make the effort to confront the difficult realities, so we are agreeing to invest more time in the year ahead talking about it (and probably still not deciding);
  4. Examine…code for doing something similar to but more restrictive than investigating because it tends to be accompanied by more specific items and directions with regard to what we will actually do to learn more about whatever it is we are examining;
  5. Explore…an option that gives the responsible party the most possible latitude because it means they are free look around at things that might have some relevance to the area of the plan that the action step supports;
  6. Pursue…a rather cryptic of implying that we know where we are going and that we just need to chase the outcome like a law enforcement officer chases a suspect whom they believe just saw commit a crime; and/or
  7. Identify…an admission that we really don’t know what to do in this area so we plan to create a list that we can review at the next planning session and then we will make a decision.

OK, by now (I hope) you know that this is being written a bit tongue-in-cheek, because the reality is that these words often fit and are in fact used in strategic initiatives and action steps. In fact, I have used them with my clients in the past few weeks.

But if you are going to us them (and this is the point of this post) you need to make sure that they are connected to specific measurable outcomes and that your success is measured not merely by completion of the process, but rather by achieving the target result from the effort.  Then and only then will you be truly implementing your plan.

Stated more directly:  Choose the words you use in your action plan with care and be specific about what you really want to occur as a result of taking each action step.  Define clear outcomes that can be tracked, measured, and reported upon during they year ahead, and take care to keep every action step actionable.

ACTION AVICE:  So what do you think? Do you have any words you would add to the list? Any suggestions on how to ensure better results from the action planning phase of your next planning session? Please share your comments and help your colleagues take their strategic planning efforts to the next level!