Goalposts and Driving for the Finish Line

Most Strategic Plans Fail

Set goals and goalposts for success. 70-90% of strategic plan initiatives fail to achieve their expected results (Kotter, Flyvbjerg). Those who succeed take—on average—four years of continuous work (Collins). Achieving strategic goals demands clear alignment and a relentless focus on execution.

Use this check list to deliver on your goals.

Goals: Are our goals clear, compelling, and shared?

Stakeholders need to be aware of the goal and know why it matters. They expect to hear this message from senior leadership. Ideally, it is an organization-wide goal, and stakeholders understand what it means for them. As illustrated by the arrows below (Senge), it takes years to move through the alignment process.

Problem: Do we know what problem we are trying to solve?

What does the data say? Have we done a root cause analysis? Have we talked to stakeholders? Do we have disaggregated data? For example, focusing on attendance may take us in a very different direction than focusing on belonging and inclusion. How does this problem align with our Goal?

Theory of Action:  Do we have a well-developed theory of action? 

IF we buy a new textbook, provide PD, and do classroom walk-throughs, THEN reading (or growth) scores will go up.  Where is our research? Have we studied peer-reviewed research, effect sizes, positive outliers, and evidence proofs from districts like ours?

Strategic Objectives:  Have we turned our Theory of Action research into Strategic Objectives?

One example might be that 90% of our teachers will participate in 10 hours of reading PD and demonstrate success in using the new curriculum according to the pacing framework.

Action Plans:  Who will do what, by when, and how will we know we are on track?

In the example above, one action plan may be to deliver the PD by November. Another may be to visit classrooms mid-year to determine whether the curriculum is being used and the pacing is on track.

Alignment: Have we aligned Goals, Objectives, Strategies, Activities, Outputs, and Outcomes?

This sounds easy, but it is incredibly difficult. This is a big part of why this process takes four years of continuous improvement and alignment. Start with the intended outcomes and work backward.

Outputs v. Outcomes:  Can we measure process and product?

Process is about our action plans and whether we did what we said we would do (outputs).  Product is about whether we accomplished our goals and moved the needle (outcomes).  Both are important.  If we didn’t do what we said we would do … we can’t blame the strategy.  If we did what we said we would and failed to hit the objective, our strategy is either wrong or incomplete. 

Getting SmarterAre we using data to change course?

No plan survives first contact. All plans fail. The sooner we discover the flaws, the quicker we can get back on target. In the example above, we need to hear specifics from teachers about both the new curriculum and the PD.  What is missing? What support do they need? Survey teachers, report back on what was heard, and take action to fix glitches.   These messages come best from immediate supervisors who can help smooth implementation (ADKAR).

Execution and Goal Posts: Are we following through with urgency?

Life is what happens while we are making other plans.  90% of the time, the “whirlwind” of the daily grind sucks up days, weeks, and months, and we forget our plans and promises.  Needed is a weekly check-in on our most important goals.  Did I do what I said I would do – Yes or No?  This is about learning to make and keep commitments.  What was accomplished, and what am I committing to for the week ahead? The tool below helps us keep pushing toward the goalposts.

Completed Commitments
(from our last check-in)
In Process/On Track
(what’s ahead)
My Next Commitment
(for our next check-in)
(Adapted from St. Louis Public Schools work withEduSolve; and The 4 Disciplines of Execution). 

Across SiloesAre we coordinating our work?

When we report out on our progress with our colleagues in the room, they can support us from their silo; and can give us important feedback.  Keep the reports short – five minutes for the report and five minutes for feedback.  Our #1 priority is to accomplish organization-wide goals and support each other in getting there.

Cascading GoalsAre we engaging our departments?

Repeat this process with our departments reporting on their goals as a team.  We create a culture of alignment, ownership, commitment, and follow-through—a culture where we keep the main thing the main thing … and deliver on our goals.

To Learn More:


Larry Nyland speaking

Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

To talk about growing extraordinary "high capacity" leadership for your team …
Contact: Larry@Larrynyland.com | 425-418-4398 | LarryNyland.com