The first holiday ad always sends a minor shock down our spines. Is it really that time again? You may not be in the holiday spirit yet, but it ?tis the season to get working on your 2011 strategic plan!

Most companies know they should develop a strategic plan, and 70% actually write them. The problem is that only 10% implement their plan. (Sounds a lot like most New Year?s resolutions, doesn’t it?)

Well shake the lump of coal out of your stocking and start decking the halls because you’re closer to greatness than you think. That’s because the difference between excellent and average comes down to deliberate commitment to planning and execution.

Heck, we can all be occasionally great, but if you want to be consistently great, consider the example of professional golfers. In 2009, the difference between the #3 player (Phil Mickelson) and the #100 player (Tom Purdy) was Phil shot 1 less stroke every 120 holes. Not a big gap in play, but a huge difference in prize money: Phil made $5,300,000 to Tom?s $835,000!

You, too, should shoot for PAR. That’s because there’s a new definition of PAR for the business world. And it will help you and your organization dramatically improve your odds of success in the planning and execution of your strategic plan:

Prioritize – Focus on what matters most.

Adapt – See change as an opportunity.

be Responsible – Take ownership of the outcome.

Together these three ideas are easily remembered by the acronym PAR. Just like par is the standard of excellence on a golf course, so too is PAR the key to excellence in business.

You may be wondering why all the golf references. The PAR concepts came from our belief that there is great commonality between success in golf and success in business. The closer we looked, the clearer the connections become.

Whether you are in business or playing a round of golf, you are going to face challenges and get stuck in difficult situations. No matter where you are when it happens, PAR is your roadmap to digging out and getting the right things done.

The first PAR concept is Prioritize – Focus on what matters most.

It almost goes without saying that getting the most important things done is critical to the success of any organization, but the truth is that it’s a lot harder to keep that focus amid all the distractions. And in today’s difficult economic climate, that has never been truer. The difference between success and failure often comes down to whether leadership can focus the entire organization?s attention on the things that are really most important.

Consider the following questions to help identify your highest priorities:

  • What are the top three goals we want to accomplish?
  • What are the most significant trends that will impact our markets?
  • Are we properly positioned to attract, retain, and motivate our number one competitive advantage – our employees?
  • What emerging markets offer significant growth opportunities and leverage our ?strengths?
  • What are we doing to develop competitive advantages?
  • Is our corporate vision statement engrained in our culture, and does it send us in the right direction?

Prioritizing is also important on a smaller scale. The hourly question of what should I do next? should always be answered by thinking first what is my highest priority? A great way to do this is to break down your top two to three strategic initiatives into detailed action steps with due dates and metrics.

The second PAR concept is Adapt – See change as an opportunity.

The business world is changing at a blistering pace. There’s unrelenting pressure to do things faster, better, cheaper.

To compete and win in business, companies need to make sure they keep looking a few years down the road. To do that the best firms foster an environment that encourages innovation, regardless of how small the change. Once this spirit of innovation is engrained in your culture, you will move faster, build loyalty among your employees, and discover new ways to stay ahead of competition.

Why is adapting to change so important? Because top performing companies are better at anticipating and managing change than average companies.

Business leaders need to paint the picture for employees to help overcome the natural resistance to change. How? Communicate, share your vision, and most importantly, let them know that change means taking chances.

The final component of PAR is be Responsible – Take ownership of the outcome.

Responsibility starts at the top of your company and flows down to the front line workers. Companies that take responsibility for caring about their customers, their employees, and their communities will do better in the long run.

Businesses need to earn a profit, but the days are gone when they can ignore their impact on the environment, safety of their products, and the well-being of their employees. These are non-negotiable issues, and any organization that refuses to accept them will deal with the painful consequences.

More importantly, responsibility in business is a personal thing. Every employee has to take ownership for their work. This means making sure the project that is due on Friday gets done by Fridayno matter what it takes. Only when every player on your team takes their individual responsibility personally will the entire organization thrive.

True responsibility also means not just talking about what you’re going to do but taking action on it and being accountable for the results. Definitive action plans and progress metrics need to be established to ensure progress is on track. It’s here that owners? hold themselves and each other accountable.

So how can you translate PAR into success for your company? There are two free online tools that turn these ideas into actionable processes. The first is a business assessment that lets each member of your team identify how well they get the right work done and where they are in terms of their ability to prioritize, adapt, and be responsible. The second is a downloadable scorecard that makes it easy to map out the planning and implementation steps necessary for success. Both free tools are available at

Don’t be a humbug. Start your strategic planning process now. Hit the ground running in January and you’ll have 12 months to make it happen. Then get ready for some nice presents under your tree next year.