In the National Football League it is often said, “If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any.”  In business, sometimes we see companies with 15 or 20 strategic objectives built into an annual plan.  How any company can focus on more than three to five critical objectives is beyond me.  That isn’t strategic planning, that’s a wish list. No doubt some will defend such plans by pointing out “the three or four key ones.”  To that I say, “Focus on those three or four!”

Right now, companies are starting to develop next year’s grand plans. Meanwhile this year’s plans are being evaluated for what is going right, what needs greater attention and resources, and what business developments have arisen that require course corrections.  Act now to make those course corrections, while beginning to craft those three or four key objectives for next year.  Some of those may be continuing from last year, which is a good thing. It means your broad strategic plan has a healthy time horizon.

Looking ahead, what are the market trends, competitive threats, talent requirements, disruptive innovation, and other factors you must solve for? What are the longer-term operational changes you must address to improve business performance (e.g. technology, process, organization design, new products, divestitures, etc.)? When I say “longer-term” consider this: Netflix recently announced it has nearly completed its five-year plan of eliminating all data centers from their company — everything is outsourced and in the cloud. Keep in mind that Netflix is a content-delivery company, yet they don’t own any IT infrastructure!  Now there’s a transformative strategic plan that was put into action.

Don’t “go through the motions” with your strategic plan.  Strategy should translate to action and business impact in a tangible, predictable way as in the Netflix example.  Yes, there will be risky bets which sometimes lead to missteps. But the mark of a great team and great leaders is how they call and manage “Peyton Manning audibles” to adjust the play when something unexpected comes up.

As you embark on your annual planning process, ask your team to “keep it real.” What are those few things that matter most? Trust your gut and verify with analysis. Assign individual accountability for progress and results.  Be prepared to call an audible.  Great teams create their own “luck,” and that formula is exactly how they do it.