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How do you quickly accomplish your top goals? You need an action plan. A lack of execution can cost CEOs their jobs. In 2000 alone, over 40 CEOs from the top 200 companies on the Fortune 500 list were removed by their board because they could not execute what they had committed to do. 20% of the top business leaders in America lost their jobs only because they failed to master the art of execution.

Below, we share some of the top advice to build an action plan, the importance of action plans, how you can jumpstart your business with your own action plan, and how to use a fully customizable Action Plan we created to get started. If you want to go straight to the resource, scroll below to the explainer section.

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Top action plan advice

Why do so many plans fail? Bill Gates notes that people often confuse "mission", which is directional, with "objectives", which are a set of concrete steps they actually engage in. He said, "Having a good mission is not enough. You need a concrete objective, and you need to know how you're going to get there." Action Plans do just that: they help employees focus on the bigger mission, but they also provide a set of concrete, specific goals for them to succeed.

However, the best-laid plans are often the simplest. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hannson, founders of software company 37signals, use a thick marker when they brainstorm ideas and objectives because it limits room and forces them to keep it simple. Employees need a small number of simple priorities to execute well. Without carefully thought-out priorities, people can get caught up in endless conflicts. Your plan of action is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy, money, and attention. Unless you manage priorities mindfully, your time and energy will be consumed in firefighting only the most urgent priorities.

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The importance of action plans

An action plan is an overview of the goals you've set for your business and the specific actions you will take to achieve them. It can simplify complex programs and projects and help you manage your time effectively and be more productive in pursuit of those goals. Action plans ensure people understand organizational priorities, assign tasks, follow up, and promote and reward people who execute.

Flawed goal-setting can lead to disastrous consequences. For example, Wells Fargo's ruthless one-dimensional focus on sales targets led to branch managers feeling pressured to open millions of fraudulent accounts. The consumer banking scandal that followed may have damaged the Wells Fargo brand beyond repair. Every company should have clear, achievable goals , and also clear ways to measure the success of those goals.

Intuit Chief Information Officer Atticus Tysen says the key for Intuit to succeed was for all success metrics to be visible throughout the company. For those working outside headquarters, visible metrics ended the mystery of what was happening back at HQ, making the company more cohesive.

Your action plan for improving your career or personal life can be framed as a resource allocation problem. You have limited time, energy, wealth and talent to grow, and people ask for your time and energy every day. To make sure you are headed in the direction you want, watch where your resources flow. If they don't support your bigger mission, it means you are not implementing your strategy at all. Human brains are hardwired to appreciate challenges but to avoid those that are too difficult. This means that people will get bored of tasks that are too easy and give up on tasks that are too hard. Therefore, it's optimal to form plans based on tasks in the "Goldilocks zone" of difficulty that is just manageable. To make the process enjoyable and repeatable, assign a balanced mix of low-effort and high-effort tasks.

Build your own action plan

So how can you set goals to help manage time and communicate plans to your employees effectively? Develop an action plan that's unique to your business and adaptable to changing conditions. Our Action Plan collection, which you can download and customize for any industry, provides detailed slides with the top Action Plan tools, such as the FMEA Action Priority, Improvement Action Plan, Action Priority Matrix, SMART Action Plan Tree Diagram, and more. Check out the explainer below to learn more.

Tool highlights

Action plan

The collection starts with a detailed action plan that includes action items with their assigned owner and priority level. On the left, write a description of the action items and give them each a LMH (low, medium, or high) action priority level. This is useful to delegate tasks across an entire team or company. To make it personal, simply delete the "Owner" column. The status column is used to check in on the progression of each action item and prioritize what needs more attention. (Slide 3)

FMEA action priority

The FMEA framework, also known as Failure Mode Effects Analysis, is another way to prioritize action items based on problems that need to be solved. It takes into account the impact, severity, and likelihood of risks. Classify and prioritize failures and their impact to structure action plans according to the highest-risk factors. AP stands for the Action Priority level, while RPN stands for the Risk Priority Number. Use these columns to measure the impact of each problem that needs to be resolved. Additionally, teams can use this tool to identify the causes of failures to avoid them in the future. (Slide 13)

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Action priority matrix

The Action Priority Matrix lays out tasks according to their effort level. Tasks that can be done with low effort can still have a substantial impact on outcomes. Therefore, try to prioritize low-effort and high-impact actions first. Try to avoid the lower right, which is high-effort and low-impact tasks. The table on the right lists each of these tasks, and users can choose to complete either one first. (Slide 16)

Improvement action plan

Instead of a list of specific actions, the Improvement Action Plan zooms out to see expected outcomes. List issues at the top, and activities to improve them below. Divide improvement activities into now, next, or soon depending on their priority level. Include the resources that will be needed to make the improvements happen and reach desired outcomes. (Slide 23)

Smart action plan tree diagram

The SMART diagram sets clear goals. Every goal should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Goals are the foundation of any action plan, so it's important to make sure they aren't too abstract, and that there are specific indicators to help you achieve your target. The diagram becomes more specific from left to right, asking clear questions about the goal that are solidified on the right side. (Slide 25)

Save time and hours of work

To develop an effective, goal-oriented action plan for your business, download and customize this presentation to save time and hours of work as you map out your next move to reach your goals. For more like this, check out our explainer on Strategic Roadmap to learn how to generate achievable goals true to your company's vision and save hours of work with our fully customizable presentation template.

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