Ever notice how your tires seem to have a rhythmic thump when you drive across a bridge? Those are the spaces engineers deliberately put between the steel plates – the expansion joints.  Expansion joints on a bridge accommodate the stresses that come with different loads and changing weather conditions. The spaces between plates shrink and grow as the temperature, wind, and pressures change.

Without expansion joints, stress fractures would start as the solid plates shrink and grow without relief. Unattended, stress fractures lead to failure.

Good strategic plans have expansion joints.

Strategic plans usually incorporate milestones and accountability as a way to ensure that a plan gets executed. But they also serve another purpose. Milestones are opportunities to notice stresses on the plan, and make changes if necessary.

In a strategic plan, the expansion joints are the times you set up to check-in on its progress. Good plans have accountability, milestones and regular check-ins built in. They not only ensure execution, they are a built-in mechanism that lets you notice and relieve the stresses on the plan’s execution. They provide regular times to review the plan, to see if it’s still viable, valid and relevant.

In my work, I’ve seen organizations that create beautiful plans – without accountability. The visions are magnificent. The goals are lofty. But they never get off the ground because they never set regular check-ins. A year later they look at the plan and wonder why the plan has failed.

A plan without milestones is like a rigid bridge without expansion joints. There are no breathing spaces to see if the execution needs tweaking, or to see if changing circumstances might affect what you want to do. In the case of the beautiful plan, regular check-ins would have told them where the bottle-neck was, and given them an opportunity to revise.

We all need expansion joints in our lives. Spaces in our calendar that relieve the stresses we encounter. And that’s a post for another day.

Right now, consider whether your strategic plan, your marketing plan, your communications plan, your financial plan – every plan, has expansion joints built in.  They all need periodic looks to check on their progress and their needs.