Reference Guide: Intention into Action

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Strategy happens when we pay attention to our intentions. 

Once you have your statements of intent/strategic priorities drafted for at least one pillar, you are in a position to start planning for your strategy to happen. 

The aim is not to create a static document but to build a living system of execution.

“I don’t like plans” versus “I plan endlessly”

“In preparing for battle, I’ve always found that plans are useless, but planning is essential.” Dwight Eisenhower 1 

Some people are naturally resistant to plans and planning, feeling that a plan written down is constraining or a stretch too far because of the fear of failure and the resulting shame or guilt that occurs when the planned goal or outcome is not achieved. The desire to design a perfect plan can also mean that planning becomes a vortex of procrastination that sucks you in and means that you never get started. 

There are some people who have a contempt for planning, believing that they are above needing structure to help them with seemingly simple tasks. But there is a difference between understanding and doing. Just because people understand what to do doesn’t ensure that they will actually do it. There’s so much that will drive us away from our intentions. Meaningful behaviour change is very hard to do. It’s hard to initiate behaviour change, even harder to stay the course, and hardest of all to make the change stick. Inertia is so often the reason that we never start the process of change. It takes extraordinary effort to stop doing something in our comfort zone in order to start something difficult that would be good for us in the long run. We are sometimes so satisfied with how far our behaviour has already taken us in life that we smugly reject any reason to change.

Alternatively, there are others who engage in endless ‘motion over action’ – they love planning and preparation and use it as a justification that they’re actually doing something and making progress when they’re not. For example, spending time ordering fitness equipment and talking to a personal trainer is not the same as doing the exercise! The ‘motion’ of planning can be its own form of procrastination. 

This is not about creating the perfect plan. Putting your intentions into action is dynamic and active, based on learning and adapting from experimenting, exploring what-ifs and building the habits, behaviours and set of actions that will lead you towards the desired outcome. Having a living plan enables you to act with agility in the moment rather than forcing you down a particular path, helping you to navigate on your journey.

Building a system for execution

The clarity gained from developing your Personal Strategy Map is revitalising and exciting. There is a certain magic to articulating your purposeful story; getting it out of your head and onto the page is a catalyst to the change process.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” James Clear 2

Strategy is only as good as the capability to execute it.

Despite the sincerity of your intentions, without a system to support them, they are at risk of not happening. 

The current system of behaviours and habits that you have in place will carry you inevitably to the results you have right now – that’s what it’s designed for. You can set your strategic intentions, but if you don’t establish an aligned system to pay attention to your daily habits and design behaviours so that they serve you, you will continually fall to the level of your current systems. This is why it’s so important to follow through on developing your ‘Intentions into Action’ plan alongside your Personal Strategy Map.

Aligning your actions and intentions

“You can talk all you like about having a clear purpose and strategy for your life, but ultimately it means nothing if you are not investing the resources you have in a way that is consistent with your strategy. In the end, a strategy is nothing but good intentions unless it’s effectively implemented.” Clayton Christensen 3

The purpose of the Personal Strategy Map, the definitions and the 3-6-9-12 Month Plan is to provide a framework to start and sustain positive change; change that you want, believe in and are prepared to invest in, change that you are prepared to choose over what’s comfortable or easy. Where you are identifying new behaviours, paths and projects to engage in, ensure that you are building the system that supports the changes that you want to make. 

There is a natural tendency to move from intentions to setting big goals and targets in your 3-6-9-12-Month Plan without building the behaviours and the habits that will take you toward the goal. But the trouble with big goals, even when they are specific and measurable, is that they tend to make us over-value the outcome and under-value the process that’s hidden from view. One of the most motivating feelings is the feeling of progress. 

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”  James Clear 4

Create an achievable plan that sets you on the path to your aspirations and the type of person you wish to become. It’s about being intentional about what you are optimising for – the person you are today or the person you wish to become as described in your Personal Strategy Map, and then creating habits and behaviours that will, little by little, set you on your journey to your desired destination. Putting attention to your intention and making your strategy happen.

Approach to implementation

As part of your exploration, experiment on what approach will work best for you to make your intentions a reality. There is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to managing your strategy, different intentions will require different approaches. When you put together your 3-6-9-12 Month Plan, you are likely to have a range of actions. Some of them may need monitoring only periodically, however, if you are seeking to change a lifetime habit, you are likely to need to monitor a small number of tweaks on a very regular basis. Small changes over time are compounding, but only when you maintain consistency. 

When you are seeking to establish new habits, James Clear’s Four Laws of Behaviour Change 5 are very useful. They are:

  1. Make it OBVIOUS
  2. Make it ATTRACTIVE
  3. Make it EASY 
  4. Make it SATISFYING

Let the actions lead. You are more likely to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting. When you lead with actions, you build the evidence that will help you to believe that you really are the type of person you aspire to be. And this then reinforces the reliability and sustainability of the change in behaviour.

“There is only one way to learn,” the alchemist answered. “It’s through actions”. Paulo Coelho 6

When I first put my 3-6-9-12 Month Plan together, I researched ideas and methods to help me make the changes. Part of my plan was to experiment with these ideas, explore them, see how well they ‘fitted’ with me and then adapt accordingly. I engaged with mindfulness practice, I started reflective journaling, kept a gratitude diary, tried some apps, bought some books, set some boundaries, built new connections and let go of others, tried new habits out, and explored new business partnerships and opportunities. Some of them fitted, others didn’t, but the exploration opened my mind and experience and allowed me to refine both my Personal Strategy and the 3-6-9-12 Month Plan and then engage in commitments to action that worked for me.

The grass is not greener on the other side. It’s greener where you water it. To gain the benefit, you’ve got to do the work. Allocating and scheduling time for your strategic priorities will give you a better chance of success. You must intentionally create capacity for those things that are important – as Peter Drucker eloquently put it, when we focus on the small stuff, “We sacrifice the future on the altar of today.” 7

Marshall Goldsmith’s research involving more than 86,000 respondents around the world on changing leadership behaviour, “Leadership is a Contact Sport” 8, identifies that if we don’t follow up, our positive change doesn’t last. It’s the difference between, for example, getting in shape and staying in shape. Even when we get there, we cannot stay there without commitment and discipline. The problem is, typically, that we want short-term gratification while we need long-term benefits. Comfort overcomes the courage for change.

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Completing the 3-6-9-12-Month Plan

1. Pillar, Values, Enablers, Strategic Priority

For each pillar, enter the summarised statement of intent – your priority – from the strategy map, along with the enabling objective and the underpinning value(s).

2. Commitment

Where do you want to get to in the next year on this priority? Describe the key outcomes and impact in the present tense. This should align with your vision statement. 

3. Action Plan

For each of the quarters of the year, identify what you will do to achieve your commitments. These may be a mixture of:

  • Action commitments
  • Ideas and actions to experiment with and trial
  • New behaviours to engage in
  • Habits to establish
  • Targets to achieve
  • Milestones of a significant project

Important Note:  For those of you who are disposed towards perfectionism, you do not need to complete every box for every priority. In fact, choosing which priority you will choose to focus on in any time period is a key part of your strategy – what you will do, and what you will not do. Don’t overload yourself!

Operationalise your 3-6-9-12 Month Plan

We have developed our journey map in the Personal Strategy Map and our annual 3-6-9-12-Month Plan; the next stage is to break that down into a 100-day plan and incorporate our intentions and actions into our weekly planning. This is where it gets real. I make sure that I have scheduled time each week for the strategically important items and monitor the progress regularly. As I implement, I reflect on what I’ve learned and how my insights could adjust my planning, my intentions, my assumptions, and my overall strategy. Every time I have a significant insight, or an event in my life, I return to the map and consider any refinements. This continuous iteration is part of the process of learning and adjusting your course accordingly. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better,” 9 as Maya Angelou says.

Reviewing and Assessing Progress

“I had thought the destination was what was important, but it turned out it was the journey.” Clayton Christensen 10

I’ll measure my success by what matters to me, not what is expected of me. As I’ve journeyed, I’ve got to know myself and my values better and become more comfortable with using my own ruler to measure my success. I don’t let others determine what my ‘happy ever after’ should be. A key question to ask is whether I’ve been intentional about making strategic choices in line with my values, aspirations and purpose. 

A key principle I use is to own my choices and see the gaps. Wherever I’ve got to has resulted from a choice of mine. It’s not what’s happened to me; it’s how I’ve chosen to respond and why that matters. If I’ve not done something that I’d planned or committed to, that’s still a choice of where I’ve invested my time, energy and talent. Recognising the choices I’ve made along the way is an important part of being both kind and honest with myself.

I value the journey and where it takes me as much as reaching the destination. When the year didn’t turn out to be quite as planned, I can recognise that my journey took me on some unexpected paths with some new experiences and unanticipated outcomes for which I am extraordinarily grateful; and remarkably, I realised that I was still able to achieve most of the year’s goals. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and contribute; a life well lived is a blend of success and failure, and this year I’ve managed to treat those two impostors (triumph and disaster) just the same.   

Finally, and most importantly, celebrate how far you’ve come at every stage.

“She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” Elizabeth Edwards 11

Life is not static; landscapes change, the weather changes, and our motivation shifts through learning from experience. We are travellers and map makers and will need to adjust as we navigate life’s adventure. It doesn’t end here.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the Trade Winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain 12





Explain your intentions from your personal strategy map and the actions you are committing to in order to make it happen to your trusted partner. As you exp lain it, does it feel congruent and achievable?

Is your plan realistic and, at the same time, challenging? Is it authentic, and does it make sense? What might obstruct your progress? 

You can use the templates for each pillar to consolidate the content of the story.

For example: