Why Strategic Plans Fail

 In Blog, Corporate Governance, Corporate Strategy, Leadership

A solid strategic plan with the accompanying key performance indicators, operational plans and buy-in from board, management and staff can be a game changer for organizations. It can also be a failure, waste of time and money and lead to disengagement. There are many reasons why such a powerful tool can fail. Understanding some of the main reasons why, can help an organization spot the issues and address them before they happen.

There are 6 major reasons for why strategic plans fail:

1 – Having a plan to have a plan / putting it on the shelf

Strategic plans are not something you put on a shelf or tuck into a desk drawer. They are a tool to engage all relevant stakeholders in reaching organizational goals. They provide a road map for an organization to follow. A plan written and presented without follow through can lead to disorganization, lack of focus and engagement. Your strategic plan is a living document and should be put on a wall, intranet, dashboard or somewhere easily seen and reported back on regularly.

 2 – Non or partial commitment from leaders

Plans not spearheaded by the head of an organization, and without true commitment from the top, will fail. If you are the head of your organization, a strong strategic plan not only helps you reach your goals, it is a way to engage and create buy-in from your whole team. Show commitment to your team by involving them in the planning process and in developing operational plans linked directly to the strategic plan. Commit to reporting back on the goals for which you are responsible and require staff to do the same.

3 – Not having the proper people involved

Plans need to be built with the people who will be helping to implement them. Without some involvement from stakeholders, there is less buy-in and accountability from the very people you need to get the work done. Additionally, communicating the plan to those it will affect is very important. Building in a communications and/ or change management strategy in your strategic plan will help to bring stakeholders on board.

4 – Trying to do it all at once

This applies to both development and implementation. Most organizations take one day to review their vision and mission, engage stakeholders and develop a plan. Once created, they expect immediate implementation and results. As Bill Gate’s said, “People over estimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in 10.” Build and create a plan over several weeks, taking the time to review and revise. Remember that the plan covers the next 3 – 5 years’ worth of goals and objectives.

5 – Unrealistic goals, lack of focus, flexibility and resources

Strategic plans need to be focused and attainable, while leaving room for flexibility when needed. A successful plan has few and focused goals, the ability to shift when needed and has the proper resources behind it. You don’t need a 30-page strategic plan, for some organizations 1 or 2 pages is enough, as long as you’ve committed the time and resources to seeing it through.

6 – No accountability or follow through

Plans don’t work unless there is follow through. When creating a plan, make it clear that people will be held accountable for the parts for which they are responsible. A solid strategic plan has clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and is linked to a dashboard, scorecard or similar tool that tracks KPIs.

In Summary

Strategic plans help an organization define where they want to go, how they’re going to get there and how will they know.

A solid, simple and focused strategic plan can be a powerful tool in moving the needle forward in an organization. Understanding why plans can fail enables leaders to create a tailored strategic planning process that takes the challenges into account.

BSG’s suite of services supports organizations in addressing the roadblocks identified above, providing you with a focused, attainable and implementable plan.

About the Author

Katherine Clarke-Nolan specializes in facilitation, strategic planning, governance and change management services that focus on helping organizations strategically transition and transform, resulting in more engaged and innovative workforces.

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