An Overview of the Top 7 Failures to Avoid in Strategic Planning

At OnStrategy, we have the good fortune of reviewing hundreds of strategic plans each month. It can be a stressful job, but we’re always reminded how great a privilege it is to be an extension of our client’s leadership teams. A strategic plan is an amazing tool to drive growth, employee engagement, organizational performance, and support leadership development. Without a living, breathing plan, it’s unlikely you’ll have a thriving organization.

We’re convicted in the power a strategic management practice can have on organizations. To help your team accelerate the impact and growth from strategic planning and implementation, we’ve identified the top seven pitfalls we see in strategic plans. In complete honesty, we see at least one of these issues in the majority of plans we review.

Below we will cover each of these seven pitfalls and how you can avoid them in depth over the next few months as you work through completing your 2020 plan:

Failure #1 – Your executive team is not having “strategic” conversations.

Keeping your team thinking at the right level during the planning process can be challenging. We often see leadership teams focusing on operational issues [small details] rather than the big picture during the planning process. Keeping your team floating at the right elevation is critical in connecting the dots and building a thoughtful, holistic plan that takes your organization to the next level.

Failure #2 – Your strategic plan does not clearly paint a picture of the future state (nor explain why this is where you’re going).

You can’t have a great plan or roadmap without a clear destination first. We often see leadership teams flounder in clearly articulating exactly where they want to be in the future. A strategic plan and vision of success can’t be painted in vague brush strokes. They need to be precise, clear, and as detailed as possible. We often like to make the analogy that you want your vision and direction to be clear like a Rockwell painting, not soft and out-of-focus like a Monet.

Taking that a step further, your vision and plan needs to explicitly state why you’re going where you’re going. A clear vision is great, but it needs to connect to the why of your team and organization. A great vision needs to explain why this destination matters to your organization and team for it to truly resonate.

Failure #3 – You have not answered the questions “where to play” and “how to win.”

Identifying where you play in the market and clearly outlining your competitive advantages is just really a difficult exercise. It requires lots of data, research, preparation, and input from your team. But, without clearly understanding of your place in the market and how you bring unique value to your customers, your plan is simply incomplete.

Failure #4 – You did not build a plan that is implementation-ready.

We see great, thoughtful plans that are poised for failure simply because they are not implementation-ready. An implementation-ready plan has several clear markers, including a complete plan, clear ownership, measures, and cascaded responsibility throughout an organization. Building a plan is great, but making sure you can implement it is almost as important as having a plan.

Failure #5 – Your plan is missing measures of success that you can report on and track your progress.

A strategic plan must have clear performance measures. Full stop. Without outlined metrics to measure and report on, you’ll never know if your plan is actually working. Strategy-based decisions and outcomes need to be supported by data and metrics.

Failure #6 – Your team can’t say what your strategy is, and more importantly, what piece they are responsible for.

We briefly mentioned cascaded responsibility, but an implementation-ready plan means there is clearly defined ownership and each team member supports the success of your plan. It’s just as important to have clearly communicated who is responsible for what and exactly how they support the success of your organization. Rolling out your plan and communicating its impact is a key factor in your strategic plan’s success.

Failure #7 – You did not set up a team ritual of assessing and adapting your strategic performance.

We always say the implementation and management of a strategic plan is the heartbeat of the strategic planning process. It’s what keeps the organization moving and your strategic plan living.

The ritual we mentioned is making sure that implementation and plan review becomes ritualized within your organization. It’s a consistent structure, reporting, and meeting process that helps keep your team focused on implementing and achieving your plan in bite-sized chunks over the course of weeks, months, and years. Without adopting a rhythm and consistency to review your plan, it simply can’t be achieved.

Upcoming: Deep Dives into Each Area

Over the next few months, we will deep dive into each common failure of strategic planning to help you identify the symptoms and how to course-correct so you can avoid any speed-bumps in the successful implementation of your plan. Until next week, happy strategizing!

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