5 Common Reasons Why Strategic Plans Fail

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Strategic plans are crucial for a company’s success, yet all too often, they fail for a number of different reasons. We’ve all seen the nice binder that sits on the boss’ bookshelf that has, in essence, become a very expensive bookend.

Strategic plans require foresight and discipline so let’s make a couple of assumptions:

  1. That the leadership has people in place that are capable of fulfilling the strategic plan.
  2. That the necessary resources (financial, educational, training and other) are provided to accomplish the strategy.
Does strategic planning ever feel like this to you?

So then, why do strategic plans so often fail?

While the list of reasons below isn’t exhaustive, it’s a good place to start identifying problems within the company that caused the plans to fail or to avoid making these mistakes to begin with.

Lack of alignment with organizational DNA. One important reason for strategic plan failure is the lack of alignment with the organizational DNA. This problem is two-fold.

First, we are relying on left-brained analytical approach instead of the right-brained storytelling approach. Storytelling helps us discover who we are and what we stand for as a company, instead of being governed by who or what we think we should be.

Secondly, instead of recognizing our unique marketplace position, historical knowledge, and ongoing strengths and using them to create a strategic plan that will help our company thrive, we adopt another company’s strategy with little thought or adaptation.

Lack of ownership. Lack of ownership is another reason why strategic plans fail. It all boils down to the difference between buy-in and ownership. While our culture tends to use “buy-in” and “ownership” interchangeably, the concepts are not synonymous.

Buy-in is far more efficient in the short term as it much easier to “sell” the decision to the stakeholders by emphasizing the benefits that the plan will bring than to seek their detailed input. However, buy-in comes with one major flaw: the stakeholders will naturally blame whoever sold them on the idea when the plan inevitably fails to live up to the hype.

Ownership, on the other hand, takes time and is about honoring the right process. It is about asking the right questions and making sure that the proposed strategy aligns with the company’s values and customer’s needs.

It needs more work upfront but is more efficient in the long run as it ensures that the foundation for the strategy to succeed is there right from the get-go.

Lack of short-term concrete actions. In most cases, we plan way ahead, often in the 3- to 5-year range when making a strategic plan. While long-term planning is a great way to set a process by which a strategic plan will be achieved, it doesn’t effectively help us execute on our plan now.

Identify concrete actions over the next 6-9 months and commit to them fully. If you are serious about making your strategic plan work, you will also identify a point person for each concrete action and set appropriate check-in dates for the important milestones.

Lack of courageous leadership. It’s time for some tough love. No matter how good your plan is, the hard truth is that you will never accomplish it unless you’re willing to take a risk and show up as a bold leader.

Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, co-founders of Cambridge Leadership Associates, define leadership as “disappointing people at a rate they can tolerate.”

Here’s the deal; leadership requires movement forward. Movement forward requires change. And, change inevitably involves loss.

In fact, we experience the loss of change before we experience the benefit of change. This is why the status quo is such a formidable opponent. Thus, the need for courageous leaders who are willing to disappoint people in the short-term so that the organization can thrive moving forward.

In other words, without being willing to take a risk, you would have been better off never making a plan in the first place.

Lack of healthy accountability. So, our new strategy is aligned with our organization’s DNA, we’ve created ownership throughout the stakeholders, we’ve committed to short-term, concrete actions, and we’ve boldly stepped forward.

All that’s left to do now is to hold ourselves accountable to the aforementioned commitments. Failure to provide accountability to one another will lead to lack of action and we will not see the desired results. In short, accountability is the glue that holds our short-term commitments to our desired results.

In my experience, a leader’s most difficult job is keeping people accountable. In fact, many leaders and managers will go to great lengths to avoid keeping people accountable. Creating a culture of healthy accountability won’t be easy but it is doable and, once mastered, the same process can be successfully applied to both smaller organizations and large multinational corporations.

At Joyner Advising Group, our mission is to Help Forward-Looking Leaders Create Alignment. Learn more about how we can partner with you.

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