There are many reasons strategic plans fail, but here are six of the main ones.
By Jonathan Rogers
As a small business owner or leader, you probably know that the most successful companies have some sort of strategic plan, a big-picture road map that lays out all the most important priorities in order to define future success and a plan to get there. But you may well have experienced what many CEOs have, which is a high level of frustration with the strategic planning process. It doesn’t yield the results you wanted; you’re dissatisfied with the level of engagement your key people have in it and even irritated with yourself for not making the process a success.
There are many reasons strategic plans fail, but here are six of the main ones:
1—You Don’t Have One
As an executive coach, it’s amazing to me how few business leaders have a strategic plan. When I ask, they may tell me they have a “strategy” or a “business plan,” but these documents are typically either vague, short-term or more often than not, simply nonexistent.
If you don’t have a clear, written plan that defines your most important priorities and goals, and describes what success will look like when you have accomplished them, how do you know if you’re on the right track? As Yogi Berra once said, “if you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
2—You’re ‘Too Busy’
Even if you have a nicely written plan, the urgent priorities of current reality may take all your time and energy away from the longer-term important initiatives that would, ironically, solve many of the shorter- term problems demanding your time.
So, there isn’t sufficient focus or follow-through; in other words, you’ve thought through and created a strategic plan but missed the importance of strategic execution. The solution is to have a proven, robust process to follow.
3—It’s Not Tied to Vision
I see this a lot too—businesses may have a longer-term plan, but there is no definition of what success looks like when the plans all come together.
Think about it: how can there be any direction if there is no destination? Without a clear future vision of what you are leading people toward, how can you know how to get there?
You need to paint an exciting picture for your employees of what the business will look like, in some detail, so they can say, “yes, I want to be a part of making that happen—now what can I do to help?” That’s where you point them to the strategic plan and their part in it, and ask them to buy in.
4—It’s Too Complicated
You may have gone away for a few days with your executive team and created a beautifully-crafted plan, but if it’s too involved or full of strategy-speak that people don’t understand, it can collapse under its own weight.
Have the courage to keep it simple, actionable and relevant and you will have greater success executing. Of course, a simpler plan well-executed will beat a more complex plan poorly delivered every time.
5—There’s No Accountability
This is a big one, and it starts with you at the top. As people would say at my last company, “if it interests my boss, it fascinates the heck out of me!”
Hold yourself accountable first—you own the plan and its implementation, through tracking of milestone completion and frequent review, and you will reinforce the message of what’s most important. And by putting one accountable individual in charge of each initiative, there will be no ambiguity as to who owns what needs to be done and by when. Review progress once a month with your key leaders, focusing more on what’s off track than on, and do a deeper dive once a quarter.
A simple fear of change or the fear of taking too big of a risk will often hold leaders back from making ‘Strategic Bets’ as we call them.
There are no guarantees in strategy, but taking calculated, informed risks are what business is all about. Underlying this is a fear of failure, but all too often leaders will fail too slowly because of the fear of pulling out of an agreed-upon strategy that doesn’t appear to be working.
Have you ever hung onto an idea too long? Revisit your plan frequently and dare to make adjustments and fail fast if necessary. You will appreciate the time you save to drive a better plan and accelerate your progress toward your desired future.
Jonathan Rogers is Vice President and Principal Coach, Building Champions. In addition to coaching leaders and teams, Jonathan manages a team of Building Champions’ executive coaches and leads internal coach training and development. He also oversees client relationships in the manufacturing, construction, transportation and agriculture industries.