When strategic plans fail

As a consultant with expertise in strategic planning, I get called to help clients for one of two reasons. They’re either trying to develop their first strategic plan or tired of having them fail.

For both scenarios, the reasons a strategic plan, or to be more specific, a strategic objective, fails are the same.

For any strategic objective to have a chance at success, the organization must have some sense of purpose, a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), a.k.a. a vision.

I’ll write about that next month. For now, please trust me.

There are four common reasons pursuit of a strategic objective fails.

Reason Number One – Lack of Resources

As a rule, no business has too many employees, particularly successful businesses. They tend to be short on time and staff while constrained by cash flow.

Creating strategic objectives takes time and your best people, who don’t have any to give. Executing takes more people, more time, and can be disruptive, which has a detrimental impact on productivity–another consumer of time.

Something has to give, and efforts to pursue the strategic plan are the popular choice. Driven by the tyranny of the urgent and need to satisfy demands already too great to fulfill, efforts to execute on a strategic objective become easy to set aside.

Do not start any strategic efforts without sufficient resources.

Reason Number Two – Failure to Identify Assumptions

Adding overhead to anyone’s workload adds pressure by expecting more output in the same amount of time. That pressure often drives those under pressure to find efficiencies, particularly with their no obligations, which can lead to cutting corners.

The cutting of corners to save time often leads to hasty risk analysis, which involves evaluating the likelihood of assumptions being wrong. Failing to recognize the tenuous nature of assumptions can lead to obstacles from many directions. A key staff member is unavailable. A dependable vendor experiences supply chain disruption. A reliable piece of equipment suddenly isn’t. Recognizing assumptions requires their identification and evaluation. Failing to identify them up front is where the corners often get cut.

Analyze every strategic objective for assumptions that must become facts for your objective to be achieved.

Reason Number Three – Loss of Focus

If reasons one and two don’t thwart your efforts, together they can impact staff’s ability to focus on their routine tasks. Adding high importance, limited duration demands to any busy schedule introduces competing priorities; the smooth flow of business as usual vs. the strategic tasks leading to some better future.

Determining priorities should be done jointly by the strategic planning team, operations, and when appropriate, Human Resources. In most cases, staff don’t have (or need) the information required to make those judgements. Ignoring this aspect or tasking staff with it adds to their disruption, hinders their ability to focus on routine tasks, and things begin to fall through cracks.

Prioritize activities in pursuit of strategic objectives so staff know what to shed when relief is needed to maintain focus.

Reason Number Four – Not being truly strategic

If achieving a strategic objective doesn’t move your organization closer to its BHAG or vision, it’s simply not strategic. There are few things more demoralizing than being pushed out of your comfort zone to achieve a greater good only to find that greater good wasn’t.

Adding a new service or product isn’t strategic if all it does is get you more revenue. That’s what marketing and sales are for. Expanding facilities or relocating isn’t strategic if all it does is relieve crowding or improve safety. That’s what logistics is for.

Every strategic objective must move your business closer to become what it wants to become, otherwise it’s not strategic. Do not use “strategic” to create false importance or priority.

The opportunities to help my clients’ journeys are how we both grow and learn. If you want help with strategies to identify or achieve your BHAG/vision, I can help your business start moving in the right direction.

Do you want the successful organization you’ve built to survive? If so, you must pursue your BHAG in steps.

If you want to talk about how to do that, email me at larry@mandelberg.biz or call 916-798-0600.


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