Why Do Strategic Plans Fail?

By Anna Holtzclaw

ANNA HOLTZCLAW

Most successful businesses have strategic plans, usually created by a talented group of senior management executives or board members and facilitated by a skilled practitioner. Why then do so many good plans fail?

There are several reasons for this disconnect. Organizations often speed through – or skip over – the due diligence to collect information needed to be strategic. To make smart decisions, people need intellectual insight, the data and information that inform decision-making, and the time to be smart. Researching the market, the opportunities, the external factors impacting your business, and your competition, are all important.

Spending time looking internally is equally essential. Interview the people doing the work; identify hurdles and resources needed to achieve goals, and understand how these impact the bottom line and capabilities of the organization. Every business should know the cost of delivering their product – whether a manufactured item or an intellectual service – in order to predict capacity for future growth.

Involving your key staff in planning and decision-making is also critical. During a strategic planning process, however, key staff means more than just senior management. Key staff includes employees representing different departments and functions in your organization. Remember to engage those who represent and speak to the impact of business decisions on employees and their work processes. Identify and include the culture influencers in your company. Who are your formal and informal leaders that influence employees?

Finally, plans should focus on action steps that are divided into manageable pieces. Typically this means creating task lists by quarter in order to progress toward a goal’s success. The time frame of three months is short enough to create a sense of urgency and long enough to accomplish measurable tasks so employees can gauge their progress and stay involved.

A company’s people strategy is every bit as vital to its success and longevity as the financial and legal strategies. In other words, an office’s culture cannot be left to chance. Good and bad workplaces are products of intentional choices and constant management.

Even though this seems like common sense, managers routinely overlook the time it takes to effectively communicate strategic vision and goals to all of their employees. The best-made plans go awry when the individuals charged with their execution do not understand the costs of failure to themselves, their companies, or their customers. When your employees understand your business goals, how you intend to measure success, and above all, the role that they play in meeting those goals, they are more engaged, productive, and loyal – qualities that make your strategic plan into a successful action plan.

Anna Holtzclaw is a principal at PeopleCap, a boutique firm that specializes in transition management for organizations committed to improving their bottom line and engaging their people.