Real Causes of Strategy Failure

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Why Most Planning Fails


Why Most Strategic Planning Can Fail

I once had a colleague ask me: "is it the plan or the execution?" Without any further explanation, I knew what he meant and I surprised him and myself with my answer. For many years I believed that real success is about effective execution. Over the past decade, however, I have discovered that most companies are actually quite good at execution. In fact, execution is really what companies do every day.

Ultimately, we have a large gap between our stated plan and the results against those plans because the plans themselves are flawed. The reasons are multifaceted and somewhat different for every organization, but at the end of the day, our plans lack seriousness, intent, creativity, credibility, measurability and clarity. When it comes to successful business planning, companies have lost their way in two core areas: process and intent.

Real Causes of Strategic Failure

Due mostly to human nature, we have placed much of the blame on process and made our planning processes bigger, more complex and more cumbersome. The size and complexity of our processes temporarily lulls us into the belief that we are making a strategy when we are really just filling in templates. In so many organizations, our strategy making efforts have been reduced to busy work. We do need a clear and repeatable process to guide our efforts and we do need to stick to the process, but it needs to be simple. If you spend more time talking about your planning process than your plan, then you are doing something wrong.

While poor process plays a leading role in poor plans, the real culprit is a lack of clear and compelling intent. I understand that intent seems like an ambiguous concept, but let me explain. If you intend to have an interesting exercise and make some vague proclamations about the future, you will see minimal results. With the wrong strategic intent, you will be having the same strategy conversation again and again. With the right intent, you can be successful with almost any process.

The Strategic Business Planning Process

The single most important way to ensure progress is to openly discuss and agree to the seriousness of your planning process, the expected outcomes, and hardcore objectives. Your CEO, Board Chair, and facilitator should discuss and agree to a number of important questions well in advance of commencing your process.

  • What specifically will be different or better as a result of the process?
  • What do we truly hope to accomplish during the sessions?
  • Will the team create a strategy during the process that actually binds us now and in the future?
  • Will most of our spending in the coming years be largely dictated by our decisions?
  • Will most of our structure, resourcing and hiring decisions be dictated by our decisions?
  • Will the decisions in this process likely cause us to stop, de-resource or back-burner some of the projects we are working on today?

Does your organization have the intent to really make strategy that can be successfully executed?

Successful Business Planning

If you are having trouble creating a business plan for your company, our Business Planning Boot Camp package can help you get started. It is full of templates, tools, and resources to help you streamline your business processes. Also, be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get free, actionable tips on business management and strategic planning.