Strategic Planning

5 Strategic Planning Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Despite the best of intentions, strategic planning sessions have a tendency to end in heartache. According to Greg Bustin at Bustin & Co. “…depending on which study you follow, the statistics range from a dismal 3 percent of companies who say they are successful at executing their strategies to about one out of every three organizations that integrates its plans into its daily operations with high effectiveness.”

So, why are the statistics so low when it comes to successful strategic plan implementation? Are companies clearly missing the mark when it comes to operationalizing their strategic plans? Are leaders mismanaging resources and falling short when it comes to setting strategic priorities? Or…does the problem run deeper?

Here are five reasons why strategic plans fail, and what you can do to avoid these common pitfalls in the future.

1. The plan is too complex

If you find you’re planning more than you’re executing, you’re probably overcomplicating the process. More often than not, the best strategic plan is also the simplest. Why? Because it makes the operational planning and implementation process easier.

Operational plans essentially bring your strategic plan to life and map out the where’s, how’s, why’s and when’s required to ensure successful plan implementation.

Here’s an example: One of the municipalities we’re working with has a strategic objective to increase revenue streams for the city, which will then be directed towards funding ongoing community development programs. This city is using the Envisio software to build an operational plan around this strategic initiative. The CAO now has a system in place to help him and his senior leadership team operationalize and clearly outline the actions, resources, and key performance metrics needed to achieve this specific financial priority within his strategic plan.

Remember, the idea is to make it from Point A to Point B in the most efficient way possible. Complicate the plan unnecessarily and you increase your odds of failure. Your goal is to streamline your strategic planning process and develop realistic operational plans that enable your success and empower your team.

2. The plan doesn’t address and resolve current problems

Planning for the future can be exhilarating, but sometimes the present is the more pressing issue.

Encourage your team to document the trouble spots in real-time as they move through their days. Take a long, hard look at the bottlenecks and obstacles that are bogging down your current system’s productivity and efficiency.

Monitor the status of all your initiatives and regularly review the progress commentaries provided to you by your team. By coming to terms and working through your current problems first, you can better lay the groundwork for success with your new strategic initiatives now and in the future.

3. The plan is actually just a budget

If your planning session is little more than a discussion of how to fund current projects based on your existing resources, you’re not really breaking new strategic ground… You’re simply just updating the budget.

Remember, strategic planning isn’t just a matter of pushing forward with the same old same old. Changes need to be made. New goals need to be set. Relevant priorities need to be established and communicated to the rest of your team.

Planning sessions should be the jumping-off point for new and exciting ideas and opportunities. In addition, strategic planning involves identifying problems within the current strategic landscape.

If certain processes or programs aren’t serving the greater good and moving you toward your strategic goals, adjustments need to be made in real-time to correct the problems. Sometimes, that means putting certain projects on hold or eliminating them completely.

4. The plan doesn’t emphasize accountability

Too often, strategic plans are set in motion without the full commitment of everyone involved. Sure, Bob may have gone through the motions during the meeting and given his supposed nod of approval, but if he’s not truly committed to making a change, the plan will fail.

Before a plan is implemented, you need to ensure that everyone is on the same page and willing to make the necessary changes for success and align with your strategic plan. This means holding everyone accountable, no matter what junior or senior position they hold. Everyone must pull their own weight.

Accountability also indicates a special kind of responsibility when it comes to strategic and operational planning. The people doing the operational planning must understand from their teams what is actually required in the doing to ensure realistic timelines are being set and adequate resources are being directed to a strategic initiative to ensure its achievement.

5. A reliance on spreadsheets is slowing you down

Everyone knows how to use Excel, but that doesn’t mean it’s a complete reporting and business intelligence solution. In fact, there are multiple issues with the static spreadsheet approach:

  • Manual spreadsheet creation wastes time and resources.
  • A lack of standardization leads to unnecessary errors.
  • There’s no means of tracking strategic plan implementation.
  • Unnecessary duplication can occur and document version control can get out of hand.
  • Spreadsheets aren’t easily integrated with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.
  • Not everyone knows how to update the Excel templates, so you end up relying on one or two “office gurus.”
  • Bad decisions are made and opportunities are missed due to a lack of real-time data.

The best way to correct these issues is to move away from spreadsheets and instead choose an automation solution designed to enhance strategic planning, implementation and reporting.

Have you found yourself on the wrong end of these strategic planning pitfalls? What are you doing to improve your success level moving forward?

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Cara Ong

Cara has over 15 years of experience in business and product management. She is a highly organized, results-driven, strategic executive and entrepreneur with a positive attitude towards work and life.

Cara is passionate about helping organizations find effective solutions and providing forward-thinking strategies to help them achieve their goals of operational efficiency.

In her free time, Cara enjoys acrylic painting and golf.

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