The room of executives and senior managers didn’t want to do it. They didn’t want to work their way through another strategic planning retreat. They didn’t want to do all the hard work of planning new strategic priorities after so often failing to deliver on—or experience the value of—the prior years’ priorities. This is what I too often learn after beginning strategy work with new clients.
Executives and managers are tired. They are tired of getting nowhere; tired of failing at strategic planning and tired of expending effort, energy and resources delivering the right results on the wrong set of outcomes.
These organizational leaders are also tired because they’ve been led astray by too many well-meaning (but often lacking) trainers, facilitators and consultants on the topic of strategic planning.
Why Strategic Plans Fail.
Oh let us count the ways. Strategic plans fail for many different reasons, and those listed below can all be factors in the demise of well-intentioned strategic planning efforts.
- A toxic or chaotic organizational culture.
- A dysfunctional leadership landscape.
- Poor and imbalanced decision making.
- Misalignment with processes, systems or enterprise coordination.
However, the number one reason so many strategic plans fail is because executives and managers embark on strategic planning efforts which are disconnected from a coherent overarching strategy.
On its own—and outside the overarching paradigm of strategy—strategic planning is indeed a failing proposition that reduces trust and adds nothing to organizational value.
Yesterday was about strategic planning. Today is about strategy.
After teaching, facilitating and advising on strategy, strategic thinking, strategic planning and strategic leadership for over two decades, I’ve heard all the complaints and past horror stories. And I get it.
Years ago, there was a huge shift in thinking, learning and executive development in this space. Instead of focusing on strategic planning, today’s best strategists now focus on strategy. Yes, strategic planning is still important—very important—but only as it aligns with and fits within the overall context of strategy.
And strategy is about four distinct phases where only one of which is the planning phase.
The goal is to create leaders and decision makers who are well equipped, capable and competent in the world of strategy and its myriad phases and elements which involve thinking, planning, execution and measurement.
Strategic planning alone misses the mark on value proposition and defining the right outcomes.
When you forego the strategic thinking phase, you introduce higher and higher levels of risk and uncertainty into the process. Planning—without the other strategic elements of thinking, executing and measuring—simply fails to produce a distinctive value proposition or properly defined (and measurable) strategic outcomes.
Strategic planning alone leaves many feeling disappointed. Planning does allow for establishing some priorities and outcomes. However, due to its lacking an actual strategic foundation, you’re never able to meaningfully substantiate why you defined said outcomes or whether or not they were even the right outcomes in the first place.
As a result, resources (time, money, people, etc.) get expended on accomplishing the wrong things. Or worse still, the right results get achieved for the wrong outcomes.
You’ve got to be ready to commit far more than planning to the effort if you truly want to get meaningful results for your organization, your team members and your internal and external stakeholders. Strategic planning is only one of the four critical components of strategy, and when detached, the strategic planning process itself will simply not sustain.
Develop strategists who understand the full scope of strategy.
The goal with today’s executives in modern organizations is to develop or hire strategists who better appreciate and understand the full scope of strategy. As a strategist, you can eliminate and/or greatly reduce uncertainty and risk by being astute enough to work through each phase of strategy in a coordinated and collaborative way.
If you and your team dive into strategic planning before first working through strategic thinking, you’ll fail. And, if after completing strategic planning, you neglect to work through the phases of execution and measurement, you’ll also fail.
Success is achieved when—and only when—you become a competent strategist who values the intricacies of all the components and elements of strategy as a whole.