Why Do Strategic Plans Fail?

Despite the many hours organisations invest in developing strategic plans, unfortunately many fail to deliver.

I have outlined 5 reasons that can cause them to fail.  These reasons and insights are taken from my own observations and experience. Being aware of them will hopefully help you improve your success in implementing future strategic plans, so it does not feel like you are chasing rainbows with no pot of gold in sight.

Stephen Covey, in his book The 8th Habit, describes a survey of 23,000 employees drawn from a number of companies and industries. The findings are as follows:

  • Only 37 percent said they have a clear understanding of what their organisation is trying to achieve and why
  • Only one in five was enthusiastic about their team’s and their organisation’s goals
  • Only one in five said they had a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s and organisation’s goals
  • Only 15 percent felt that their organisation fully enables them to execute key goals
  • Only 20 percent fully trusted the organisation they work for

If you don’t know where you are going, how can you expect to get there? Basil S. Walsh

1. Communication

Communication is the real work of leadership.”

One of the most important aspects of any strategy is communication. Poor communication can take many forms. Many organisations will develop strategic plans but then hide them under a rock and not communicate them to staff.

Communication is much more than words and pictures. Communication is delivered through demonstration. Champion your team to make sure the strategy’s delivered. Break the Strategy up into bite size pieces and give a little bit of the cake to everyone to eat. After all, without your team, you would not be where you are today.

 2. No Plan behind the Idea

“Most great plans aren’t. They are just nice, high-level ideas.”

Every organisation understands the need to be strategic as every organisation will spend untold hours developing its strategic plan. Unfortunately so many fail to follow up with a plan to deliver it. Just by terming something as a strategic plan, does not make it one. A plan needs to follow any strategy. The plan should include aims, objectives, tactics and those responsible, communications, measures and results. All of these together will form your plan.

Most strategies stop at the ‘conceptual stage’ rather than actually communicating specific tasks to be done, so this is why a plan is so important. Ideas are much easier to talk about than do.

3. Leadership

Any good team comes from a good leader. Do you recall the age old saying ‘lead by example’?
This applies to everyone, no matter what level you are within your team. We are all called to lead from wherever we are, even if we are not at the top.

Not all management teams are blessed with skilled leaders. Some have titles associated with leadership, but not the authority or the instinct. I was once given some very good advice that you must delegate authority at the same time you delegate responsibility.

4. Passive Management

Do not ever presume things will run themselves after you get them started. Keeping to your plan will require a lot of work, including leadership, communication and motivation.

There is a subtle difference here from leadership. Leadership is expected to communicate the vision and support it with demonstrable actions. Management is expected to know how to execute the individual tactics.  You need to identify ‘the objective’ and how you are going to get there, identify and assign key responsible individuals or champions and give them their part in the plan and hold them accountable.

Like leadership, management is not easy either. It takes a special person to be able to define strategies and to plot out and manage others in how to achieve those strategies. Most fail because they assume their team has the ability and self drive to pull it off and they therefore do not manage the process. Everyone needs a leader to manage them.

5. Ownership and Motivation

Ownership and motivation derive from the “What’s in it for me?” This relates to anything you do in your organisation whether you are selling a product or delivering a service you will be required to think about what you are offering with this in mind. This also equates to your team who are delivering your strategy. People are looking for the meaning in what they do. In other words, they want to show up for more than just their money at the end of the month. People want to build something and make a difference.

Typically the initiative fails because the people responsible for implementing it are not convinced of its value. Organisations need to ensure there is ‘buy in’ and staff are fully behind the companies goals which can support their personal goals. You must have some kind of image of the outcome. The message here is that you personally must desire the outcome.

When there is no motivation or personal ownership there is employee resistance. The project will never succeed if there is no emotion or passion involved. I think this applies to pretty much everything we do.

Plan to Suceed. 


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