Why isn't your strategic plan working?

Six reasons your strategic plan isn’t working

Whether it’s thinking too big, too fuzzily, or too rigidly, strategic plans can fail for a variety of reasons – here are 6 to be wary of.

While most organizations – both businesses and not-for-profits – have some form of strategic plan, many of them don’t fully realize its benefits. An effective strategic plan must be strategically sound and effectively executed – but many strategic plans fail in one or both of these areas.

Many times, organizations feel their strategic plan isn’t working because it isn’t strategically sound. However, the statistics tell a different story. An often-quoted study has found that 60 to 90 percent of organizations fail to successfully implement their strategies. This reaffirms that strategic plans most often fail because of poor implementation.

However, some strategic plans really are made up of the wrong “stuff.” Unless a strategic plan provides needed clarity and lays out the right methods and goals, it can end up doing more harm than good, or doing nothing at all.

Why strategic plans can stall out

If your strategic plan isn’t working, it’s likely due to one or more of these factors:

  1. It lacks clarity. Many strategic plans set forth the mission and vision of the organization along with key goals to accomplish in the next three to five years, but the future vision is too broad for employees to really know what will be different when that vision is fully implemented. Other times, the goals are not clear enough for employees to know what action needs to be taken. For example, if the goal is to improve customer satisfaction, what exactly does that mean employees should do to improve it, and how will they know if they’ve been successful? Strategic plans must clarify who will do what actions to reach each goal, and, ultimately, the future vision.
  2. It tackles too much. Startups and other entrepreneurial organizations often fall into the trap of taking on too much in their strategic plans. With so much potential in sight, they may take on 15 goals instead of five. While all 15 goals might be good, no organization can focus on 15 different things well while still maintaining the day-to-day business. It is far better to complete a handful of critical goals than to partially complete a larger number of less-important goals.
  3. It lacks buy-in. Even a great strategic plan will go nowhere without buy-in from the key players in the organization. The strategic plan’s champion may see team members nod their heads during the planning session even as they’re thinking it’s not the right direction for the organization. Making sure that everyone’s voice is heard during the creation of the plan is an important way to help ensure buy-in. Otherwise, it will be easier for those people to come back later and say that it wasn’t the right thing to do.
  4. It lacks follow through. Strategic plans also fail because the necessary follow-up doesn’t happen. This could mean employees aren’t held accountable for their role in implementing the plan or the organization doesn’t make the necessary changes to its structure and processes to support the new direction. Many times leadership fails to devote enough time to properly implement the plan. They are too busy running the day-to-day operations of the business to do the important but non-urgent tasks that a strategic plan requires. They’re working IN their business, but not ON their business. As a result, the momentum created in developing the plan slowly fades, along with employees’ motivation to implement it.
  5. It doesn’t change with the environment. Any strategic plan makes certain assumptions about the marketplace and the world around it. However, because the world is constantly changing, many of these assumptions turn out to be wrong. When this happens, your organization’s strategy must be ready to adapt – which is why it’s important to think of a strategic plan as a living document and not a book on the shelf. Changes may require small tweaks, a pivot, or even a wholesale change to the mission and vision of the organization.
  6. It’s a bad strategy. Some organizations just have a bad strategy. They might not pay attention to the changing marketplace around them, repeat what they’ve done in the past, copy what someone else is doing, or not understand their key differentiator as an organization. These are all bad strategies that will not lead to long-term success.

If you’re struggling with your strategy, you’re not alone, but there is something you can do about it. Understanding where your strategy falls short and taking action to get back on track are the first steps toward a more successful future for your organization.


If you have questions about your strategic plan or strategic planning process, please contact Daniel White using his information below.

Daniel White

Vice President
Org. Development & Family Business Services

Daniel White assists organizations with their organizational development needs, including strategic and operational planning, leadership development, succession and exit planning, and family business advising. He has worked with a wide range of industries, including construction, healthcare, manufacturing, banking, not-for-profits, and government organizations. He has also worked internationally as an organizational development consultant, serving organizations in Bolivia, Guatemala and Ghana. Prior to advising organizations, he worked in not-for-profit leadership and operations, directing projects with clients such as the US Department of State and the United Nations Population Fund.

Daniel serves as associate director of the Kansas Family Business Forum, hosted by Wichita State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship. He holds a certificate in Family Business Advising from The Family Firm Institute. Daniel also earned his Certified Exit Planner designation from BEI. This designation demonstrates he is qualified to provide comprehensive, professionally executed exit planning services. He has been published in Fast Company and several academic journals, and he has presented at a number of national conferences.

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