Why Your Organization’s Strategic Planning is Failing – Part 2 of 2

90% of organizations make strategic planning a key leadership discipline, according to McKinsey & Co. research. So why do less than half of the managers of these same organizations believe their strategic planning efforts are worthwhile?



In Part 1 of this article we covered first four areas in which failure can occur and what best practices will help prevent a failure in each area. Those areas included:

  • The right participants were not included in the planning process.
  • No pre-work was completed prior to the planning meeting.
  • The planning process occurred without a crisp session agenda.
  • Participants were not aligned for the planning process.

In Part 2 we conclude with areas five through ten.

While not exhaustive, the list of reasons why strategic planning fails in an organization should give you insight into the steps your organization should consider to assure that your strategic planning efforts are effective in helping to drive your organization.


Potential Failure Area 5: There was no ACTIONABLE PLAN created

Many times the strategic planning produces objectives, mission statements, goals, good discussion and ideas, but not actionable plans. However, none of the objectives, mission statements, goals, and ideas can produce results by themselves – they all need an actionable plan to make each one happen!

Solutions: Based on the completed pre-work and planned agenda activities, time is spent identifying the organization’s opportunities and challenges and which ones make sense to address. Then attention is turned to how best to address each opportunity and challenge. Vigorous (but respectful) debate and an iterative process allows the group to select which planning areas to commission for the creation of an initial project plan. Time is then spent in developing individual project plans, gaining budgetary and resource approvals, identifying the team to implement each plan, and a top level outline for each plan.


Potential Failure Area 6: If plans were produced, they were not SPECIFIC enough

There is often a missing level of specificity in the action plans themselves, which could lead to many interpretations and opinions of the actual work to be done. Planning is defined as the thinking that occurs prior to the work being commenced. Plans that are not fully thought out often fail quickly when put into action. Getting to the specifics is crucial to designing effective project plans.

Solutions: Effective plans should anticipate all of the factors that need to be considered, such as likely plan weaknesses, contingency planning, budget estimates, likely outcomes, resources, and resources required. Identification of the specific project plan team members also should occur along with a designated plan owner from among the Group 1 planning participants. It is a best practice to have at least one round of plan vetting by the other retreat participants, in order to add detail to each plan.


Potential Failure Area 7: There was a LACK OF BUY-IN by those tasked with project plan execution

There is limited buy-in to the strategic planning goals and objectives plans among those tasked with their execution. Why? Because they don’t own the goal or objective; they own the tasks. They never had a voice in the creation of any action plans, or purview to the reasoning behind the goal or objective, so they feel little ownership or buy-in. In some cases they are not even told why they are pursuing the goal or objective.



Let me ask you a question: when was the last time you washed and vacuumed a rental car before returning it? Answer: never! Why? Because you don’t own it. Likewise, when people don’t own a project plan it gets treated like a rental car.

Solutions: If the right people were invited to the planning retreat, then at least two of those participants should be assigned to each project plan team. It will be their job to help bring the additional people up to speed. Commitment from new people is created by making them part of the fleshing out of each project plan. By having a say in the plan detail and how it can best be executed, it is no longer the company’s plan but their own. Good management practices, such as delivering feedback and coaching, help raise the level of engagement of each member of a project team.


Potential Failure Area 8: Senior leaders were not REGULAR PARTICIPANTS in the planning retreat

When a senior leader runs the planning meeting, that person does not play the role of ‘regular participant’ in the process. It is far more important that all participants remain full participants. It is foolish to think that someone can both facilitate the meeting and be a regular participant. There is much that can go wrong when senior leaders are not regular participants in the planning sessions.

Some leaders (especially when they are also trying to run the meeting) may have a chilling effect on ideation because they suppress the open, honest dialog necessary to the process. Some leaders may be missing from the process, so their perspective is absent from the process (and it may be critical to have their perspective).

Solutions: Senior leaders need to engage as regular participants, having no more or no less of a say in the planning process. When openness and transparency occurs in this setting, not only do better ideas surface, but teambuilding and relationship strengthening also takes place. And senior leadership gets a more accurate picture of the capabilities of people in their organizations. Finally, an experienced outside facilitator (see next point) can help assure that the honest, open discussions take place absent the influence of controlling personalities.


Potential Failure Area 9: No OUTSIDE FACILITATOR was used to keep the planning process on track

Outside facilitators have one mission: to keep the meeting, discussions, and outcomes productive and on track. An outside facilitator lacks the internal biases that each insider brings to the planning session. Experienced facilitators know where a session is likely to get off track, and can gently ensure that the agenda is followed and success is achieved. There is much wisdom in relying on an outside professional strategic planning facilitator. After all, you wouldn’t want to rely on yourself to be your own surgeon or barber, right?

Solutions: Engage an experienced outside facilitator who can run the pre-retreat process, facilitate the retreat planning, and help leadership assure that the agreed upon action plans are being managed following the planning retreat. Choose an individual with senior level experience in addition to facilitation experience, and preferably experience in multiple industries. While the use of an outside facilitator does raise the cost of strategic planning, he or she should provide an ROI of 10 to 100 times investment because of the quality and effectiveness of the planning outcome.


Potential Failure Area 10: Leadership lacks in its post-planning FOLLOW-UP

There is little – or sometimes no – senior leadership follow-up on the goals and plans that came out of a strategic planning session. When participants get back to their day-to-day roles in the organization, the outcomes of strategic planning may be forgotten in the urgency of everyday busyness. It’s almost a proverb to see a strategic planning session binder put neatly away on the shelf, not to be opened until the next annual planning event. Without a structured process to follow-up on progress toward outcomes, the good ideas of the planning session get lost.

Solutions: Ultimately, the senior leadership team owns the responsibility of managing each of the project plans created during the planning retreat. Yet it often falls to the CEO or sponsoring board member to assure that the plans are producing the expected results, or changes to the plans are being made as needed. This means the use of project management tools, regular oversight meetings, and project plan reporting during the life of each commissioned project plan. This area of project plan follow-up and management should be included in the initial strategic planning design, and communicated to all retreat participants and project team members.


Bottom Line

There is far too much at stake in futures sales, profits, brand value, and every other important measure of success to allow your organization’s strategic planning to be left to “good intentions.” Done well, your organization can enjoy sustainable positive growth that will be the envy of your industry.

Author’s note: I’ve spent more than 30 years facilitating strategic planning programs for organizations large and small, profit and non-profit, public and private entities. Some of these programs have produced stunning results, such as a $500 million valuation increase in 18 months or six consecutive years of double-digit profit and sales growth. I guarantee a full ROI or your money back. Contact me to learn more about our Strategic Planning Made Simple™ programs and expert facilitation.

I help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. My company’s acclaimed career development tools help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. I also work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. To find out more, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at info@boyermanagement.com, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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