Making Strategic Planning Work

Why do strategic planning efforts so often fail? It’s a question I ponder a lot and one that I’m asked frequently by clients and business colleagues. I work with companies of all sizes and in a variety of industries on strategic planning efforts. Previously as a marketing manager/director of corporate communications in the education, energy and healthcare industries I was involved in a range of strategic planning activities from business planning to the development of marketing plans and project-specific plans.

Most of these plans are developed, reviewed, revised–and, sadly, forgotten. Here are some of the key factors that I believe contribute to the successful execution of a strategic plan — whether it’s a business plan, a marketing plan, or a project plan. The process is the same, and so are the potential pitfalls.

We recommend these best practice steps:

  • Determining, at the outset, how you will ensure execution of the plan. This is a best practice that I’ve instituted with clients, and it’s something that we do before we ever begin the planning process. Who will be accountable for the success of the plan’s implementation? How will you monitor plan progress? You should literally set up processes that include data gathering, regular meetings and progress reports, ties to performance management, etc.
  • Ensure that your organization and/or project mission is real and realistic — your mission should drive the creation of your strategies and serve as a reality-check in terms of things that you should, and should not, do. If your mission doesn’t reflect reality, neither will your strategies.
  • The use of solid internal and external data to drive the development of the SWOT analysis — real data, not guesses or opinions. Strategies built on faulty assumptions are destined to fail.
  • Spending time to DO a good SWOT analysis. This is not a silly exercise, but the basis for the development of strategies that will, ultimately, lead to specific tactics or “to do’s.”
  • Using the SWOT analysis to create strategies that are innovative and creative and not just restated goals.
  • Involving a broad variety of people in the process — certainly employees (I’m always amazed at the number of companies that are resistant to including employees in the process; after all, who do they expect to help them actually implement the plan?!?). Other audiences to involve might include customers, vendors and community members.
  • Create specific means of measuring success and a process for ongoing reporting.
  • Establish clear accountability — not to departments or teams, but to individuals.
  • Keep the plan alive through broad, frequent and ongoing communication about progress including both successes and opportunities for improvement.

Obviously this is much abbreviated, but I believe these are the critical steps.

Our white paper “The Top 10 Tips for the 7 Steps of Strategic Planning” offer 70 best practices for increasing the odds that your strategic plan will lead to the results you’re looking for!

Recommended Reading:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Strategic Planning


by Linda Pophal


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