The Problems With Many Strategic Planning Initiatives

As I’ve worked within organizations and, for the past 15+ years as an external consultant, I’ve come to admit that most employees, including many senior leaders, really don’t enjoy strategic planning. I think one of the biggest reasons for this is that they see it as a waste of time. Lots of hours spent by lots of people in closed door meetings that lead to a laundry list of activities and assignments that rarely seem to drive meaningful change.

I’d get tired of that too. But I happen to really love the strategic planning process—when it’s done well.

Here are some reasons that I think many strategic planning efforts fail to capture the interest of employees (even senior leaders!), or lead to meaningful results.

The Right People Aren’t in the Room

Senior leaders aren’t always the right, or the only, people who should be involved in strategic planning efforts. Other employees across the organization may have the background, experience, insights, and influence to help successfully drive the process. If they’re not involved, key information will be overlooked and insights will be limited.

Worse, once they become aware of the effort and are, perhaps, assigned tasks they may legitimately raise concerns that haven’t been considered. And that can sidetrack, delay, or even halt the entire process.

Inputs Gathered are Minimal

If only your senior leaders are involved in the strategic planning process you are without a doubt missing key insights from a broad swath of potential contributors—managers, supervisors, employees, customers, vendors, community leaders, etc., etc., etc.

Broader is better. Not everyone needs to be directly involved in every meeting, but input can be gathered in other ways. By the team members. Through polls and surveys. Through various crowdsourcing efforts.

The Plan Isn’t Really Used

Sometimes it seems to me that strategic planning efforts are exercises, but not actually functional efforts to actually drive action or change. Simply creating a plan is not enough. That plan needs to be implemented and worked.

I’ve often thought that we’d be far more successful with strategic planning if we called it strategic doing instead.

There’s Little (or No) Organizational Buy-In

This kind of circles back to the problem with minimal inputs, but without buy-in from those whose efforts will be required to actually implement the plan, there’s no way the plan will be achieved. Input creates buy-in.

There’s Little (or No) Accountability

I actually worked with an organization once that didn’t want to hold people accountable for achieving the goals and objectives of the plan. Leaders were assigned responsibility for various efforts and asked to report on progress in six month intervals. If they didn’t make progress, in many cases the plan item was either delayed or eliminated altogether.

Do you do things you know you won’t be held accountable for? Neither do I. When we prioritize the many things we have on our plates these days, those things that matter (because we’ll be held accountable for achieving them) will rise to the top of the list.

Planning Isn’t Aligned to Other Organizational Efforts

Another thing that I often see within organizations I work with is that the strategic planning process is a separate process from other critical activities that need to be aligned with strategic planning. Like budgeting. And performance evaluation. And division/department/individual planning and goal setting. And key projects/task forces that may be in place.

All of these things need to be aligned. Strategic planning isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a separate process. It needs to be the overall process that drives, or underpins, all of the other activities within the organization.

The Plan Isn’t Widely Communicated

This is one that always really baffles me. In many organizations the strategic plan is a document that is only viewed and accessible to the senior leadership team. They’re concerned about sharing it more broadly because they don’t want to reveal their business priorities or diminish their competitive advantage.

But I believe there are two key things that make this approach problematic:

  1. If you don’t share your strategic plan with your employees, how can you possibly ever hope to achieve that plan? It is your employees, after all, who will help you get there.
  2. Given that 90% of organizations fail to execute their strategies effectively according to Harvard Business School Professor Robert Kaplan, if that chances are small that your company will be able to execute your plan, what makes you think that your competitors can gain an advantage from seeing your plan. If you can’t do it, how can they?

My list could go on, but these are the most damaging things I see in terms of working against the potential success of a strategic planning process.

Strategic planning does work! But it takes concerted effort, alignment, and ongoing monitoring to achieve real results.


About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve desired results at reasonable rates.

In addition to content creation we specialize in helping B2B clients raise awareness and drive website traffic through a strong LinkedIn and X presence.

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

Stay up-to-date on the latest traditional and digital marketing trends and insights for communication leaders: subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Complete the math problem before submitting a comment. * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.