What To Do When Your Strategic Plan Doesn’t Work Out

Are you someone who’s had a bad experience or limited success with strategic planning?

Are you wondering if the process really works? Should you give it another go?

More importantly, what can you do to ensure a better result the next time?

First off, let me say that I understand your frustration. Anyone who’s been in business for any length of time can attest to the fact that not all of our ideas and initiatives work out as planned. But don’t give up on a time tested, proven approach just because you weren’t successful the first time.

Just as you would do with any other component of your business, try to figure out what went wrong, learn what you can from the experience and then try again. See what you can do to get back on track as quickly as possible.

Some of the most common reasons strategic plans don’t work:

  1. Poorly facilitated planning event
  2. Choosing wrong strategies or positioning
  3. Marginally effective management team

Let’s look into each one of these separately to see where you may be struggling and why. Then we’ll discuss what you can do to start getting better results as quickly as possible.

Poorly facilitated planning event

Your strategic plan is derived from your planning event. If your planning meetings were led by an inexperienced or ineffective facilitator, then your chances for success are quite low. Here are some of the ways a poor facilitator can negatively impact your results:

  • Shallow or incomplete SWOT analysis
  • Acceptance of superficial answers to probing questions
  • Standing by while naysayers or dominant personalities take over the event
  • Limiting the discussion to a narrow set of parameters
  • Allowing the process to drag out for weeks or months

Any of these scenarios can make it much more difficult to come up with an effective, well-thought-out strategy for your business. Other possible problems: you may not have clearly defined your vision or outlined the most important tasks that needed to be accomplished in order to reach your goal.

Choosing a strategy that’s wrong for your business

  • Your short term goals may be too grandiose and you may have been unrealistic about what you could actually accomplish in a particular time frame.
  • Another possibility: you may have focused on the wrong numbers or you didn’t have a clear understanding of what actually drives customer behavior.
  • As a result, your strategy might not be in sync with what’s actually going on in your market segment or in your industry at large.
  • You may also be moving into areas that are beyond your core competencies and this can create numerous problems for any business.

Your management team

The simple truth is that if you don’t have the right management team, you’ll have limited success with your strategic planning efforts.

Basically, you shouldn’t even be thinking about strategic planning until you have a solid executive team in place. Mediocre managers can make you want to pull your hair out due to their numerous, unexpected “surprises” and their inconsistent levels of performance.

Here are some of the many ways they can dilute your results:

  •  During planning sessions you’ll get basic input, not thoughtful analysis or new ideas
  •  They can’t manage people or priorities very well
  •  They’re not usually financially astute
  •  There’s no real sense of teamwork
  •  Inconsistent performance means you can never really trust anything will be done properly or within the specified timeframe

Ask yourself these questions to get back on track:

  • Was your initial analysis thorough?
  • Were you wrong about market trends?
  • Have you defined your ideal customer correctly?
  • Is your vision realistic and attainable?
  • Have you clearly outlined responsibilities and ownership over tasks?
  • Are you reviewing and updating your plan on a regular basis?

Reevaluate your current strategy:

  • What do your customers care most about? Be careful about assumptions here.
  • What do they NOT care about?
  • Always keep in mind how you uniquely provide value to your customer.
  • Match your strategies to your values and strengths.
  • Separate good ideas from good strategy. Your strategy is a plan of action to reach a particular goal.
  • Don’t try to do too many things at once.
  • Only 1 or 2 strategic initiatives per year.

 Assess your management team’s capabilities:

  • Review each management team member and his/her performance over the past year.
  • Have you been clear about your expectations and priorities and are they realistic?
  • Do they all have excellent project management skills?
  • Do they all live up to your company values?
  • Do you truly have an executive team or is this just a group of individuals?
  • Can they debate and disagree but still come together when a decision is made?
  • Are they able to consistently communicate and implement your vision?
  • If you’re not satisfied with performance, have you considered executive coaching? It can make a world of difference to individual and team success.

 If you’re considering bringing in a professional consultant:

  • Verify professional experience and ask for references.
  • How long has the person been leading strategic planning events?
  • Has he/she tried a variety of plans before?
  • Has the person ever held a position with profit and loss responsibility?
  • What were the results of the plans they created with their teams?

Hopefully, you now have some new insights into why your plan didn’t work out and also what you can do about it. Don’t be afraid to try again. Strategic planning really does work!

Image Credit: Samuel Zeller

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Brian Oken has helped dozens of business owners and CEOs become better leaders, build more effective teams and grow bottom-line profits.

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