7 Ways Strategic Plans Go Wrong….And How to Fix Them

7 Ways Strategic Plans Go Wrong….And How to Fix Them

When done well, a strategic plan should provide clarity and direction on how to spend time and manage finite resources. While many organizations have a plan, few have plans that clearly prioritize daily work and guide resource and time management.

The Problems

Below are the most common problems with strategic plans and the planning process along with my recommendations on how to make your plan more effective.


  1. Stated goals are not measurable. (Increase and diversify services. Did we achieve that? I’m not sure…)


  1. The plan is completed during a one-day retreat and never reviewed again. (Yeah, we completed the plan about 6 months ago. I haven’t looked at it since.)


  1. Leadership can’t explain why the areas of focus were chosen. (Why DID we choose growth as an area of focus? I remember we had a good conversation about this.)


  1. There is no understanding the current condition. (We are striving for 10% growth. Where are we now? I’m not sure.)


  1. It’s not clear how the plan relates to the team members. (I don’t have anything to do with the strategic plan. I’ve never seen it.)


  1. The plan is too inclusive. Goals include doing everything for everyone. (Our plan is to increase service offerings, help more people, increase staff engagement, increase quality, grow, diversity funding sources.)


  1. Staff not involved. (‘Oh, I didn’t know we had a strategic plan.’)


How to Create a Plan that Works

If you recognize yourself or your plan in the above, what now? The simple answer is do the opposite of what is noted above.


  1. Goals must be measurable and answer the question: how will we know we achieved this? Note that you may have tactics that can be achieved by answering a yes/no question, but these tactics should feed a larger measurable objective. Whether or not you built a building or added a new service can be answered with a simple yes/no, but why are you adding service? What larger goal are you striving for? Increase market share? Increasing capacity? Throughput? Serving more people? This part should be measured.


  1. The strategic plan should be visible and reviewed constantly. The following questions should drive conversation at least once/month: What are we striving to achieve? Where are we now? What are the obstacles? What is our next step? Implicit in the plan are some hypotheses – if we implement tactic ‘x’, we will see an impact in metric ‘y.’ Check to see this is true. Here is what we planned. What actually happened? What have we learned? What is our next step?


  1. Sometimes all-day conversations in a big group can go around and around. You end up agreeing to something out of fatigue and group-think but can’t remember why or the reasoning behind it. A bad sign! The plan may have multiple iterations. As goals become formed, play catch-ball with team members. Explain it to them. Teaching and explaining will help solidify the reasoning. Bring comments back to the larger group for discussion until consensus is built.


  1. Goals must be based on a deep understanding of where you are now. Don’t pull goals randomly out of the air. Understand where you are now – through facts and data – and then decide where you want/need to be next.


  1. While challenging – after a plan is established it must be deployed or translated to all levels of the organization. Each leader, director, manager, supervisor must be able to answer the question – what does this plan mean for me?


  1. A good plan means saying no. You cannot be all things to all people. It is critical to narrow priorities to the few most important items that will differentiate you and that are must critical to success.


  1. Involve staff. Play ‘catch-ball’ and gain consensus on what is most important to them and what staff think needs to be done differently. Catch-ball must occur prior to finalizing goals and strategies. Sit down with team members after ideas are created and get their feedback. What do you think? How does this land for you? What are your priorities? How do you see yourself fitting in to this strategy? The goal of this conversation is curiosity, investment, understanding.


In short, strategic plans can be a powerful and useful document but are only helpful if they are clear, simple, easy to understand and cascaded throughout the organization.


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