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Strategic plans - why don't they work anymore (and what does)


There is little doubt that strategy is important. After all, if you don't have a destination how are you going to get anywhere?

Unfortunately, there is an abundance of evidence that strategic plans don't work (only 20%-30% actually do). So not only they are expensive (prohibitively so for small organisations), in the end there is nothing to show for it.

There are multiple reasons for this, most notably the fact that external consultants ("experts") make them, resulting in little commitment and drive of the organisation's leadership team to follow them but there are 2 other inherent faults in the run-of-the-mill variety:

  1. Long term - in theory a long-term view is needed because strategy by definition is long term. In reality it is also because they are so expensive and take such a long time to create that the organisation just can't afford to do one frequently enough. But in this day and age what value is there in a 5 year plan? Or for that matter even a 3 year plan? You can have a vision and ambitions, and these don't necessarily change every 1-2 years but the environment is changing so fast that whatever you thought was right 3 years ago is most probably not so now.

  2. Execution - while most strategic plans tell you WHAT to focus on (markets, products, marketing, etc.), few, if any, include a PLAN to actually do it. And as we all know life is just too dynamic to follow a plan so the urgent always takes precedence over the important and you end up with doing little (if anything) from the shiny plan you spent months and a lot of money paying someone to prepare for you.

So, is there a solution? Fortunately there is. DIY. It may sound strange to use this expression in the context of a strategic plan and you most probably need a facilitator to help you run one but a well-structured strategic planning process should take no more than 1-2 days to conclude and if you define your vision and culture well enough you can create a plan for 1-2 years that will be very easy to extend at the end of this period. This will allow the plan to remain relevant even when circumstances change. And if you are careful to create a detailed execution plan, with specific goals (and people accountable for them) for each quarter you will also ensure that you are within the 20%-30% whose plans actually succeed.

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