5 reasons why your strategic plan will fail – again! - and what you should do about it

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So it is about that time of year for us to dust off our strategic plan and see how well we have done. We will then spend a couple of days off-site negotiating an increase in budget as we plan next year’s activities. And once that is done, we settle down to doing what we had always done, only to panic somewhere towards the end of the year when the company moved nary an inch closer to the strategic targets, and tempers flair. Yet it seems like an intricate choreography of intertwined steps that move us in circles, not getting us anywhere. So, as we again approach strategic planning time, I would like to share five things that I have observed companies of all shapes and sizes exhibit to make the strategic plan fail yet again!

1. Bright-light Blindness

Some of us are like cats, focused on the bright lights flickering around us but failing to see the surrounding gloom. If your strategy is a flickering bright light, you need to be careful. The effect of these bright lights can blind us to the difficulties of implementing it. In fact, it may blind us to all the signs that this is the wrong strategy.

So how do we overcome the fixated-ness on these bright lights? Go back to the strategic intent of the bright light. Look to see if you are achieving what you had set out to do. And if not, identify what needs to be done to change the outcome.

2. Framed by the sunk-cost fallacy

This is closely linked to Bright-Light Blindness. One reason why some companies that know that they should already adopt a new strategy, and yet cannot stoop to make those decisions to change, is due to the sunk-cost fallacy. If management has spent $2M over two years to make an initiative work, but has yet to show any results, and thinks that it should pour more good money after bad, is being framed by the sunk cost. Poor decision! Not every strategic initiative will end up in success and the faster management acknowledges this, the better.

So how do we overcome sunk-cost fallacy? Embark on scenario thinking. Work out the best case and worst-case scenarios, along with the factors that make up these scenarios. (E.g. for the worst case scenario to happen, these are the following things that will need to be present… (a)…. (b) …. (c)….). Identify also what you would do if these scenarios were playing out. Once done, look at the current situation and identify which trajectory your strategy is on based on the factors of each scenario. Once you know which scenario you are on, just apply what you have decided to do for the scenarios and make the changes.

3. No intent focus

One of the problems with strategy formulation and execution is that it sometimes pits the current with the future; and these may sometimes be conflicting issues. In order for the strategy to work, there is a need to give up a little of the present to feed the future. This intent focus is required, especially in the face of uncertainty; and where the current operations people are shouting louder than the future ops guys. Stay the course. Maintain your intent focus. Sell your future vision as you motivate the current operations. Link how what your current operations is doing contributes to growth in the future intent. As senior management, you must all sing the same tune, contextualizing it for all the different departments.

4. Under-resourcing

A big sin in strategy enablement is under-resourcing. After all that has been done in identifying your strategy, it will be a big waste to not give it the tools to be carried out. Resourcing does not only mean the money to keep it going. It also means the right number of people, with the right skills, doing the right job; it means that physical infrastructure that may be required is there on time and on spec; it means that the technology that is needed to pull it off has been aggregated and ready to roll out.

How do you do this? You will need a good resource allocation plan. This is currently out of scope of this article but do look out for it in a coming edition.

5. Not walking the talk

The final thing that most companies exhibit in the failure of executing their strategy is the lack of conviction by senior management. The minute they are seen as not “walking the talk”, all planning flies out the window faster than you can say “Jack Rabbit!” My last point about under-resourcing is a reflection of not walking the talk. After all, talk is cheap; walking it is more expensive.

So what does this mean for us? How can we walk the talk? Well, make the strategy bite-sized. Make it cheap and easy to implement. Adopt a quick and easy method of execution with well-developed metrics for go/no-go. Pivot your strategy when you sense that you are moving down the wrong path and when you have out-pivoted yourself, then it is time to cut your losses and re-strategize.

So, as you head into your next strategy session, do bear these in mind. And if you need help in facilitating session, just drop us an email at enquiries@aitrainingconsulting.com. We will see to it that you avoid these 5 traps and develop a sustainable strategy for robust growth!

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