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Strategic Execution:  Why Plans Fail & Why They Succeed
By Scott Morrell

There’s an old saying that says, "If you fail to plan you plan to fail.”  Ponder and reflect on that for a moment.  Think of the many ways we plan in our daily lives-from who is driving kids, to fun things like vacations, to what’s for dinner, to the structure of our work day.  The list can go on and on.  And when we plan, things tend to run smoother.  If we fail to plan, the road is generally a little rougher.

Strategic planning for organizations is no different.  It should be a fundamental part of any organization to keep them on a road for success-not failure.  But many organizations don’t have a well-thought out/executed strategic plan. And a search on the internet may tell us why organizations don’t.  Numerous websites have data and research on why strategic plans fail.  

Top 5 Reasons Plan Fail

Generally the failure of strategic plans can be summed up in about 5 reasons:

  1. Lack of Focus and Understanding
  1. Vague Action Steps
  2. Lack of Follow-Through
  3. Lack of Resources
  4. Lack of Flexibility

Why They Fail and What Makes Them Work

Lack of Focus and Understanding

When vision, mission and values are not clearly defined there is a lack of focus and understanding.  In the absence of clarity, employees will make up their own directions; sometime counter to where the organization intends to go.  Strategic plans must be focused and include manageable, clearly defined goals and objectives.  Plans must be comprehensive, detailed and clear to team members, stakeholders and the entire organization to lay the foundation for its success. 

Vague Action Steps

If your strategic plan fails to define what the management team does every day, then it needs good action steps.  A good set of action steps helps each manager know what they need to do.  Coordinated action steps help employees understand why certain behaviors need to be done together and allows them to focus their time and attention on contributing to the plans success.

Lack of Follow-Through

If there is little or no follow through to ensure the plans success, the big picture strategy is useless.  Lack of follow through sets the plan up for failure. If accountability is not an organizational value, any planning effort becomes an at-risk endeavor. However, intentional follow-through is a strategy for success.  Intentional follow-through will contribute to the plans and the organization's short and long-term success.

Lack of Resources

Sometimes strategic planning doesn't work because the organization hasn't done the right kind of allocation and alignment of resources.  While reallocation may be conflictual, the focus of the effort should be on the long-term achievement of all.  This can be staff resources or financial resources.  Proper planning and data collection can help alleviate a lack of resources.

Lack of Flexibility

Experience tells us that simply because a plan has been implemented and everyone has agreed, it doesn't mean all will go as expected.  Being adaptable is imperative to help attain the overall plan.  For a strategic plan to work, some flexibility needs to be built into the process as a mechanism for reviewing and adapting the plan as circumstances change.

What To Do

Considering there are so many reasons why plans fail, one may wonder why plan at all.  What benefit does it actually have? Let’s consider that opening thought again, “If you fail to plan you plan to fail.”  Planning is a fundamental part of our lives.  Without it, we wander.  And businesses that don’t plan tend to wander.  Strategic planning helps to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, and ensure that employees are working toward common goals.  Without formal planning, the purpose of the organization might be misunderstood, the intent of the organization might be unclear, organizational intelligence and resources might be misapplied, and the sum total of the organization’s efforts might yield sub-optimal results or yield results and outcomes that do not contribute to the organization’s purpose for existence.

What’s your organization’s plan for success?  Is it one with a clear, well-thought out plan for success or is it failing to plan and possibly planning to fail?