Six Strategic Planning Pitfalls That Could Haunt You

What do strategic planning and Halloween have in common? Let’s admit it. No matter how strategic you are or how much you consider yourself a planner, being asked to embark on a strategic planning process can feel like you’re staring at the Grim Reaper.

Don’t let planning send you to your grave. Avoid these six strategic planning pitfalls that otherwise, could haunt you:

  1. Making webs of words– Goal or objective? Strategy or tactic? Value or guiding principle? Discounting definitions up front will cost you in the long run. Don’t assume your colleague, direct report or boss, for that matter, really knows what’s what. It’s less important that your broad, long-term goals or “big bets” or “plan pillars” follow the textbook definition; but it’s critical that your team understands and speaks the same language during the entire planning process. (Tip: have a glossary of terms printed for each participant and read definitions aloud.)
  2. Sketchy SWOTs– The majority of SWOTs conducted are incomplete, listing simply the attribute (what an organization has as a strength, for example) without listing the impact (of that strength). When it comes to evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, organizations should consider and discuss both the attribute and impact for each category to thoroughly assess where they are, current state, and to get participants thinking. For example, don’t just list “incredibly knowledgeable, talented and approachable people” as a strength. Consider the impact(s) of those people as well: we have organic, on-team training; we have high employee morale; we have strong client retention (our clients trust and enjoy our people); etc.
  3. Forgetting frameworks– Great strategic plans are constructs that hinge on great thinking and carefully structured, concise and clear sentences. But how many strategic plans will the average professional help create in his or her lifetime? A handful at most? It’s no wonder people are clueless about definitions and phrasing. Unfrightening facilitators share frameworks for how to easily build objectives (tip: start with the what should be measured, which direction you want the what to go, the baseline and the milestone checkpoints), strategies (verb + object + purpose), guiding principles (we value x, therefore we y) and more. (Tip: put these frameworks in the front of the room when asking participants to develop them and review them as a group.)
  4. Putting the plan (like a skeleton) in the closet and leaving your people in the dark– If it’s worth creating a strategic plan, it’s worth regularly communicating that plan internally to your employees. We’ve seen strategic plans become rallying cries for teams. Not having an effective internal communications plan to accompany your strategic plan is a massive missed opportunity. Bottom line: if you aren’t excited enough about the future of your organization to express it with your people regularly, why would or should they be invested in helping you advance the organization?
  5. Mummifying vs. monitoring the plan– In addition to keeping people in the dark, too often leaders preserve (versus use) their plans. Failing to monitor progress against the plan can have grave consequences. Investing in a strategic plan is one thing. But failing to monitor and adjust plans based on changing market conditions, new competition or innovation or simply strategies that are not working is a ghastly waste of both time and money. To make matters worse, you’ll likely be waiting to get “there” and have no idea why the five- or 10-year plan just didn’t deliver, and you may become a strategic planning cynic. (Wake-up call: it wasn’t the plan’s fault.)
  6. Too spooked to build consensus – The inability for many leaders to build internal consensus may be the greatest underlying issue with strategic planning. That’s where a strong and experienced facilitator comes into play. There are many techniques and tips for building consensus. For example, when it comes to strategic planning, it’s critical that the team participating define consensus up front (e.g., two-thirds of participants in agreement, etc.). Facilitators also are able to lead participants to argue for their various positions and then call for a vote in many different ways. An inability to build consensus on foundational plan elements like a mission statement or “where we are going” will leave the entire plan on shaky ground (and it may end up buried alive).

Prevent strategic planning peril with the right process and partner who knows how to facilitate you through the cobwebs. Interested in making your next strategic plan spooky successful? Contact us today.


Note: Thanks to Leadership Strategies, where I recently attended a training session on strategic planning that covered many of the above strategic planning tips. You all are so good, it’s scary.