Article : Why Strategic Plans Fail And How To Make Them Succeed

A well thought out Strategic Plan is essential for a business to be successful. Unfortunately, many businesses fail when it comes time to implement their plans. The result can be wasted time and money as well as numerous missed opportunities. There are a number of important factors that must be considered if a strategic plan is to be successfully implemented.

Let's assume for the purposes of this discussion that the content of the strategic plan is good. In other words, careful analysis has been done, a strategic vision has been set and goals and objectives have been formulated. The preparation of the strategic plan is beyond the scope of this article. The implementation process will be evaluated here.

Obtaining buy-in from all relevant parties is essential for successful strategic plan implementation. If key people in your company do not support the implementation of the plan, then the plan will fail. There are a number of ways that you can insure that there is adequate support for the plan from company personnel:

  1. When the strategic plan is being formulated, a broad range of company personnel should be included in the process. Key employees from all areas of the business should be included. Not only will this insure that the best employee input is included into the strategic plan, but you will also obtain a higher level of employee buy-in to the resulting plan. The employees who have participated in the development of the plan will have a deep understanding of what the company's strategic plan is, and why it is important to the success of the company and their career. These employees will then be important supporters of the plan going forward.
  2. Communicate the strategic plan to all employees. This communication should vary depending on the personnel that you are dealing with. A summary of the overall strategic vision for the company should be communicated to all employees. This sometimes comes in the form of a mission statement or group of strategic goals. In addition, the application of how the strategic plan applies to the particular group that is being addressed should be discussed in some detail. The specific objectives that have come out of the planning process should be conveyed to the employees, with particular emphasis on the objectives that are most relevant to their work.
  3. Challenge various departments to develop their own plans with specific objectives that focus on supporting the overall strategic plan of the company. In this way, employees will develop ownership responsibility for their goals and objectives, as well as that of the whole company.

In many cases, a well thought out strategic plan is developed that has the potential to substantially improve a company's performance, but little thought is given to implementing the plan. The result is that the strategic plan documents are put on the shelf, and company personnel simply go back to what they were doing before the plan was ever developed. Implementation is not as glamorous as the planning process, but it is where the real benefits are gained. There are a number of ways to insure that company behavior really changes as a result of the strategic planning process:

  1. Specific real-world objectives must be set. These could be as simple as implementing a new expense reimbursement procedure, or as far-reaching as setting up a new production plant outside of your current market area.
  2. The objectives should be specific so that there is no ambiguity about what is required. Ideally the objective should not be to "consider entering XYZ market", but should be "enter XYZ market by X date". Exceptions will of course exist if there is information that must still be developed in order to finalize a potential objective.
  3. Expected timing and personnel accountability should be specified in each objective. Ideally there should be one individual who is accountable to company management for reaching each objective.
  4. Monthly follow-up meetings should be held in order to evaluate progress on reaching objectives. These meetings are very powerful tools to ensure that the proper focus is put on achieving the objectives agreed to in the strategic planning process. At these meetings, each objective is discussed by the employee who is responsible for meeting the objective. If there are delays in implementation, then reasons for the delay are discussed and solutions sought. New or revised objectives are also considered at these follow-up meetings.
  5. Company performance must be measured. If important performance metrics are not tracked then there is no way that company management can work toward achieving the goals the have been set during the planning process. Some of the metrics should be based on the objectives set during the strategic planning process. Only in this way can management evaluate the impact of their strategic planning initiative.

Effective strategic planning is essential for companies who seek to remain competitive in our dynamic economy. Even the best strategic plan, however will have little impact if employee buy-in is not nurtured, and a well-thought out implementation process is not enforced.


© Copyright David W. Kellogg 2005. All rights reserved.

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