12 common mistakes made in strategic planning

This article examines 12 common mistakes made in corporate strategic planning. Complimentary PDF resources on strategic planning are available at the end of the article.

1. The timeframe of the plan is too long

While business strategies should be expected to be steady and relatively unchanged for a longer period of time, strategic plans need to remain sharply focused on accomplishing strategic priorities in a timely manner. The plans also need more frequent refreshing to keep them from becoming stale and to keep the organization energized on plan execution. Long-term planning certainly has its place in a corporate world, but shorter operational plan horizons, going only 12 months out, allow organizations to utilize valuable current information and remain engaged in delivering to the plan milestones. A rolling 12-month plan that is updated on a quarterly basis offers more value to the organization in several ways. As long-term plan goals are partially or fully met, the operational component of the plan moves forward and is refreshed with more accurate and updated information for the coming 12 months. New objectives and sub-initiatives move up as others are completed and move out. This provides actionable data for managers to work from during budgeting and gives executives a more realistic sense of actual plan momentum and progress.

2. Too many strategic goals

Organizations often have a long wish list of goals, ranging from pie-in-the-sky to mundane. Dreaming up goals is generally not an issue. Instead, the issue is having the discipline to narrow down prioritized goals to a manageable and achievable level. Five goals is a good number to consider as a maximum. When you consider that each goal will lead to a sequence of programs, initiatives, activities and deliverables that will need to be managed and implemented throughout the organization, it’s easy to see how a long list of goals can inhibit implementation success.

3. Goals not tied to measurable outcomes

Organizational goals should be constructed in terms of outcomes that will mean something tangible to customers, employees and the organization’s markets served. Likewise, goals should be defined in such a way that they can be measured and managed throughout the layers of the organization. Goals should help propel action and achievement from the managers and workers who will be involved in accomplishing them.

4. Employees are unaware of the goals

Believe it or not, this can be a huge problem in many organizations. When the corporate planning process fails to consider the individuals who will actually implement the plan, breakdowns happen and desired outcomes are rarely attained. Detailed plans of action are needed for each initiative and goals should be carefully communicated throughout the organization so that everyone knows and understands not only the “big picture”, but what is expected specifically of them.

5. Key vendors and partners not considered

By communicating organizational goals to key vendors, distributors, suppliers and partners, much needed buy-in and assistance can be gained from these external parties to achieve desired outcomes. For example, asking for price reductions, extended payment terms, or quantity discounts can be greatly facilitated when suppliers and partners are made part of the process and understand what may be in it for them in the long-run.

6. Plan leaves too much room for interpretation

This mistake typically circles back to the way organizational goals have been defined. If there is ambiguity in the way the goals are explained, they will be easily misinterpreted by members of the organization and will result in execution that misses the intended mark. Starting with a clearly defined outcome, much of this interpretation and resulting ambiguity can be replaced by clearly defined expectations.

7. Job descriptions not aligned to desired strategic outcomes

When job descriptions and job responsibilities align with corporate goals, organizations see better results in strategy execution. Job alignment helps achieve accountability and also fosters needed cooperation from individuals throughout the organization. When job descriptions and responsibilities are effectively communicated to employees and when additional responsibilities are given to them related to accomplishing tasks related to strategic goals – these individuals become tuned-in with their roles and the expectations surrounding them. The goal is to create empowered team players.

8. Performance measures not aligned to organizational goals

Adding to the above, organizations must set performance measurements and incentives for employees and officers. These performance measurements should be derived from the job descriptions and job responsibilities, and the resulting incentives must be strong enough to empower all layers of management to measure and manage efforts toward the achievement of plan goals. While this adds a layer of complexity to the organizational planning process, neglecting this step will result in subpar performance.

9. Organizational culture is overlooked

The corporate planning process must consider the organizational culture. Without this, it is impossible to fulfill the organization’s potential to dominate within their marketplace. Culture determines how the organization functions and how work will be completed. Aligning strategy, tactics and governance to address these dimensions will positevely affect the outcome of planning efforts.

10. Customer value is overlooked

Customer-centric planning puts your number one stakeholder – the end customer – at the forefront of the organization’s activities and goals. By creating goals that reflect the type of value the organization can create for the customer, you’ll “put a face to the name” and more effectively connect members of the organization with the desired outcomes. This requires a competitive analysis in order to understand positioning, threats and the true current-day value proposition of the organization’s offerings. Not all goals need to be customer-centric in nature, but overlooking this aspect during planning can lead to missed opportunities.

11. Operational planning is overlooked

An effective corporate planning process allows the organization to plan strategically at the enterprise level and then operationally at the business unit level with each part supporting the other. Failing to reach all the way down through the organizational layers is a common problem with corporate planning processes. This is where inadequate budgeting can come into play, resulting in resource constraints that will undermine the plan’s execution down stream. Strategic planning, to be effective, must address the entire business ecosystem – from top to bottom.

12. Cyclical and seasonal peaks and valleys overlooked

It is well-understood that organizations must balance the realities of financial budgets during the corporate planning process. Yet, the organization must also take into account relevant economic cycles that will impact the strategy over time. Economic cycles will affect market conditions, access to capital, energy, focus, and many other factors (both positively and negatively) to inhibit or accelerate an organization’s ability to accomplish its desired outcomes. To the extent that economic and cyclical factors are understood and anticipated, the organization can build a layer of realistic contingency into corporate plans that address the peak workloads of workers, budget cycles and many other factors – thus improving the realism of the plan and ultimately the results.

To read more about strategic and operational planning, refer to these complimentary PDF downloads from Joe Evans:

Bridging the Gap Between Strategy and Execution, a guide to successful strategic planning
Strategy Implementation Essentials, a guide to successful operational planning

Joe Evans is President and CEO of Method Frameworks, one of the world’s leading strategy and operational planning management consultancies, providing services for a diverse field of clients ranging from small start-up tech firms to Fortune 500 companies like Southwest Airlines and Bank of America.

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