Why strategic plans fail

It is almost common sense that many strategic plans fail to deliver the expected results. Richard Marker, who has worked as a strategic planner in private and non-profit sectors, shares his own observations about this problem in his article Why Strategic Plans Fail.

Richard had seen many “beautifully crafted plans, filled with charts, power points, and eloquent jargon sit gathering dust in someone’s office with nothing to show for the effort and dollars.”

He lists seven generic reasons for failure:

  1. Pre-determined outcomes – CEOs utilizing “outside” experts to come up with the plan they already have in mind
  2. Too few stakeholders – not all key stakeholders are included in the development of the strategic direction early enough
  3. Plans are too abstract and/or based on a wrong understanding of the culture – many failed M&A strategies are a examples for this point.
  4. The plan is too far reaching – some ambitious objectives are promising and desirable, but they are far beyond the competencies and tacit commitments of the organization
  5. The plan is not ambitious enough – too cautious, too incremental, without much change and thus with no response to tomorrow’s challenges
  6. Lack of an Implementation Plan – “Change doesn’t just happen, it rarely happens smoothly, and it becomes chaotic without a plan.”
  7. An Orphan Process – the people who originally owned the plan and its implementation may leave the organization before the implementation process is finished

I especially like points one and seven. The other reasons already are subject of extensive academic research. Much has been written about them. Pre-determined outcomes and orphan processes, however, are real life.

I guess you can’t do much about pre-determined outcomes. Here the problem virtually sits at the top of the organization.

On the other hand, it should be possible to take some precautions to prevent orphan processes. A first step would be to seriously think about how long the key process owners will probably stay in the organization. (There is an excellent article about the negative consequences of short employee stays on strategy from Gerald Nanninga.)

Link: Why strategic plans fail


Our book recommendations on problems with strategic plans

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