11 Mistakes Most People Make In Strategic Planning

Setting Strategy by Spinning the Wheel of Fortune

Strategic planning isn’t rocket science, but that doesn’t mean most organizations do it well! Here are the most common mistakes I see:

1. You do strategic planning because the calendar tells you it is time.

Why? What does the calendar know about your business and changes in your market?

2. You haven’t done strategic planning in several years and think it would probably be a good idea because you know you are supposed to do it more often than you have been.

If you are relying on external triggers like peer pressure and calendars, you are out of touch and don’t understand the purpose of strategic planning.

3. You know what you want to achieve, but you never seem to make much progress. 

So you develop a new strategy. It is far easier to lay out a new vision than it is to shift reality. If you rarely implement your strategy, your strategy may not be the problem.

4. You confuse strategy with planning.

‘Strategic planning’ is actually an oxymoron. They should be quite distinct. Develop a strategy and then a plan to make it happen.

5. You love SWOT.

Strengths/weaknesses, opportunities/threats is a nice simple construct that is easy to remember.

Too bad it isn’t very effective. To name just a couple of its faults: 1) it gives equal weight to opportunities and the other three quadrants, 2) it lacks a ‘C’ for customer, and 3) it rarely escapes from recency effects – the daily and recent pains suffered by participants.

6. You use group brainstorming to generate ideas and then create buy-in by voting to select favorites.

First, brainstorming without an intelligent framework to shift perspectives accomplishes little. Second, the democratic process is as poor a way to pick strategy as it is to develop buy-in.

7. You can’t name the assumptions that are the foundation of your strategy.

Every strategy is based on assumptions. Assumptions about the organization, about the market, external trends, the economy, and more. And every strategy is only as good as those underlying assumptions. Your strategy must be revisited as soon as any of those assumptions prove faulty.

8. You believe you do great strategic planning because you always make your revenue goals and your profits are decent.

How do you know you shouldn’t have grown by twice as much? Just because you are growing, doesn’t mean you made smart strategic decisions. In some situations, growth is almost inevitable.

9. You don’t know which products and services account for your growth and profits, and you don’t care because you made the numbers.

If your strategy is based on growing product A and all your growth comes from product B, your strategy is a failure. You may have been lucky enough to hit overall targets, but your investment decisions meant to drive growth were sorely misguided, badly implemented, or missing altogether.

10. You have a nice glossy strategic plan that you like to show customers, bankers, and potential employees. But few know what it actually says.

Sounds like marketing materials to me.

11. When you hire a consultant for strategic planning, you insist on a detailed plan and a list of deliverables.

Strategic planning should never be measured by glossiness and thickness, nor should it be driven by a totally shrink-wrapped, off the shelf process. You need to choose a consultant who is focused completely on outcomes, can adapt to where you are and where you need to go, will make you uncomfortable by challenging your assumptions, and will drive you to strong, compelling conclusions.

If you recognize yourself and your company in any of the above, it is time to rethink the way you do strategic planning!