3 Epic Strategy Failures And How To Combat Them

At some point, every organization either desires or is forced to set a new strategic direction. But since the stakes are so high, it pays to not just understand the process but also what can go wrong. Did you know that developing a new strategic direction is one of the riskiest ventures any leadership team can take on?  Failure rates are astronomical and research indicates that only 20% of strategic plans ever succeed.  However, at some point, every organization either desires or is forced to set a new strategic direction. But since the stakes are so high, it pays to not just understand the process but also what can go wrong.

Here are three strategic development traps that can cause your strategy (no matter how well intended) to fail:

Incomplete Strategy Development. In other words, it is just an idea, not a full strategy. This often happens when planning efforts produce big goals or ambitious vision statements but no story of how the organization will progress towards these goals or its vision. For all intents and purposes, this is a magical leap, not a strategy.

A vision and goals are part of a strategic plan, but not the complete plan.  I like to think of them as the beautiful cake that a person jumps out of to surprise and delight the honoree at an event.  Very exciting and entertaining, but not enough to you sustain past the event.

Strategy development is an iterative and lengthy process. Excitement is generated when the possibility and passion for the future is fresh, but this is still early in the strategy development process. The next steps require dedicated teams to carve out key initiatives and build strategies and plans to move the organization from today to the future.  When compiled and integrated, these strategies create a full story of the journey you hope to make to achieve your goals and realize your vision.  Now you have a complete strategy.

Neglect. Neglect is 100% the fault of senior management. It is result of a lack of understanding and willingness on their part to guide the strategy implementation phase of planning.  All too often senior leadership believes their role is limited to creating the strategic direction. They believe that once they create and communicate the new strategies, they should step back and let their staff take hold of it and make it happen.  This sounds In fact, it sounds like empowering the next level of management to fulfill their role unencumbered by senior management, but it is really neglect of a vital role in their success.

This neglect is not intentional. It often happens because of an overabundance of confidence in the organization’s ability to succeed. Specifically, it happens because there is a high degree of confidence in the brilliance of strategies themselves or in the ability of the staff to understand and implement them. However, without the careful guidance of the architects of the new strategies, they can either be interpreted incorrectly or rejected by those in favor of maintaining the status quo.

Executives can avoid the neglect trap by including strategy integration as a part of the strategic planning process. In other words, they can bake it in. Additionally, they need to provide ongoing sponsorship of the strategy development process to ensure that the new thinking is embraced broadly in their organization. This sponsorship can be as light as authorizing and announcing departmental or cross-functional planning meetings to continue the development of implementation plans, or as heavy as attending the meetings and working elbow to elbow with staff to develop the new plans. Either way, the process needs senior team monitoring to translate the strategic thinking to ensure that the organization is heading in the desired direction.