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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.

You Got Beat.  Strategies can fail because they were beaten – beaten by competitors, beaten my changing market conditions, or beaten because they focused on the wrong objectives.

Competition is everywhere. So, if your strategy fails because you were outgunned by companies with bigger budgets or outmaneuvered by competitors who were faster or more agile, you can learn from this set back. You cannot feel too bad about this failure; after all it is a competition. Adjust your strategy and get back into the game. However, if you were beaten because you failed to incorporate changing market conditions, or you were focused on the wrong objectives, you need to take a hard look at your strategic planning process because it failed you.

Building a plan to achieve the wrong objectives often happens when the planning process is too focused on solving today’s problems and not tomorrow’s.  This is especially prevalent in cultures that focus on responding to customers’ demands or competitive pressures. Strategic planning is about crafting the plan to achieve your long-range vision.  Your customers and competitors may be totally different in the future state defined by your vision than they are today.  So, your strategy needs to focus on achieving the goals you believe will move you towards that vision. For this reason, avoid the trap of letting the voices of your current customers dominate the discussions in the creation phase of the strategic planning process.  Instead, remember that addressing a reasonable and appropriate customer demand or making a maneuver to stay competitive are operational priorities. While they should be part of the strategic assessment phase of your strategic planning effort, it would be short-sighted to think of focusing on them as your strategy for the future.

So, if charting a new strategic direction is so fraught with the possibility of failure, should you even try?

Yes, absolutely because not choosing to do so could eventually lead to the demise of your organization. My company has been assisting clients in the strategic planning process for more than 20 years so we have been through a lot, including two significant economic disruptions – the dotcom boom and bust in the late 1990s and the great recession that started in 2008. During both significant changes in market conditions, we saw our clients take a pause in their progress, but not fail. In fact, we were in a session finalizing a strategic plan in 2008, the day the stock markets were taking their biggest dip, and I thought, “This plan is toast.” To my great delight, we returned for a plan review the following year to find they had deferred two goals until the market recovered but surpassed all other strategic objectives. The depth of strategic thinking and the engagement and commitment unleashed during the process gave the leadership and management structure the tools they needed to quickly adjust their plans and keep moving ahead while others around them were still picking up the pieces from the change in their markets.

Strategies can take time to bear fruit. Even in today’s shortening life cycles, it takes time to bring a new idea to market. If you focus on responding to today’s customer or competitor demands when you start your planning, it is highly probable that those demands will have shifted by the time you bring your solution to market and your strategies will fail. If you are part of, or in the position to lead the strategic development process for your organization, understanding what can go wrong can be just as important as understanding the process itself.

Every organization needs a story to carry them to the next part of their journey. Learn how to turn your strategic plan into and epic story.

Read more: Former Dollar General CEO Cal Turner, Jr. Shares Leadership Advice


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