Note: This article was originally posted in Compass Points in May 2006.  Part 1 introduces the article and the first root cause of poor implementation.

Strategic Planning Expert Robert W. Bradford

Strategic Planning Expert
Robert W. Bradford

In our strategic planning work, we often work with companies who have tried strategic planning before. Almost inevitably, the companies we meet were disappointed in the results they got before using Simplified Strategic Planning. While some of these disappointments can be attributed to poor strategy or process issues, many – perhaps a third – were disappointed because the plan failed to lead to good implementation of the strategy.

This is a shame, because your management team puts some of its best thinking into your strategic plans. Often, the team is quite excited about the vision portrayed by your strategies. So, how is it that strategic plans are so often poorly implemented?

In our experience, there are five main root causes of poor implementation. Some of these are very closely linked to each other – that is, it’s common to see pairs of this issue operating in tandem. But, ultimately, each of these items, by itself, can torpedo your strategy implementation:

  1. The plan is not linked to implementation
  2. The implementation lacks follow-through
  3. The implementation is given insufficient resources
  4. Managers change their objectives too quickly
  5. The plan attempts too much too quickly

Let’s examine each of these issues, and how to mitigate its negative effects on strategy implementation at your company.

  1. The plan is not linked to implementation

This one is unfortunately, very common. In many cases, the plan’s issues can be traced back to a consultant who wanted to sell each step of the implementation as a separate service, but sometimes, it arises from sheer ignorance of the pitfalls of strategic planning. Many people who attempt strategic planning for the first time assume that once the strategies are written down, the organization has a plan. In a sense, this is true – written strategies are, technically, a plan. Writing your vision down, however, doesn’t guarantee that it will come to pass. If it did, we’d all be living in the utopia of the mission statements most of us labored over in the 1980s and 1990s.

The clearest symptom that a plan isn’t linked to implementation is an absence of clear, measurable objectives and related action plans that define, at a fairly low level, who is going to do what, when, how much it will cost and when it will happen. Sometimes this happens when the process stops after identifying strategies and goals, and sometimes the objectives are set, but no action plans are created (often because there are just too many objectives).

The simplest remedy for this problem, of course, is to follow a process that drives implementation by progressing beyond strategies and goals to measurable objectives and appropriate strategic-level action plans. Yes, this takes more time than the cheap and cheerful one- or two-day retreat that a lot of companies seem to like, but it has such a profound impact on the results generated by the plan that it is time well spent.

In the upcoming weeks, we will discuss other root causes of poor implementation.

Is your company having a hard time implementing your strategic plan?  Let us know how you are dealing with it – or, better yet, attend our amazing, data-driven workshop on Simplified Strategic Planning to learn how to develop and implement your strategic plan.  Our highly acclaimed Simplified Strategic Planning approach has helped many hundreds of organizations improve their strategies and bottom line results with effective, actionable strategies.  Please listen to our webinar:  Why my strategic planning isn’t working.

Robert Bradford is President/CEO of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  He can be reached at
© Copyright 2016 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution

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