Why Do Strategic Plans Fail?

The best-laid plans of mice and men, often go awry.

Almost every executive can point to an experience when a great idea for strategic change has been conceived perfected, and rolled out, only to fail in the final measure. And the company pays the price, not only in missed opportunities, but also in wasted time, resources, and a loss of employee engagement.

In fact, a study by McKinsey found that 17% of large-scale IT projects fail so spectacularly they jeopardize the existence of the entire company.

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These problems start by not preparing leaders and executives with effective leadership development (LD) programs. LD programs with CorpU leverage technology, the power of human dialogue, and advanced analytics to help companies excel through and succeed in breakthrough change and implementing strategic initiatives.

strategic planning team working

Companies must ensure that organizations identify capability gaps that can sink change initiatives, especially gaps in leadership knowledge, skill or ability. Businesses must adjust or enhance existing leadership development programs to address urgent knowledge and/or skill gaps that are the dependent factors of successful change.

Some of the main reasons breakthrough change and business transformations fail to include:

1. Change plan rollouts omit a critical step

Very often, senior leaders describe a change initiative at a town hall meeting, in emails or in highly produced marketing communication materials. They think their objectives are clear. What they don’t realize and have no way of knowing is that leaders below them take away a slightly different view of the desired future state.  Then, as second and third level leaders begin to design and execute their individual plans for change, they don’t recognize that their priorities all differ, their collective plans require more resources than are available, and their success depends upon non-existent skills or time from other support functions. The future is a difficult place to imagine. Execution plans must be loosely conceived and then tightened down as leaders learn, discuss, debate, and make tradeoffs until each leader’s team is primed to make the exact right contribution to work. Then, executing in full alignment, the results of the “whole leadership team” deliver something wildly beyond the sum of their individual parts.

2. Failure to communicate

Successful change depends on communication and coordination throughout the firm – from the top down and the bottom up, across departmental and functional silos. Without the ability to continually check understanding, clarify, and validate intentions, change implementation can simply fall apart. Success depends on creating formal channels to gather feedback from the field as execution plans move forward. Field-level experiences become a tuning lever that brings plan orchestration across the entire enterprise into perfect pitch.

3. Lack of ownership

Breakthrough change and business transformation require all leaders to take ownership and make a commitment to driving their part of the change. When leaders collaborate to develop execution plans, they better understand how why their work is essential to another leader’s success. Through collaboration and dialogue, leaders recognize how the contributions of each strengthen the company’s ability to respond. In other words, they deeply understand who is counting on them, and for what actions and results.  Leaders’ collaborative work on execution plans creates implicit ownership and accountability to each other.  And that accountability becomes essential for maintaining progress on change initiatives.

Organizations are complex, interactive and ever-changing institutions, and harnessing the right amount and type of energy to achieve successful breakthrough change requires more than a great idea. To successfully close the gap between idea and delivery, it is important to ensure that the path to success includes shared understanding, effective communication, and strong peer-based accountability so that each leader is motivated and committed to delivering what they signed up for.

To learn more about how your company can close the disconnect in strategic planning versus execution through leadership development, download our paper, How to Close the Strategy-Execution Gap.

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