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Strategic Planning Blog

10 Ways to Tell a Strategy is Likely to Fail

Posted on October 25th, 2011 by John Johnson

It is an unfortunate fact that about 80% of strategic plans never get implemented. Here are some warning signs to heed:

  1. It is not in writing.
  2. It takes too long to explain.
  3. The people responsible for implementation do not fully understand its intent.
  4. It is not adequately financed.
  5. It is not endorsed and enforced by leadership.
  6. It fails to provide rewards for specific task completion.
  7. It fails to communicate project progress.
  8. It is not routinely followed up on.
  9. It does not produce measurable deliverables.
  10. It fails to anticipate never before encountered problems.


Collaboration: Another Vital Component in Plan Implementation

Posted on September 21st, 2011 by Anne Marie Smith

Here’s a scenario played out by scores of organizations every year. A CEO and his or her senior executives gather off site for a day or two and create “The Strategic Plan That Rocks.” They feel great. They have a vision and direction. They’re fired up. They go back to the office and tell their respective teams about the plan and what needs to be done. They dole out tasks and action items like candy on Halloween. They are then perplexed when reactions from their people include eye rolling, folded arms, and blank or hostile stares.

The problem is that the people who will be impacted by and are needed to implement the plan weren’t involved in the first half (the thinking and planning) of the process. They weren’t given an opportunity to provide feedback about the plan’s feasibility and time line. It’s a done deal by the time they are told about it. Exclusion can create an environment of disempowerment and/or passive resistance. Employees will either perceive “management” as heaving yet another boulder onto their already overburdened shoulders or they will think, “Sure, whatever. We’ll just ignore this as much as possible until the next bright shiny object comes along to distract them.”

If you want your employees to engage in plan implementation enthusiastically (or at least willingly), the strategic planning process needs to be a collaborative effort. You need to ask for input and really listen to what your people say about the plan with open consideration and adjust it, if appropriate. A good part of the value of strategic planning is derived from the discussion, debate, analyses, and insights made during the process.

Involvement can occur through actual participation as part of the planning team and through input gathered through other mechanisms such as surveys and sub-committees.

When you involve the implementers in the planning, they have a greater understanding of what you are trying to accomplish, why the vision is important (its value), and how it relates to their jobs and their individual professional and personal goals. If they don’t understand the point of it all, your vision will disappear into the ether faster than you can say, “Pipe dream.” Buy-in to a strategic plan is more important that the plan itself. Once you achieve buy-in, commitment, ownership, and accountability are easier to obtain.

Netflix: Hubris and Strategy is a Bad Mix

Posted on September 20th, 2011 by Anne Marie Smith

I can picture Netflix’ last strategic planning retreat clearly in my mind. I imagine CEO Reed Hastings saying, “I’m bored with being so successful. I’m thinking I want to shake it up a little. Get out there and take some risks. Okay, team, let’s get planning.” I then imagine what’s in the final plan…

Strategic Initiatives

  • Reduce our customer base.
  • Reduce the value of our stock shares.
  • Create a PR nightmare/social media frenzy.


  • Cut our product offering and raise our prices by 60% (pay more get less).
  • Announce the change without an explanation or apology.
  • Remind customers they can stream a movie to only one device in the house.
  • Complicate a simple process by dividing DVD-only and streaming services into completely separate entities that forces the customers to go to two different websites if they still want both.
  • Choose a new company name (Qwikster) without doing enough due diligence (the Twitter handle @Qwikster is currently being used by a potty-mouthed, pot smoking young man).

Desired Results

  • Tick off and alienate our entire loyal customer base and lose 1 million customers in less than two months.
  • Slash subscriber outlook for the third quarter.
  • Reduce the forecast for streaming subscribers to 21.8 million from the previous 22 million.
  • Lower DVD subscriber forecast to 14.2 million from 15 million subscribers.
  • Reduce value of per share stock by 56%.

Mission accomplished.

While I get what they are doing (moving the company, eventually, to streaming only) and why they are doing it, I’m just shaking my head, awestruck, at how they did it. Me thinks Netflix will become an MBA textbook case study in a few years on how not to treat your customer base. How about you?

Why You Should Chat, Blog, Twitter, and Wiki: Adding Social Media to Your Internal Communication Strategy

Posted on September 19th, 2011 by Anne Marie Smith

Many business owners are beginning to see the importance of using social media as a component in their external communication strategies (business-to-customer marketing), but few have ever thought about or see little value in using it internally as a communication tool. Some company leaders, in fact, have banned the use of Facebook in the workplace thinking it will distract employees and adversely affect their productivity. A client of ours recently said, “If I let them chit-chat on Facebook, it’s just one more thing for me to manage.”

We respectfully disagree. Rules that forbid inconsequential things such as the internet, Facebook, and Twitter, send an “I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you” message loud and clear. And when you treat employees like errant children they will never elevate themselves or aspire to higher levels of trustworthiness and integrity. By the way, if you have the right people and effective managers then those concerns don’t need to be on your string of worry beads.

Why Bother?

Research indicates that social interaction (whether in person or online) creates engaged employees which, in turn, often lead to greater profitability, increased customer satisfaction, higher employee retention, more frequent transfer of knowledge, and more innovation. A study by the Aberdeen Group showed that 52 percent of organizations that use blogs, wikis, and other social networking tools achieved “best-in-class” (significantly superior to the industry standard) performance levels compared to five percent for those that didn’t.

For example, Canam Group, a Canadian manufacturer of construction goods, set up a Facebook group that is accessible to all employees and retirees. The result? Their corporate culture changed and is now highly collaborative. IBM developed a Facebook-like social networking tool they call “Beehive” to facilitate personal and professional connections within the company, which has been especially helpful as the number of remote workers has increased over the past several years.

Communication Made Easy

Effective internal communication (top-down, bottom-up, and peer-to-peer) directly relates to the long term success of a business. Creating mechanisms to share expertise and ideas creates an environment of thought leadership and shared learning. Social media tools also enable you to more easily listen to and build relationships with employees, resolve issues, share information about industry trends, inform employees about new products and services, news, and events, increase internal brand awareness, communicate information during a crisis, and diffuse the ever-present rumor mill.

With the proliferation of smart phones, social networking tools make it easier to communicate frequently and instantaneously-and in a form used by the younger generation far more than e-mail. This will especially a consideration as boomers retire and are replaced with employees who have been “powered up” and using social media since they could read and write. We’re not recommending eliminating other more traditional communication methods, by the way; we’re just advocating using them all when and where they are most effective.

Here’s the thing: Employees are using social media whether your company policy bans it or whether you are resisting it (actively or passively). We believe the best strategy is to embrace social media and use it to your best business advantage.

Talk to the Hand: If You’re Not Communicating Your Strategic Plans, You’re Wasting Your Time

Posted on September 16th, 2011 by Anne Marie Smith

What is a strategic plan? It’s paper, whether it’s a single page or a pile of pages. And it’s not anything other than paper until the people who need to help execute the plan (employees) know it, live it, and breathe it as they go about their day-to-day duties. A vision is only a vision until people act on it. And they can’t act on it unless they understand it. Sounds obvious, right?

But in a poll on Smartbrief, only approximately 16 percent of respondents said that their organization’s strategic plan was “crystal clear.” Similarly, a paper recently published by Harvard Business Review magazine indicated that a rising percentage of employees do not know their company’s direction. What’s more, as a result many create their own strategies (i.e., if you don’t tell me where we’re going, I’ll decide myself).

As leaders we understand, intellectually anyway, that we must communicate our plans to employees, but we often don’t do so effectively or at all to those outside of the strategic planning team. It’s hard to think of a single example of a winning organization that isn’t driven by a clear strategy that everyone can recite. Buy-in and commitment to a strategic plan is more important that the plan itself.

So what’s the best way to communicate your plans? Any and all methods. The more you use, the easier it will be to reach every style of learner and demographic in your company. Here are a few ideas you might consider:

  • Create an executive summary so people can quickly understand the basics and post it on the intranet or e-mail it.
  • Hold face-to-face meetings that focus on helping employees understand how the plan relates to their department and/or their specific jobs.
  • Create a video of the CEO and senior executives discussing the plan.
  • Create a Facebook page devoted to the plan and update it on a frequent basis.
  • Write a regular blog that discusses plan progress.
  • Use a web-based strategic planning application that enables employees to view the plan and track its progress.
  • Use Twitter to send daily or weekly tweets reminding employees what to focus on and what’s in it for them.

The idea is to communicate often so that team members are aligned to your organization’s strategy and so they understand, commit, and execute accordingly.

Another great reason to communicate regularly using different modes is that we mortals just don’t retain information very well, especially with only one exposure to it.

By the way, the shorter your strategic plan, the more likely people will read it and understand it. No one wants to read a 50-page strategic plan, unless the poor soul is suffering from a prolonged bout of insomnia. ;-)

A Strategic Dilemma

Posted on September 7th, 2011 by John Johnson

Ninety percent of Americans reach the age of retirement financially dependent and require substantial financial help in the way of Social Security. Forty to fifty percent of Americans have no money in the bank. Why does this matter to you? Because those statistics show that your employees, in general, are short-term oriented. Their employment time frame references are limited to the end of the work day or, at most, the end of the pay period. It’s a paycheck-to-paycheck existence for many.

The dilemma this raises for management is that strategy tends to be long-term oriented (i.e., months or years to accomplish). Your employees are underwhelmed by a two-year payout. This can affect strategic activity considerably. Strategic projects tend to be added to full work schedules so they require extra effort by your people. If your employees are short-term oriented they will quickly lose interest in the effort.

A great way to avoid this waning of enthusiasm and to keep people’s eyes on the ball is to chunk up strategic projects into bite-size efforts and celebrate each completed effort with bells and whistles in the form of rewards and recognition. You don’t have to spend a lot of dough on these rewards. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Tickets to a play
  • Lunch with the CEO
  • Day at a spa
  • Weekend at a luxury hotel
  • Years supply of coffee beans

Try to tailor the reward to the specific person wants, needs, or interests. This makes the gift much more meaningful because it shows you took time to learn something about your folks.


Selecting Which Strategic Initiatives to Implement

Posted on August 15th, 2011 by Anne Marie Smith

In strategic planning, one of the last steps in the process is to formulate the strategic initiatives that will resolve your business issue. Often, depending on the size and scope of the issue, you can end up with a considerable number of initiatives on your plate leaving you wondering how you’re going to execute them all. We always recommend selecting not more than three initiatives to work on at one time, because if you take on too many, you and your people will more than likely end up overwhelmed and overworked and drop the plan altogether. But which initiatives should you choose? The easiest way is to use an ROI criterion to help you evaluate each. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Resources: How much time and money are required to execute the initiative?
  • Order: Does one initiative need to be executed before you can begin another?
  • Impact: What is the potential savings or gain? Is it worth the expenditure of resources?

As with any business decision you make or idea you think of, always assess its merit before releasing the throttle and blasting full speed ahead. Think. Plan. Act.