Strategic Planning -- Why Does it Often Fail?

In August, Sean Ryan published his first book entitled Get in Gear: The Seven Gears that Drive Strategy to Results, which helps business leaders convert business strategy to measurable results. When I spoke with Sean this month, I asked him: “Why do organizations rarely get it right when it comes to achieving the expected results from their strategic planning?” Here is his complete answer:

It’s well documented that 75% to 90% of organizations fall short of achieving the results they expect from their strategies. Sometimes, it really is just a matter of a bad strategy regardless of how well it’s executed. Maybe it’s a bad acquisition. Maybe it’s a poorly thought out effort into new markets or with new products or services. Maybe it’s New Coke! Most of the time, though, it’s a matter of a good plan poorly executed. Execution failures often occur because: 

  • the organization doesn’t have the right people in the right roles with the right capabilities to execute, or
  • the organization’s architecture (systems, structures, processes, and culture) isn’t aligned to the strategy, or
  • the daily efforts of their team members are disconnected from the strategy. 

In Get in Gear: The Seven Gears that Drive Strategy to Results, we outline some of the failure points and how organization’s can better align the seven gears to the results that matter. 

Here’s a really common one: We ask people to outline their top five goals. Then, we ask their leaders to outline what they think the top five goals are. On average, only two out of five match. That means that 60% of the time people are working on the wrong priorities. It’s hard to achieve great results when people are working on the wrong stuff! 

You don’t have to fix all seven gears at once. You can pick the one or two that create the most friction and fix them. You’ll likely get at least somewhat better results. Then, you can work on another to get even better results. 

Over time, individuals and organizations can bring all the gears into much better alignment and achieve dramatically better results for both themselves and the broader organization.

What is your experience with strategic planning? What do you think of Sean's take on the failure points and how to rectify them?