Strategic Planning Pitfalls to Avoid

Use strategic planning to provide direction for your employees

Coworkers in a strategic planning meeting

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Many companies fall short when it comes to providing clear direction for their employees. They call various planning processes strategic planning but the results of their efforts fail to create an overall direction for their company, office, or workgroup.

This overall direction is necessary for their success. People need to feel as if they are part of something bigger than themselves. At the same time, they need clear direction to know what the bigger thing is that they are part of.

Strategic planning is rarely strategic and most frequently results in pages and pages of plans that sit unused in senior leaders' desk drawers. Almost every HR practitioner has been a part of an unsuccessful strategic planning process or has been asked to participate too late to have any impact on the success of the process.

Problems With Strategic Planning

Many companies fail to implement their strategic plans for reasons such as the following.

In a fast-moving, fast-changing industry, you can create an overall compass for your direction. You can put together operational plans. You can set goals.

But, sales, your industry, your competition, upgraded products—yours and your competitors, your ability to fill growth created positions, and more, make strategic planning, in the traditional sense, problematic. No sooner do you set up a plan, than one of these variables changes, and you need a new plan.

At a mid-sized manufacturing company, the plant manager held an offsite strategic planning meeting that felt a lot more like the prioritization of to-do lists. But, at least, the to-do lists were yielding clear priorities for the company's success. The employees were enthusiastic about having actual priorities so they didn't feel as if they were failing all of the time.

The company owner met with the participants a week later, expecting to find happy, excited employees working on the chosen priorities. Instead, he found sad employees wallowing in too many priorities. As soon as they were back to work after setting priorities, their plant manager had informed them that the prioritization of objectives as A, B, or C, was great.

However, all of the stuff was important and had to get done. Thus, the priorities were ignored and each employee made baby steps forward on each of their too many objectives. And, when everything is a priority, nothing is really a priority. And, employees lose their way.

More Pitfalls in Strategic Planning

In several companies, strategic planning was led by a strategic planning facilitator who was brought in to help the companies with their planning. When strategic planning sessions are facilitated by consulting companies, the consultants frequently recommend and request 50-60 pages of research about competitors, markets, and current company measurements.

While you can laud such a systematic approach, small- to mid-sized companies rarely have all of this data collected nor do they have the ability to utilize it effectively in planning. The amount of time invested in the research plus the time invested in the actual planning is excessive. Thus, they render all of the hours of work as meaningless regardless of the skill of the facilitator.

Second, many companies lack the ability to execute strategy. For whatever reason, they make great strategic plans and then, fail to create the specific framework necessary for strategic planning follow-up. Without a follow-up framework and accountability system, action items and follow-up plans and actions that make the execution of the strategic plan a success, don't happen.

Finally, even if the senior managers adopt a strategic plan, they rarely do the work that is necessary for a plan to become adopted and implemented across the company. Employees want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. But, just because the big boss says, x is our direction, that is not enough for employees to do the work needed to get to x.
The senior leaders, starting with their direct reports must work with each level of the organization so that employees understand and can act on the specific tasks needed for their jobs. The more personalized and close to home this planning occurs, the better. Involving every employee can help your strategic planning achieve results.

Strategic planning can be simple or it can be complex, but avoid these pitfalls to make the time invested valuable and meaningful to your organization.