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Five ways your Strategic Plan can fail!

2024 is coming.

Are you ready?

I ask because, it’s that time of year when we get called upon to help leaders and their teams with their strategic planning efforts. Oh yes, and I should point out that today is October 24th – which means that in 69 days it will be New Years Day – or 48 working days (max) if you run a Monday – Friday operation and only take Christmas Day as a day off.

Using similar logic:

  • There are only 110 working days left if your fiscal year ends on March 31st.

  • There are only 174 working days left if your fiscal year ends on Jun 30th.

These are brutal numbers. I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading. After all, you don’t need me pointing out that you haven’t gained traction on your 2023 Strategic Plan.

Did you start the year optimistic about the solid plan you developed only to have the pressures of the day-to-day rip it out of your hands? It’s a helpless feeling.

So, what can you do differently in 2024? My suggestion is to stop for a moment, and consider how your current plan went sideways. Be objective. The road to hell is paved with good intentions but that road also is also chock full of hazards and detours that you, the leader, didn't anticipate. An honest assessment will give you the tools to adapt and implement. With the ability to anticipate and adapt, EVERY plan will fail. It's happened to all of us.

On January 10th (54 working days) we’re hosting our 7th Annual Strategic Planning Day for Small Business and Non-Profit Leaders. As we prepare to promote this event, it’s a good time to do some foreshadowing. Below, I’ve listed five common failures in execution. It's not an exhaustive list but I hope that as you read through the list you’ll find something that resonates and there will be an 'a ha moment' and that you'll move forward intent on avoiding these roadside hazards. Here they are:

  • Lack of Communication throughout the organization: Effective communication is vital for aligning teams and ensuring every employee understands (a) the company’s strategic goals, and (b) how they can help. Think of your own company, is every brain in the game? What can you do to avoid mis-alignment?

  • Lack of Clear Objectives: Despite the emphasis on SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) it can be challenging to come up with well-articulated goals that are clear, specific, and measurable for everyone. Without them, it’s very easy for the team to lose it’s way and lose enthusiasm.

  • No plan for Implementation: The entire thrust of this piece is to underscore that having a solid strategic plan is only one piece to the puzzle. Too often, plans fail shortly after the plan has been printed largely because there was no plan for rolling things out. It’s critical that leaders meet with their key people and come up with a plan that can be executed and followed amid day-to-day pressures.

  • Failure to Adapt: “Change is the only constant in life” - Heraclitus wrote this more than 2,000 years ago yet we still tend to plan without thinking of a bigger picture and anticipating. Interest rates have climbed, inflation too. What changes are in store? What will you do if a competitor partners and grows more powerful? What will happen if a key supplier closes their doors? What if a key employee leaves? Keep the faith, if you’ve been in business for more than five years you’ve survived COVID, adjusted to rising inflation, and 12 straight interest rate hikes. You can do this, agility is the name of the game.

  • Resistance to Change: Often when strategic planning is discussed in business textbooks, the “team” is portrayed as being unified and enthusiastically supportive of the plan. Eager employees step up and volunteer to lead a project. However, we all know, this isn’t true. So, caution to leaders at all levels – it all starts with you! The number one way to curb employee enthusiasm is to break the trust. Micromanaging, gossiping, avoiding conflict, not delegating, showing favoritism, or not having empathy – these are hallmark behaviors of poor management. If employees don’t feel safe or secure in their workplace, your efforts to execute the plan will resemble Wile E. Coyote’s plans to capture the roadrunner. Beep beep!

There’s still time in 2023 to get things done. Take some time to review your last plan. Is there something small but tangible that you and your team can tackle that can bring you a small but tangible win in the next 48-days before January 1st? If there is, jump on it. Progress is all about making incremental gains when no one is looking.

Norm Adams, MBA, is a Certified Professional Business Coach with more than 25-years business experience in both Canada and the US. This month, Norm and Dave Fuller are preparing for Pivotleader's 7th Annual Strategic Planning Day on January 10, 2024 from 10:00 am to 2:30pm. Formal promotion of this event will start in November but if you'd like to receive some information now, feel free to email Norm at


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