4 Features of a Bad Strategic Plan

Blog - 4 features of a bad strategic plan_11866557_XSA good strategic plan has become the foundation for effective and successful businesses. The reason for this is simple: sound strategy = a better chance for success. Implementing a good strategic plan will not guarantee success. Why? Because leaders and managers cannot pull out their crystal ball and foresee the future. But a sound, well-thought-out strategic plan can be the next best thing to a finely crafted strategy.

This begs the question: What does a poor strategic plan look like? The following are four features of a strategic plan that will definitely miss the mark.

1) Failing to Face the Challenge1

Oftentimes, challenges go undefined. Obstacles are allowed to fly under the radar, and the strategy is already insufficient. Any obstacle, if left unaddressed will become the stumbling block of the whole organization.

When developing or implementing a strategic plan, take the time to discover all possible obstacles to your business. There may be one. There may be a dozen. When all possible obstacles are addressed, you are actually left with a strategic plan, not a list of goals or a pipe dream.

2) Calling a List of Goals a Strategic Endeavor

Leaders are required to set the vision for the whole organization. They are also responsible for creating the conditions to make the vision possible. This will not happen because of a list of goals. Goals are good in and of themselves. But many, many goals go unrealized because they were unrealistic. They had no basis in reality. Jack Welch said, “We have found that by reaching for what appears to be the impossible, we often actually do the impossible.” He also said, “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” In other words, if the backbone of your organization will not support the weight of your goals, it, and your organization, will break under the weight of the effort. Organizational strength can be built over time. Align the goals of the organization with its competitive advantage.

3) Unclear Objectives

Long to-do lists are not strategic plans. Many corporate leaders will spend hours in meetings over a number of days determining every little thing that must be done in order to get the organization to a desired outcome. This level of understanding is good. However, tackling a long list of things to do is a very daunting undertaking.

Instead, organizations should focus on one, or a short list of action items that will provide the biggest bang for the buck. These are the to-do’s that will provide the best, most favorable outcomes and bridge the gap between the critical organizational purpose and the current state of the organization.

4) Filler

In the processed food industry, fillers are substances added to the primary food to add weight and bulk while keeping costs low. In the meat industry, fillers are added to meat, like beef, to reduce the cost of the end product. Fillers add nothing to the nutritional value of the meat, but usually increase the caloric content of the product. If you remove the fillers, you are left with just the meat.

The same is true in strategy. Filler masks the absence of real, concrete thought. Implementing strategic plans which include a lot of filler contain a lot of restated, obvious information. The strategic plan of a bank stated that part of the strategy included “customer-centric intermediation.” Intermediation means that a bank will accepts deposits and loan the money out to other people, like what banks do. In other words, that part of the bank’s strategic plan is to be a bank.

1Rumelt, Richard. “The perils of bad strategy.” Mckinsey Quarterly no. 1 (March 2011): 30-39. Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed January 9, 2012).

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About the Author

Josh Nuttall

Josh’s role and experience at CMOE has been supporting the development of curriculum design for a wide variety of leadership topics and organizational issues and challenges.