The top five reasons why strategic plans fail

January 10, 2023 | Elke Steinwender
5 min
Échec planification stratégique - Strategic Plan fail

What are the reasons that makes strategic plans fail? And how to make sure it does not happen to you?

According to the Harvard Business Review, between 60% and 90% of strategic plans fail to become a reality. With those kinds of statistics, leaders often ask themselves a very valid question: why even bother?

I can’t stress enough the importance of strategic planning and its positive impact on a business. There are several different reasons, and we address each of them in detail in another blog called Why is a strategic plan important?

What is the main reason why strategic plans are necessary? If you don’t know where you are going – many routes can take you there. The lack of a clear direction wastes resources and time and demotivates your team.

This blog article takes a deep dive into why I’ve seen strategic plans fail over my twenty-plus-year career, and I’ve corroborated these anecdotal impressions with verified statistics and offer simple and proactive steps to avoid implementation failures.


1- It’s a top-down effort


Once you’ve passed a particular growth marker, business owners lose touch with the front lines of their business. This is a good thing and the only way to foster growth. It also means that they need input from their team to steer the organization in the right direction adequately.
The easiest way to do this is to include your team in the strategic planning.

According to a recent Gallup survey, only 22% of employees believe that their leaders have a clear vision for where their organization is heading. So what better way to let them know you have a plan is to include them in the planning process?

In addition, each team leader has a different vision of the customer and your business. So placing each of them around the table and co-creating your three-year strategic plan is the easiest way to get a 360⁰ view of your business.


Bonus: This approach makes them feel more involved and ready to support the implementation process.


I’ll close this section with a frightening fact and a perfect segway into the second reason why strategic plans fail: only 27% of employees and 42% of managers have access to the company’s strategic plan (Organisational Synergies).


2- The team does not don’t know how to implement it


This title in no way means diminishing your team’s competencies, expertise, or professionalism. However, going back to the last statistic of the previous section, if they don’t know about the strategy – it’s pretty much impossible to implement it.

Before finalizing the plan and launching it company-wide:

  • Ask each team leader to work with the individuals in their department to review the action plan.
  • Get their input.
  • Make adjustments to it and make sure that their objectives are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely).

The second reason strategic plans fail is that the organization lacks effective internal communication strategies and channels to implement the plan.


3- Individuals don’t understand their role in achieving the strategic plan


The third reason why strategic plans are that people need to understand their role in achieving the strategy. In a survey by the Economist, 61% of companies admit difficulty translating their strategy and action plan into daily actions.

To effectively implement a strategy, each component must be broken down into its simplest form: the daily or weekly action per person. What does each person need to do to achieve the organization’s long-term goal?

This may sound easy, but it’s probably the most challenging part of the entire strategic process!


How do you break down a 3-year goal into specific daily actions for each person from every department? Ask them!


In my experience, when you ask individuals what those tasks are, they can name two or three daily or weekly tasks in about 15 minutes.

And then… they will name why they can’t make those daily or weekly tasks happen!

These reasons come from lacking technology, poor interdepartmental communications, a too-large workload, inefficiencies, and many more. Yet, these reasons are magic! When your team shares these barriers to success with you, they have also drawn your roadmap to success. Your role as a leader is to transform these barriers to success into “projects” that the team can tackle.


4- Its too long-term oriented


One of the difficulties I’ve seen when companies implement a strategic plan is balancing long-term aspirations and short-term business emergencies and projects. How do you effectively balance both?

The organization’s purpose, vision, mission, values, and business priorities should be your guide and markers over the three-year term of your strategic plan. Your priorities should be broken down into broad milestones to be achieved at the end of years one, two, and three. Once again, you break down the 1-year action plan into what Vern Harnish in his book “Scaling up,” calls the 12- or 13-week sprint that is a trimester.

In the 12-week sprint, you get very specific and decide on the two or three “projects” that make up the building blocks of the one-year plan you want to achieve and are also your key to removing the barriers that employees shared in the previous section.

Give these “projects” the same importance as you would a customer. If two or three projects are too much, you are better off starting with one, learning how to master the implementation process of an internal project.


5- No one reviews actions to the strategic plan


Review, review, and review!

According to a survey by Organizational Synergies, 92% of organizations say they do not actively follow their plan’s key success indicators. Another study by Bridges Business Consulting states that 70% of leaders spend less than one day per month reviewing their strategy.
It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day hustle of work. However, reviewing your plan weekly is an excellent reminder of why you are doing what you are doing. It’s also motivating to see progress.

At Maïeutyk, we not only accompany the strategic planning process but also play the role of accountability partner for our clients during implementation. As such, when we review progress, it’s very motivating for everyone involved to note and celebrate progress!

In conclusion, I’ll quote the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go farther, go together.” Integrating your team into your strategic planning process will simplify the implementation process.


Source of the statistics:

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