Why Is It So Hard To Execute Your Strategic Plan?

— December 22, 2018

Why Is It So Hard To Execute Your Strategic Plan?

Strategic planning takes a lot of effort and collaboration, but you haven’t reached the finish line after building a strategy map or Balanced Scorecard—you’re just at the start. The hard part is accomplishing everything you and your leadership team put into that five-year strategic plan. Many organizations face the same execution challenges, which can be distilled down to these five common problems:

Problem #1: Setting Unrealistic Goals

“In five years, we’re going to be five times the size we are today.” That sounds great, but is it actually doable? It’s exciting to think about the future, but hard to predict five years in advance. Setting unrealistic goals is one of biggest reasons why the best-laid strategic plans fail.


Take all the goals you’ve set for your five-year plan and break them down by year—start with the fifth year and work backward to the first year. Then, review all your first-year goals and make sure they align with the strategy. For example, if your strategic plan states that only one new salesperson will be hired, you likely won’t hit your target of increasing sales by 300% in the first year. Make sure your goals are realistic before signing off on the strategic plan.

Problem #2: Checking In Annually

Strategic planning involves setting BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and a far-reaching vision—it’s going to activate a lot of change in your organization. If you have a five-year plan, checking in annually means you only assess progress four times before you have to refresh it…and that’s not enough. You won’t be prepared to understand the implications of that check-in and won’t be making changes at a fast-enough pace; you’ll also be disconnected from the strategy.


Think about, discuss, and take action on your strategic plan on a regular basis. Best practices recommend you track results and hold reviews with the leadership team monthly and quarterly. This will keep you on track with your plan and ensure you’re making progress at the right pace. Make sure you have measures and link real projects to the goals of your plan.

Problem #3: Doing It Yourself

Strategic planning is a team sport and involves the whole organization. And yet, many times the responsibility for strategy execution lands on the shoulders of one person or department. For example, a strategic planning officer or office may feel responsible for executing strategy and that process might be separate from the rest of the operations. This creates a disconnect between the organization’s day-to-day operations and its long-term strategy. In some cases, it even generates frustration from internal employees who view the strategy office as unrelated to the business.


Get the leadership team and every department in the entire organization involved. The leadership team should regularly communicate the importance of the strategic plan. Department leaders need to ensure their operational plans link to the strategy. The strategy officer or office drive the execution process, but the entire organization is involved. Put strategy at the center of all your leadership discussions.

Problem #4: Resisting Change

While you are managing your strategic plan, you may get feedback through your measures or your annual environmental scan that something’s not working. If you keep marching along as if nothing happened and resist changing your strategy, it could lose relevance.


Be flexible and expect to adapt to internal or external factors that impact your strategy (even in year one of a five-year plan). When there’s a shift in your organization, industry, or economy, shift your strategy, too. That’s not to say you should scrap the entire thing, but instead revisit the goals and measures impacted by the change. Don’t laminate your strategic plan!

Problem #5: Reporting In Nonstandard Formats

Every department measures different things throughout your organization. But just because your measures vary, doesn’t mean each department should choose its own reporting format. If you have one department reporting monthly in PPT, another quarterly in Excel, and no one linking to a common strategic framework, you’ll have problems, including inconsistent metrics, version control issues, and an inefficient strategy management process overall.


Keep the reporting process and the technology similar across the organization to create standard viewpoints about strategy—and standard measures, in many cases. Doing this will allow you to have standard processes throughout the company. Start with a common system such as Excel. Then, when your organization matures its reporting process and measures, migrate to strategic planning software. Brief your leadership team with customized, automatically-built monthly and quarterly reports that standardize everything from charts and icons to metrics.

Nine out of 10 organizations fail to execute strategy. Don’t be one of them! Avoid these five problems and more common pitfalls with this toolkit.

When you fix these execution challenges, you will be on your way to strategy success. Happy reporting!


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