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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • September 25, 2021
  • minute read

The 4 reasons your strategic plan will go off course next year 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

For the last 30 or so years, I've spent much of every Fall season helping growth leaders conceive and produce their strategic plan for the next year.

 And in doing so, I’ve discovered this:  Irrespective of the size or nature of the organization, the reasons why otherwise well-written plans fail in execution the next year are unfailingly the same.

Whether written on a weekend by by a a solopreneur, outsourced to a so-called consultant, or laboriously constructed through a series of committees, off-sites and re-writes; whether it's two pages of doodles in a Moleskine notebook, a 20-slide Powerpoint deck, or a towering 5GB multi-media presentation, your strategic plan will end up taking you on the road to nowhere if it falls in to any of these 4 traps: 

1. Your Strategic plan is a reaction to this year’s challenges.

It’s a natural enough thought process: This and that went wrong this year (the sales team underperformed, the warehouse got in the weeds, the church's music ministry imploded, our IT system went down too often), so let’s fix that. And voila, you have a strategic plan.

Except you haven’t. You have a punch list – or a list of tactical measures, at best. Strategy doesn’t work like a game of ping pong – you don’t make strategic progress by batting back what was thrown at you the previous year (that’s a fine thing to do, but it’s merely a hygiene factor for success). 

If your strategic plan is merely a reaction to this year's challenges, then you don't have a strategic plan at all - you have a punch list - Les McKeown. Founder and CEO. Predictable Success

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2. The Strategic plan is focused on what you know.

Okay, I know that line sounds like one of those smart-aleck clickbait come-ons, but the reality is very simple: We all tend to base the starting point for our strategic planning on what we know (accounting, engineering, outreach, fund raising, sales, marketing…your mileage will vary). So far, so good. It’s what happens next that makes the difference.

Many strategic plans stop right there – and those universally turn out to be the weakest plans when faced with the reality of execution.

Some plans go further, and deal with what the team knows they don’t know. Maybe you sense that market demographics are shifting, or new technology is entering your industry, or new legislation is threatened, and while you know about those changes, you also know you don’t know what those changes will mean, specifically for your organization.

A strategic plan that addresses those issues (usually with the help of a subject matter expert) will be stronger, more robust, and more likely to succeed.

The most robust strategic plan? That's which addresses what you don’t know you don’t know.

 Think about it – where have you stumbled most in recent years? I’d be prepared to bet it was as a result of something you never saw coming in the first place. This article will help you overcome that deficit in your strategic plan.

The most robust strategic plan is one that covers what you know you know, what you know you don't know, and - most challenging of all - what you don't know you don't know - Les McKeown. Founder and CEO. Predictable Success

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3. Your strategic plan is full of Great ideas with No Implementation Roadmap. 

When the production of a strategic plan is dominated by the influence of Visionary leaders, the result is often one which reads wonderfully – inspiring, sweeping, revolutionary, bold – but which lacks the granular detail necessary to ensure effective execution.

Later in this series we'll look in detail at how to avoid falling into this trap, but in the meantime, have your entire team take the Predictable Success Leadership Styles Quiz, tabulate the results and see how the team as a whole shows up. If your team skews Visionary as a whole, then this is likely where your strategic plan will fall down.

4. Your Strategic plan has Too many moving parts. 

Conversely, when the strategic planning process is dominated by Processors (which often happens in larger organizations), the end result is often so detail-heavy, with so many moving parts, that it’s un-implementable – the plan simply sinks into oblivion under its own weight.

The answer to both 3. and 4. is to ensure you have the third type of leader – the results-oriented, real-world Operators intimately involved in the strategic planning process. They act as your best gatekeepers to reality, and will ensure the plan can actually be implemented in the real world.  (The trick is in getting them to the table in the first place, as Operators have a propensity for action, and get easily frustrated in meetings in general, and in strategic planning meetings in particular.)

In the next post we'll start the process of putting the strategic plan together, but in the meantime,

What about you? Which of these traps have you fallen into in the past, and how are you ensuring you don't do so this time round?

Let me know in the comments below!


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  1. Great to see you here! What about you? Which of these traps have you fallen into in the past, and how are you ensuring you don't do so this time round? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

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