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Strategic Planning

The Planning – Doing Gap

July 24, 2012 by John Campbell in Strategic Planning

The Planning – Doing Gap

You’ve been away for the senior management planning ‘event’ – it’s been largely successful and not too painful. And yet six months later the corporate strategic plan remains out of sight on a shelf somewhere contributing little to where the organisation is supposed to be heading!

Sound familiar?

While some organisations are effective at planning, the above situation is one that is not at all uncommon. A Fortune magazine article commenting on the ineffectiveness of planning efforts made this comment:

“In the majority of cases – we estimate 70% – the real problem is isn’t bad strategy but…bad execution.”

What is it then that undermines the success of many strategic planning efforts? Here are a few of the common flaws that I have observed, in no particular order…

Lack of ownership

In many cases managers go away and do their planning and then come back to lead the troops to implement the plan. But as the saying goes…’No one ever washes a rental car!’ If there has been little or no input from those doing the implementing getting buy-in for implementation is a struggle.

“It’s just something they make us do!”

Planning that is undertaken just because it seems like it should be done, because it is a corporate requirement or because your banks or accountants demands it will hardly ever be sustained.

If the plan does not drive the business and determine direction and goals it will end up in a 3-ring binder and ignored. As soon as the exercise is over everyone will just get back to their immediate every day tasks until the next time. If we accept that the average attention span in corporations is around 6 months, people will grit their teeth, pretend to support the program and wait it out till it goes away.

The 5 year time span is often not relevant

For many years the 5-year time span has been the typical planning time period but today this is often not appropriate. With rapid changes in technology, politics, environment and international affairs 5 years is often way too long. Indeed while I was working with one client recently to develop a 12 month plan for a business unit I was asked if we could make it a 6 month plan. Things were happening so fast in this industry that 12 months was too long.

Poor communication within the organisation

Not too many organisations score 100% when it comes to internal communication and yet if a strategic plan is to be successfully implemented it must be communicated purposefully, cleanly and repeatedly so that everyone understands what it means and how it impacts on what happens differently on Monday morning.

Inability to practice Investment Time

Investment time management involves spending time on Important/Not Urgent activities. Progressing the strategic plan is mostly an ‘Investment Time’ activity but activities that move the plan forward are often at the mercy of urgent tasks and crises that just have to be done now! When this happens on a regular basis slippage occurs, momentum is lost and the overall plan is in danger of being forgotten and lost among the clutter and noise of everyday tasks demanding attention.

As the well known saying says …’If you fail to plan – you plan to fail’ but it seems there is planning… and there is planning.

Paying attention to some of these key lessons will help your next planning effort stay on track.

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About John Campbell

John Campbell is the Director of 'growth coaching international' where he specialises in leadership and work team coaching. He has 20+ years of experience in the people development and management consulting arenas. John has a Masters degree in Coaching Psychology and is an Associate Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management. He can be contacted at

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Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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