We usually think that the exercise of strategy development draws upon such hard skills as data collection, market evaluation, and knowing resource requirements. Then we pull together the organization’s smartest people, generally assumed to be an exclusive group from the leadership team, to determine what the organization will accomplish over a set period of time.
While the process of strategy development does require hard skill competencies; successful creation and execution depend upon deploying abundant soft skills. In my own career underestimating the cultural, emotional, and personal issues of stakeholders (including their self-image) has been a reason my strategic planning efforts have sometimes fallen short, or have been accomplished in a ‘get out my way’ fashion, leaving bruised egos and damaged relationships in my wake.
Here are some of the other lessons we’ve observed that lead to failed strategic planning:
- A leader who does not act as the champion undermines accountability – their own and others.
- Fear, whether of success or failure, gets in the way of starting.
- The need to be ‘the one’ who knows better than everyone else. Leading from the front.
- Intolerance for failure or falling short.
- Reluctance to shift direction when faced with new realities.
- Pride and ego – an unwillingness to collaborate, often ingrained in the organization as a result of the way employees are measured. Review this article from the INSEAD business school about Microsoft’s failure to short circuit Apple’s I-phone
- An aversion to creating stretch goals in order to minimize the risk of failure.
- The creation of unrealistic goals. Always remember that the ‘R’ in SMART goals stands for realistic.
Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s best-known business coaches prefers to reframe feedback as ‘feedforward’ and many enlightened organizations take the position that if you learn something from the experience, and don’t repeat it, it’s not failure.
I know I’m a work in progress, and based on the low success rate of organizations executing on their own plans, perhaps I’m not alone.