Strategic plans? Bah, humbug!

Consultants are divided on the subject of strategic plans. Some are true believers, and others are skeptical. (For most clients, our firm is skeptical about strategic plans being of practical use.)

Strategic plans are often disappointing

Strategic planning has been less-than-successful for a fair number of companies. There are several reasons for the high rate of failures:

  • Most strategic plans remain too abstract or theoretical, because most companies spend too long developing their plan and not enough time making their plan work. Theory only goes so far. 
  • Most companies don’t have a mature enough culture to follow a plan. They’re too accustomed to being reactive, dealing with every day’s normal emergencies. The plan just makes people feel uncomfortable, and a little guilty about not following it. 

Disappointing strategic plans

Most strategic plans are too complicated or theoretical.

Theory only goes so far.

Just getting through the day

Most CEOs are so busy keeping up with customer demands that they’re happy to escape at the end of the day. They have little time or energy left for developing a structured managerial approach.. (Of course, the entire point of this book is to help you get beyond that standard.)

When CEOs return to the real world from their strategic planning exercises, many don’t have enough energy left to transform their strategic plan into actionable form. Nor do they seem able to devote continuing energy and focus to executing the plan. And neither do their managers.

Having a binder on the shelf isn’t much help

Having a strategic plan on the shelf isn’t much help when you’re facing real bullets. That’s why as the CEO, your commitment must be equal to the plan’s demands or the exercise is a waste of time, energy and money.

Over 30 years, I’ve observed that about 80% of the firms that do strategic plans just keep building a bookshelf of plans until they become bored, become alarmed at the time and money required, or are startled when someone observes: “The emperor has no clothes.”

If you don’t commit to implementing the plan, the entire process will be a disappointment, and will send the wrong message to everyone involved. It will also put wise-guy smiles on the faces of those people who weren’t invited to participate in the planning process.

Your commitment is required

As CEO, if you’re not committed to your plan, it will send the wrong message to everyone.

The process will actually be discouraging.

All of this is why we don’t do many strategic plans. But we do a great many operational plans — because we believe that a solid operational plan creates just the right amount of structure and focus for most CEOs to apply in managing their companies.


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