Barriers to Strategic Planning and How to Overcome Them


The Importance of Strategic Planning

I’ve been leading organizations through the strategic planning process for years. On average, the companies with which I am currently engaged have experienced annual growth of 23% since launching their strategic planning process. Before then, growth on average was just a tad over flat line.  

Needless to say, strategic planning works. Without the structure of a strategic plan, too many managers focus on tools that may improve operational processes, but fail to translate them “into sustainable profitability.” The right strategic planning process ensures that goals align with long-term vision and values, resulting in a business that is productive, profitable, and growing.

How to Identify Strategic Challenges 

So why don’t more small businesses implement strategic planning? Afterall, within their first year of business, one in five small businesses will fail. Often, it’s because business leaders don’t have the proper perspective on their business. 

An experienced strategic planning facilitator can bring an outside perspective that can help your team identify strategic challenges facing a small business. Early identification of core issues and targeted planning are critical elements for increasing the effectiveness of a strategic plan and growing a new business, or any business for that matter.

What Are the Barriers to Effective Planning?

Why do businesses’ strategic plans fail? It happens for a range of reasons, including lack of focus on results, lack of commitment, general ignorance of the situation, or creating goals that are far too unrealistic. 

Even the most well-rounded and effective plans have barriers that affect a business’ ability to enact meaningful change. Let’s take a look at some of the more common reasons strategic plans fail:

1. Resistance to Change

John Maxwell said, “Change is inevitable; growth is optional”. While change may seem difficult and tedious, change brings many benefits to businesses of all sizes. It doesn’t matter how great the  strategic plan is, if there is a resistance to a new way of viewing and doing things, the plan will fail.  Change is growth, and while uncomfortable, it is absolutely necessary. 

Like Patrick Lencioni says, “We don’t hate change, we just struggle with the transition.” Change is good—you just have to reframe how you approach it and how you respond to potential triggers. When leading people through change, being highly involved should be at the forefront of your priorities.

2. Disjointed Team Dynamics

Without proper collaboration, sustaining the change you’ve created will be difficult. A team that is not in alignment could struggle with effectively implementing a strategic plan. Poor communication and lack of trust between teams can exacerbate issues. With this type of communication gap, maintaining results will not be possible.

3. Lack of Motivation

Many leaders will only listen to feedback that aligns with their existing self-image, creating a lack of motivation to implement any substantial change. This can make the entire organization’s performance suffer. If a team leader isn’t fully committed to the strategic plan and process, this can cause the plan to fail. 

4. Inability to be Objective

If a team is unwilling to have their blind spots identified and subsequently worked on, progress is unlikely. Everyone has to be fully on board. Pat Lencioni says one of the core components in building trust is showing vulnerability. This means being willing to admit your faults and flaws and mindfully work toward redirecting the mentality that created them.

5. No Clear, Achievable Goals

Goals created in a strategic plan should be clear, achievable, and agreed upon. The lack of a common goal leads to tasks not being effectively delegated and in turn decreases motivation and accountability across the board. 

6. Indecision & Rigidity

When making decisions, failing to make them in a timely manner and backed with data can impede a strategic plan and its timeline. On the flip side, having too rigid of a plan or not being open to adaptation throughout the process can stunt growth. There is a cozy middle ground to aim for to ensure the entire team is on the same page.

How to Prevent Failed Strategic Plans 

While challenges may exist, with the proper help from a strategic planning facilitator, those challenges are greatly reduced. My job is to help you keep your plan on track by quickly targeting any pitfalls that seem likely and creating solutions that effectively mitigate failure. 

1. Encourage Ownership

Too often, the responsibility for implementing the strategic plan falls on a single person or a handful of people with certain job titles that designate them as “leaders.” An effective strategic plan encourages everyone involved to feel a sense of ownership for achieving the stated goals, no matter what their position is. 

During StratOp, my preferred strategic planning methodology, I encourage everyone involved in the planning session to “think like an owner” and speak into opportunities and challenges across departments, not just their own. Having a more collaborative planning process empowers those involved in the strategic planning session to communicate the plan to their respective teams and encourage a sense of ownership for their department’s role in achieving the company’s goals.

2. Facilitate Team Cohesion

Building trust within a team leads to open communication and honesty. When implementing a strategic plan, this level of trust is vital to quickly find out what’s working and what’s not. It also establishes a faith that prompts teams to listen to your ideas enthusiastically instead of warily. Through talent assessments, I facilitate team building and cohesion that make a real, tangible difference. By finding everyone’s strengths, delegation is simple, and the team flourishes together.

3. Clear, Accessible Data 

Keeping track of data that supports the value of your plan is crucial to staying on track and making decisions. Data should be available to the entire team and organized in a clear, easy-to-understand format across all departments. If the data is readily available, teams will see the results they want to mimic and work harder to achieve the goals laid out.

4. Set Actionable Goals & Realistic Expectations

Setting clear goals keeps the strategic plan on track. An experienced strategic planning facilitator will help to identify these goals with your entire leadership team to keep everyone on board, on track, and excited about the future. 

It’s important to have realistic expectations so that each smaller goal feels reachable. If the stepping stones are clearly laid out, getting to the bigger goal on the other side of the stream will be much less intimidating.

5. Regular Reviews & Renewals

Coming together quarterly to discuss the plan and set new parameters based on the previous period’s performance is a must. Figure out where you fell short, what  could be improved in the coming quarter, and what might need to be taken off the plate completely. Reviewing and renewing the plan with new eyes and ideas on it keeps the goals fresh in everyone’s mind.

6. Seek Accountability & Support

Having an experienced strategic planning facilitator is a significant key to the success of a strategic plan. I’m often told, “We stick to the StratOp process because we know you’re coming to check on us every quarter.” An effective facilitator will guide you through challenges, help you achieve clarity, and provide support while holding you accountable for making the changes you’ve initiated.

Optimize Your Strategic Planning Process

As a certified facilitator of the StratOp process, I help my clients break down big-picture goals into easier-to-digest, bite-sized pieces. From molding the perspective on the future to bringing experienced insight that creates action, my clients are achieving lasting results. Perhaps I can do the same for your company. Reach out today to schedule a time to discuss how a strategic planning session could benefit your company.