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Every year, companies invest the time and efforts of their brightest and highest-paid talent to produce their strategic plan. As with any investment, the companies expect a return or yield from this effort and the plan that comes from it. Although no team aspires to create a strategy that fails, however, time and again, too many companies struggle to execute and optimize strategic planning.

The four most common reasons for such struggles – and subsequent failures – follow:

Bad Foundation. A grounding in opinion and inaccurate assumptions can doom a strategy from the start. Facts matter. Flawless execution won’t overcome a strategy grounded in unrealistic assumptions. The most powerful question a team can ask themselves when they complete planning remains “What do we absolutely have to believe to be confident our plan will succeed?”

Execution Confusion. Many organizations develop a knack for planning, but far fewer excel at the execution required to translate planning into value. Having more planned than accomplished suggests mistakenly equating planning with execution. Truly effective planning must yield a specific and accountable plan for execution, grounded in the key assumptions of that plan.

Vision Disconnection. Awell-developed strategy answers the question “How will we achieve and monetize our vision?” An effective, intentionally designed vision forms the context for all decision-making. Do you have a clear, compelling vision? If not, get one. Evidence abounds that no more powerful engagement tool exists than a compelling vision driven by employees who see how their everyday activities matter in a purpose greater than themselves. The answers to “Why will we win?” and “What does it look like when we win?” must be explicit, not implicit.

Message Dilution. A brilliant strategy that can’t be understood by those who must execute it is no better than no strategy at all. Do you know where strategic messaging breaks down in your organization? Is your strategic communication structured with clarity and absorption in mind, and do you audit the “stickiness” of your communication across your organization?

Strategy development ranks as a high-cost, high-intensity investment that can produce significant returns and benefits for leaders and their teams who diligently accentuate the odds in their favor. 

Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande serves as the assistant vice chancellor of International Affairs-Africa and the associate director of the Global Health Center at Washington University in St. Louis.


Chuck Feltz is the CEO of Human Capital Institute and the co-author of Never by Chance: Aligning People and Strategy Through Intentional Leadership.