5 Key Factors To Successful Strategic Planning

5 Key Factors to Successful Strategic Planning

Organizations around the globe develop strategic plans. They carefully create a vision of their future and the strategies needed to get there. But many fail to realize their vision and fail to deliver the expected strategic results. Unfortunately, executive teams cannot pinpoint the reasons for this dilemma so they repeat the strategic planning cycle over and over, always hoping that the next strategic planning session will bring better results. And of course it doesn’t. In our experience, there are 5 critical factors that will ensure your strategic plans are successfully implemented.

1. Engagement

“Only 23% of companies use a formal strategic planning process to make important strategic decisions. In 52% of companies, these decisions are made by a small senior group.”
McKinsey & Co.

Strategic Planning is a process not an event. A key element in the process is the engagement of all levels of staff throughout the organization. Staff engagement generates additional input and helps build their commitment to the end plan. It is essential to involve employees in the planning of strategy and direction for the organization. Employee’s input will:

  • Provide insight into issues, challenges, concerns, and opportunities which may not have been known or fully understood.
  • Ensure their “buy-in” to help execute the strategies.

The senior management team will not execute the strategies – staff will. Engage them and your strategy execution success rate will increase dramatically.

2. Communication

“2 out of 3 HR and IT departments develop plans that are not linked to the company’s overall strategy”.
Harvard Business School

Strategic Planning processes are successful when a bottom up and top down communication approach is taken. It starts off with a communication to all levels of employees informing them that a Strategic Planning process will be undertaken. It includes how they will be involved in this process. This is the bottom up communication. Employees will provide input to the strategic planning process through feedback surveys, focus groups, meetings, etc. regarding their ideas for organizational direction, etc.

It is followed by the top down communication. Senior management will share the strategic plan with employees. They will communicate to all employees how their engagement will help ensure success in the execution of these strategies.

3. Innovation

“Organizations need the courage to try something risky that they don’t know will work. Why? Because if they know it will work, they’ll only get an improvement to what they already have. Yet if they try something that is a little dangerous and new, they will realize true innovation.”
Michael Stanleigh

Some strategic plans include strategies to develop a new product or deliver a new service or re-structure a department, etc. They put teams of individuals together to work on these major initiatives and give them investment money to ensure success. Yet over time it becomes apparent that this team won’t realize the strategic goal given to them and the strategy itself will be deemed a failure. This is wrong!!

This is not a failure of execution. It is the lack of an Innovation Process to manage the strategy that led to the failure. The senior management created strategies that required innovation to achieve them. This is unfortunately, very common.

Many organizations tell their employees to be more innovative. They create strategies for new products and services. But they fail to develop a strategy for Innovation which includes reshaping the organizational culture to be innovative, implementing a process for managing innovations, etc. Research in Motion is a classic case. They’ll tell you that they’re very innovative. They market it and promote it. But look at their Strategic Plan. They lack a clear strategy for innovation – but they do have strategies for new product development. Yet since the development of the Blackberry, they haven’t released a single innovative product. They will of course disagree. The Playbook is an Ipad with less functionality. It’s not an innovation.

However, there are many examples of organizations that have a strategy for innovation and this helps drive their new product and service delivery strategies. These include Apple, Google, Zodiac and BMW.

4. Project Management

“Most devastatingly, 95% of employees do not understand their company’s strategy. (How are they supposed to execute a plan if they don’t understand it?)”
Harvard Business School

Once the strategic plan is together, there are two critical elements related to project management. One is to identify the projects that are required to ensure success in the execution of each strategy. Another is to develop a prioritization of all these projects to ensure the high priority ones have the proper resourcing to ensure success. This requires a high involvement and commitment on the part of employees to spend the time required on the projects.

The high level of involvement of employees ensures that they understand the strategic plan. It increases their level of commitment to ensure the strategy is successfully executed because they understand how their work and the work they’re completing on the project helps the organization to realize some or all of one of their key strategies.

5. Culture

“There is a failure to understand the culture of the organization as well as a failure to develop values and culture to support the plans.”
Strategic Planning Failure – Mark Mendenhall, Encyclopedia of Business

Organizational Culture is the commonly held attitudes, values, beliefs and behaviours of its employees. The culture of an organization is as unique and diverse as an individual’s personality. If the employees of an organization believe that change is something to be feared and avoided, then change implementation is often reactive and haphazard. If the employees believe that all change should be aggressively implemented “from above”, then change is seldom supported. However, if the employees of an organization believe that change is worthwhile and everyone’s responsibility; then change and growth occur with relative ease. These are the few “excellent” organizations that continue to excel in their industry.

It is followed by the top down communication. Senior management will share the strategic plan with employees. They will communicate to all employees how their engagement will help ensure success in the execution of these strategies.


Establish a clear and meaningful strategic planning process. Engage all levels of employees to ensure success. Communicate to employees throughout. Use an innovation process for all new product development, service delivery, etc. strategies. Create projects to manage the strategies and prioritize all of these projects to ensure they are properly resourced. Re-shape the organizational culture to be more adaptive to the changes the strategic plan requires.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications.

For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca