Why do so many strategy plans stay locked in the bottom drawer?

James Atkins, a director of Vantage Strategy & Marketing, a boutique business improvement firm, offers a few tips on how to ensure your next strategy plan doesn't end up locked in your bottom drawer collecting dust.

So you've had a two-day, off-site planning session, spent loads of time and money analysing your current position and your team has 'blue-skied' to their heart's content. A detailed strategic plan for your business for the next five years is the result. It's printed, beautifully bound and circulated to the management team ready for implementation.

Fast-forward three months. Not much has happened. In fact, the strategy plan you were feeling so confident about is still sitting locked in your bottom drawer.


According to many businesses we have worked with over the years, there seems to be some common factors contributing to this frustrating waste of time, money and opportunity.

Many businesses complain that the planning process is seen by their employees as a one-off exercise that is way too complex and based on flaky competitive positioning. Others say the main reason why many strategic planning documents fail to deliver is the fact that the planning process is often not connected to the day-to-day operation of the business.

So here are a few ideas that might help you overcome these barriers:

1. Make strategy planning part of how you do business

Strategy development is often seen as something you need to take time out from the business to do. Wrong. Strategy planning needs to be an integral part of your business process.

Yes, kicking it off with some concentrated time makes sense -especially if you haven't reviewed your strategy for some time - but it needs to be followed up with regular reviews and challenge sessions.

I recommend scheduling in regular follow-up planning sessions to focus on individual elements of the strategy, reviewing the implementation of the strategy or challenging assumptions as external and internal factors change.

2. Keep it simple

The 'strategy industry' loves new models and processes but often trying to adopt a new model can actually make things more complex.

At the highest level, the process I have found works best revolves around the 'NOW-WHERE-HOW' framework.

This involves firstly being very clear on your current position (the NOW). Secondly defining WHERE you want to be over the next planning period and, then, and only then, working through key elements of HOW you are going to get there.

3. Develop a clear, distinct competitive advantage

The key to a good strategy starts with being very clear on what you see as your point of difference - your competitive advantage. Why will someone buy from you and not the company down the road? If you can't answer that question, and hold it up to rigorous scrutiny and challenge, then the rest of your strategy development will be a waste of time.

4. Connect to your people.

If you want your strategy plan to be meaningful then it needs to be embraced by people throughout the organisation. This is helped by adopting a planning framework that can be integrated into all divisions, teams and even individual KPIs. Using a 'one page planning' structure at each level and for every aspect of the strategy enables teams to identify with, and be measured on, how they will contribute to the overall vision, objectives and strategy of the organisation.

So the next time you are embarking on the process of developing or re-developing a strategy plan for your organisation, I encourage you to think before you act. Can you be certain the strategy will actually be implemented and be a useful tool in focusing the organisation and motivating your team? Only if you can say yes to this question will your strategy plan make a worthwhile contribution to the future of your business.

James Atkins, director of Vantage Strategy & Marketing

James Atkins is a director of Vantage Strategy & Marketing a boutique business improvement firm that helps organisations grow. Please send any comments or questions you have in relation to this article to: jatkins@vantagemarketing.com.au