Is Strategic Planning a waste of time and money?

Mississauga Board of Trade
Mississauga Board of Trade


January 19, 2015


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FredPidsadnyPicBy Fred Pidsadny

The answer to the question depends on who is being asked. The results of a major study of
1000 companies, government agencies and not-for-profits in over 50 countries, reported in
Harvard Business, were rather shocking……well at least to some.  Employees at 60% of those
companies rated their organizations as weak when it came to turning strategic intent into
results. You are not alone! When they were asked if they agreed with the following statement –
“Important strategic and operational decisions are quickly translated into action”, the majority
said no. You are not alone. 25% of those surveyed came from the executive ranks, traditionally
the architects of the plans! Are you one of them?

The conclusion that must be drawn, for at least those companies surveyed, is that strategic and
operational planning yields a low ROI. Arguably a waste of time and money. The scope and
breadth of the study would suggest that your company, no matter how big or small or the
country/culture or the sector, is not maximizing the payback for the resources being expended
on your planning processes……strategic, operational or project based.

The results are not likely surprising to most leaders. Experience at even implementing small
changes is often fraught with frustration and disappointing results. How come?

Well the 2008 study goes on to identify what matters most when it comes to plan execution.
The results may surprise you. The first thing that managers often think to do when strategy fails
is to re-organize. The results are often disappointing and in some situations worse. Introducing
new technology and processes, initiating training and motivational programs or hiring ‘stars’
too often yield short term or little impact on the bottom line.

The research finds that what is often neglected is a very short list of the post powerful drivers
of strategic execution.

eighth habitOf the 17 traits that contribute to effective implementation, one was ranked, BY FAR as the
most important. What is it?….. clarity on individual decisions and actions that contribute to the
strategic success of the organization. More recent evidence corroborates the earlier report,
some more shocking than the earlier study. A major study reported in Steven Covey’s, ‘The
Eighth Habit’, says that only 37% of employees have a clear understanding of what their
organization is trying to achieve and why; and fewer (20%) really care. Only one in five can see a
connection between their work and the strategic direction of the organization. No wonder so
many see strategic planning retreats as a waste of time. Been there?

So what should you do to get better at plan execution? Well the HBR article, June 2008, ‘The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution’, actually gives you 17 things that you can do and may already be doing. But are you in good shape on the #1 trait? Do your people have crystal clear clarity on their actions and decisions that really matter? Are their objectives and plans laser aligned with the strategic priorities? Are they unstoppable when it comes to their commitment levels?

Keep tuned to this station for pragmatic and practical ideas on how to add a healthy dose of clarity to your planning……strategic, annual or for that critical project that you have been assigned.

Fred Pidsadny, Founder and President, FOCUS Management, Strategy Execution Specialists, Toronto. He can be reached at 905 945-0782  or

About the Author

Mississauga Board of Trade
Mississauga Board of Trade

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