7 strategic planning mistakes most leaders make

We hate to break it to you but if you haven’t started thinking about the first quarter of 2020 yet, you’re already behind. Here’s the hard truth: the most successful and innovation of leaders are not only one step ahead but they’re comfortable there, armed with data and measurable goals that can take their career and their company to the next level.

Even if you are a superstar in your field, having the ability to pause, think critically and plan for how you will get from point A to point B is the secret to success. If you want to improve your blueprints and roadmaps here executives share the biggest mistakes leaders make, along with solutions on how to improve, stat:

You don’t include management in planning.

When you’re at the helm of a company, serving as both the face and the voice of the brand, it’s normal to feel responsibility for achievements. But when you think critically about what makes the ship sail, you definitely aren’t minding the whole boat all by yourself. Even so, many times managers are left out of the strategic planning process, even though they are running the day-to-day execution.

Founder of CFOShare, LJ Zuzuki says this hurts businesses in two ways: first by alienating management from the owner’s vision, which decreases happiness and retention. And secondly, it disregards the unique — and invaluable! — insights tactical managers bring to the table. “One of our clients wanted to incentivize employees with a bonus program, but her manager commented that such a program would not be valued by the staff. Instead, they wanted mentorship to learn advanced skills to progress their career,” Suzuki provides as an example. “Without such insight from her manager, the owner almost created an unnecessary expense and missed an opportunity to improve her team’s skill set. Get your management involved in strategic planning and listen to their ideas.”

You don’t consider people and culture early enough

At the heart of every company isn’t revenue streams. Or profit margins. Or market fluctuations. It’s the people. And while many employers understand this from a holistic perspective, few actually put it into practice when planning. In fact, the founder of Wrk/360 Mary Beth Ferrante says all too often, the ‘people impact’ aspects of strategic setting comes at the end of the process, when resources are being allocated to new initiatives and goals. This is a tough place to put your workers, since the decisions are already and now, essentially, you’re merely doing damage control. A more effective and employee-first way to approach planning is inviting your people to lead and have a seat at the table from day one. “This ensures that companies integrate their new initiatives and goals with the culture they have built or are trying to build,” she adds.

You bold statements and goals without data. 

While many entrepreneurs find success at the start of their careers thanks to intuition, as the company scales, so does the thinking process. As Suzuki explains, at a certain scale, business becomes too complex for a single person to fully grasp. This makes data one of those undeniable truths that have to be included in every decision. To really prepare leaders for making smart assessments for what’s possible and what’s not, Suzuki suggests looking at these data sets: 

  • -Historic KPI’s
  • -Historic financials
  • -Variance analysis vs. budget
  • -12-month forecast
  • -The draft budget for the following year

And you should make sure to include qualitative data, too.  Many leaders look at quantitative data to make long and short-term decisions. Leadership development and career expert Eliazabeth Whittaker-Walker says this offers a deeper lens into the human experiences that drive performances and outcomes. “There are some things that simply can’t be quantified,” she explains. “As leaders plan for the coming year, ensure that your data collection and evaluation processes include qualitative measures to more deeply understand organizational attitudes, relationships, beliefs and opinions.”

You choose ambiguous goals, rather than tactical ones

Without fail, every year, leaders will experience an uptick in anxiety levels when the planning season begins. Thanks to the pressure mounting to be smarter, leaner and more strategic than before, it’s common to jump to random goals, rather than tactical ones, according to chief brand and engagement officer at EHE Health, Joy Altimare.

When you set a mile marker that doesn’t have any real direction on how to reach it, your year is set up to fizzle. “if you don’t have focused and measurable goals for the new year, you will fail,” she explains. “It’s important that you, as a leader, have a strategic and actionable plan that is clear, cogent and precise so that your team understands the impact of their contribution and has a purpose when they come to work every day.” 

You are afraid of risks

According to Suzuki, a common strategic plan is to increase sales X-percent. Or to expand an existing product line. “These are good goals, but remember businesses need to continuously adapt,” he continues. “Your strategic plan should include experiments and risks in new products or services, new positions or roles, new processes or technology, and so on.” It may be disheartening if experiments don’t come to fruition as you had hoped, but it’s not really the point. Rather, having a spirit of innovation allows brands to capitalize on the next undiscovered opportunities. As Suzuki puts it, otherwise, you’ll find yourself the next buggy whip-maker. 

You don’t give yourself enough time to plan.

Remember how we told you were sadly already late to the party? Take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves and start setting aside time right now. Though some leaders will schedule an hour-or-two brainstorming session, Whittaker-Walker says it’s not enough to develop a comprehensive approach. To have the best chance at meeting your goals, she recommends compare calendars nine to 12 months in advance and have staff members block their calendars early. “Plan for up to six meetings over the course of 2 months, for smaller plans and up to a six-month equivalent for a multi-year or first time plan,” she adds.