Why strategic plans fail (and what to do about it)

Tips from expert facilitators on how to bring to life those strategic plans you have spent time, energy and money to create.

February 28, 2022

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

Strategic planning. Two of The. Most. Exciting words in the English dictionary. Oh ya, strategic planning really gets us going. 

What’s that? 

You don’t feel the same? 

While we really can’t understand why, apparently a lot of people are spooked by strategic planning. That’s why there are people like us - excellent facilitators - to get the juices flowing. When we get a group into a room, even the most cynical folks start to open up. Ideas begin to surface, problems are solved, challenges are tackled, the energy builds, and it all comes together through a pleasurable process that we put on the page and turn into a magical strategic plan.

Clients leave with a bounce in their step, freshly motivated and optimistic about the path forward. Ready to take on the world. 

Then, they get busy. Or they feel overwhelmed. The magical strategy sits on the side of the desk. Eventually, it’s moved to the shelf and then stuffed into a filing cabinet. The process grinds to a halt. 

We’ve seen it happen time and time again. Even the most on fire strategies can fizzle if the flames aren’t fed. In fact, many studies have shown that between 65 and 70 per cent of strategic plans fail. 

We’ve also seen groups execute wildly successful strategic plans. Teams that have tended the fire, fanned the flames and reaped the warmth of the burning embers.

Too much?

The bottom line is you can’t wish a strategic plan into place. It takes flexibility, ownership and change.


There seems to be a myth that if you identify a strategic plan and follow it, forever that’s what it shall be. That one-way, linear approach will get you nowhere fast. A strategy should unfold one stage at a time. When you hit a milestone, it’s time to stop, evaluate, and determine how to proceed. 

Through COVID-19, we’ve heard time and time again “we can’t have or follow a strategy because of the constantly changing health impacts and restrictions.”

We deeply disagree. To be successful, you should regularly re-evaluate how you’re moving on the strategy. In fact, as we face more uncertainty, like during COVID, those check-ins should be happening even more frequently. 

Implementing a strategic plan takes flexibility. Think of it as an ever-changing winding river. Not a hard brick road. 


Without someone to take ownership over a plan (either in its entirety or in sections), even the most brilliant strategy can be reduced to nothing more than a very expensive pile of paper. 

Having someone to coach the organization through the execution of the plan and help with accountability - can make or break the plan. 

That owner can be an external coach (like us), someone on the inside (think project manager or strategic planning office), or a special project-type role. Their job is to bring the team together week-to-week, month-to-month to talk about what people are working on, what blocks they’re experiencing and whether the tactics need to shift as priorities change. One of our most effective clients created ‘strategy owners’, responsible for the development, execution and monitoring of the plan. 

We are also doing this for a client right now. The nonprofit board from our last blog had an epiphany during the strategy session, but got stuck when it came time to implement. They didn’t know how to move forward. This is often how strategies end up collecting dust. Luckily, this group recognized it needed help. And help has arrived.


This is one of our more recent discoveries and has shifted how we approach strategies with our clients. Rather than thinking about the strategy as an accomplishment, we are focusing on the change it requires. 

Instead of asking “what are the things you’re going to get done?” we say “what is the change we want? What has to be true for this change to happen?” and then, “what initiatives are needed to bring about the change?” 

It’s a different way of thinking about it, and we’re getting different results. 

It makes sense, because when we create plans, people need to change. And sometimes they don’t want to. Instead of waiting until later to address that conflict, we are able to anticipate it and come up with ways to help people inside the organization embrace the change the plan is bringing. 

The strategy becomes a process of change with some employees taking more responsibility and initiative, while others who resist the change eventually move out of the organization. 

It’s a harder thought process, but we are finding our clients are more excited about the conversation, and frankly we see better quality plans emerging. 

Get excited. Get going. 

It sounds lame, but we really do get worked up about strategic planning. It rubs off on our clients too, especially in those initial sessions when we come up with all the ways to change the world. We all get pretty jacked up. 

The second most exciting part of the process is looking back at the plan and finding the wins. Seeing the change they’ve been able to make and how far they’ve come. It’s incredibly satisfying and brings us a lot of joy.

Strategies take a lot of work. Often a lot of money. And this is an important point - if you don’t spend the time and effort (and money) on planning the execution of the strategy, then you won’t get value from the strategic planning process itself.

Don’t let them fizzle out and become an ornament on your shelf. Do the work. And if it’s feeling overwhelming, call us. We’ll make sure you keep that fire burning.

Written by
Robin Parsons

Robin has more than twenty-five years of experience as an effective leader and strategic thinker. She helps organizations have better conversations that help them work together more effectively.

Read full Bio
About Us

Parsons Dialogue is based in Calgary, Canada, serving clients across North America. We design and facilitate strategic processes that help teams collaborate with clarity and confidence.

Learn more
Arrow pointing right

Tap into your team’s problem solving potential

Explore our services