4 Reasons Leaders Hesitate to Improve Strategic Planning Processes
April 23, 2024
4 Reasons Leaders Hesitate to Improve Strategic Planning Processes

4 Reasons Leaders Hesitate to Improve Strategic Planning Processes

Navigating the landscape of strategic planning can often feel like charting a course through turbulent waters. As a company focused on building a solution for Strategic Planning and Execution, we've had the privilege of engaging with numerous Strategy and Operations Leaders, each facing unique challenges and striving for greater success.

While an overwhelming majority of leaders are quick to share that their company’s strategic planning process needs to be transformed for the better, there is often hesitation in taking action. Through these interactions, we’ve identified four common barriers to progress that continue to hinder organizations from reaching their full potential in strategic planning.

We explore these challenges below and share how embracing change can pave the way for transformative strategic growth.

1) Waiting for the “Right Time”

"We’ll wait until the next planning cycle to take a look into making improvements."

In the realm of strategic planning, the phrase "We’ll wait until the next planning cycle to take a look" is all too familiar. But here's the thing: if you keep putting off revamping your strategic planning process, chances are, you'll find yourself in the same spot next quarter or next year.

One common belief is that next year's planning cycle will bring the perfect opportunity for change. But the truth is, trying to change your strategic planning process during the planning cycle itself is too late. By then, you're already too far down the path to make any meaningful change.

We see that the companies who do Strategic Planning at a world-class level don’t wait for the stars to align. They tackle the need for change head-on, and they acknowledge and embrace the change management that will be required.

Emma Bates, Head of Operational Business Excellence at Holiday Extras, emphasizes the importance of focusing on the need for change rather than waiting for the perfect timing. For her team, it was about seizing the opportunity for growth, even if it meant allocating significant time, attention, and focus to make it work.

“There was no point in time where we thought that we can't do it until a certain point in time,” shares Emma. “(The rollout of Elate) fit very well with our fiscal year. It wasn't a deliberate act. It was something we had to make a change on and do that fast if we were to start seeing growth.” 

The last part is key. “We had to make a change… to start seeing growth.”

Many organizations want the results without the intentional change. Or, they are hoping that the perfect time will magically appear. And if that’s the case, they will be waiting for a long time.

Making these changes isn't something you can do overnight. Just like you wouldn't walk into a gym after a year of inactivity and expect to lift heavy weights, effective strategic planning takes building muscle memory around the process to actually put that form into use.

So, if you’re eyeing a transformation in next year’s strategic planning process, the time to act is now. Start laying the groundwork with a solid operating rhythm, and improve communication within your team. It’s not about waiting for the stars to align; it’s about seizing the opportunity to turn your strategic vision into reality.

Related: Guide to Building a Successful Operating Rhythm

2) Too Many “Priorities” at the Leadership Level

"Leadership has way too many priorities right now."

Leadership inundated with priorities is a common scenario in today's organizational landscape. But amidst the chaos, one thing is clear: expecting executives to take on yet another responsibility without addressing existing challenges is simply unrealistic.

Every executive we know is already overwhelmed with enough work on their plate. They juggle countless goals, initiatives, and objectives, often unsure of how to manage them all. Additionally, they might find themselves spending more time gathering updates and compiling reports than actually delivering on those goals.

Because of this, we see that holding a leadership position within an organization ensures two things: First, they are the owners of critical objectives that are essential for the company’s success. Second, rest assured that the list of priorities only grows over time.

Considering this heavy workload, who can blame any executive team member for not wanting yet another thing to do?

Approaching an executive with requests for additional tools or process modifications may meet resistance, as they likely feel overwhelmed with existing priorities. 

But it is the responsibility of Strategy and Operations Leaders to communicate the value of why the upfront effort in creating a strategic planning process that drives visibility, alignment, and accountability will help them and their teams actually more effectively achieve their goals.

How can you help executives shift from spending so much time tracking down updates to automating that process? How can you empower them to more proactively monitor their team’s objectives and show them how cross-functional project delays impact their outcomes?  It's essential to question whether the current process is truly working and whether maintaining the status quo will yield different results in the long run.

Chad Flynn, Chief of Staff at Pearl Meyer, recognized the status quo was no longer an option. Implementing Elate helped them prioritize key objectives effectively, eliminating non-essential tasks masquerading as objectives.

“One of the things Elate did was help us to really get crisp on what were the most important objectives to be focusing on,” shared Chad. “In years past, we had too many objectives that weren’t really objectives.”

Often, strategic planning produces a laundry list of objectives that absolutely must get done. However, most of the time, those objectives aren’t mission-critical outcomes that the business has to achieve.

Further, those objectives aren’t revisited to validate whether they should still be objectives.

At Elate, we emphasize that the operating rhythm and cadence in place for regularly reviewing your strategy should bring up the question of ‘persist or pivot?’ As in, do we continue prioritizing this objective, or has the course of time and other events led us to shifting priorities? 

As the saying goes, “Pressure is a privilege.” For Strategy and Operations Leaders, the responsibility to execute the most important, coveted plan is a privilege. And it's challenging. But those who lean in and maintain focus on what matters and why (the process), while creating psychological safety (the people), are the ones who will succeed.

It’s imperative for Strategy and Operations Leaders to bridge the gap between the overwhelming workload of executives and the necessity for process improvement. By demonstrating the tangible benefits of refining processes, we can pave the way for enhanced productivity and goal achievement across the organization.

3) Behavior Change is Daunting

"Right now just isn’t a good time to introduce a behavioral change at the leadership level."

Let’s be frank; driving behavior change within any organization is a formidable task.

This challenge is particularly pronounced at the leadership level, especially when it comes to reshaping behaviors around the strategic planning process for Strategy and Operations Leaders.

Most leadership teams, and teams in general, are hesitant to introduce yet another process or software solution into their daily operations. Understandably so.

Teams are already overwhelmed with a plethora of software tools, and the last thing they want is to add more processes for the sake of it. Consequently, we've observed resistance from other members of leadership teams against altering a strategic planning and reporting process that's often clearly broken.

While the feeling of software fatigue and the complexity of implementing change management are valid concerns, are they sufficient reasons to maintain the broken processes in place?

For many organizations, issues like lack of visibility, alignment, and a unified view that empowers team members to understand how their individual work contributes to the overall strategy are real obstacles.

But avoiding difficult conversations and leadership-level changes isn't a reason to allow these problems to persist.

Margie Eggen, Chief of Staff at Seismic, is well-acquainted with the challenge of driving behavioral change. However, Seismic embraced the challenge head-on. 

“We're going to be accountable and make incremental progress towards this, even if it's inch by inch, and really drive this organizational mindset shift,” shares Margie. “We’re not just going to go into our silos and do work for the sake of work…Lift your eyes a little bit and see what the bigger goal is.”

While change won’t happen overnight, Seismic serves as a prime example of an organization that addresses the challenge of alignment and visibility head-on. They also highlight how they don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.

Part of what enables Seismic to consistently elevate their strategic planning is the environment they've fostered internally, where team members feel empowered to raise their hand when Objectives are At Risk or Behind.

They’ve effectively communicated the “why” throughout the business, and have alignment on how they establish, review, and take action on their strategic direction.

So, rather than letting the fear of driving behavior change impede your team’s strategic planning process, view it as an opportunity to convey how this process will empower all leaders and their teams to execute their goals more effectively. By fostering a culture of accountability, embracing incremental progress, and championing a shared vision, organizations can navigate the complexities of change and emerge stronger than ever before.

4) Concerns of Data Integrity

"We need to clean up our data before doing something like this."

For Strategy and Operations leaders aiming to elevate their strategic planning process, it's common to believe that all of the company's data needs to be thoroughly vetted and cleaned up first. While data integrity is indeed crucial, it shouldn't become a barrier to improvement.

As a business leader, you're tasked with tracking hundreds of metrics, and oftentimes, those metrics shift based on requests from board members, other internal stakeholders, or insights gleaned from new data points. While many of these metrics are vital to success, data hygiene can often become a never-ending battle that brings to mind the aphorism 'perfect is the enemy of good.'

Far too often, leaders are overwhelmed with the process of cleaning up their data. They aim to achieve an end-state for how they report information from Salesforce, Jira, or other tools. Instead of focusing on the most important metrics, they try to ensure that absolutely everything is 100% accurate.

What leaders really need to move their strategic planning process and visibility forward is a focus on fundamental, yet vital metrics deemed essential to the business. These metrics often include revenue targets, opportunities, and customer data.

For most companies, if these metrics can't be tracked today and there's hesitancy about putting them on a scorecard, it might indicate a broader transparency or accountability issue.

We often emphasize the phrase "what gets measured matters." If the goal is to increase revenue by a certain percentage this year, then revenue becomes the metric of utmost importance.

To Lou Desiderio, COO at Form Assembly, it’s about focusing their execution on just the core metrics that drive success.

“We have a high-level dashboard that provides the foundation for our progress, and we look at it during meetings and ask ourselves ‘okay, what do we need to do differently? What’s our call to action?’”

For Lou, having just those key metrics visible keeps the team focused on what’s important and enables the team to ask the right questions.

Data hygiene is a continuous journey, not a final destination. Even after polishing up your data, there will always be new features to track, additional SKUs to add, and more custom objects to incorporate into your CRM. 

Your data will never achieve perfection, but that shouldn't be an excuse to delay fundamental improvements in your strategic planning processes.

Now is the Time to Level Up Your Strategic Planning Processes

In the realm of strategic planning, inertia is the enemy of progress. By procrastinating change, Strategy and Operations Leaders risk perpetuating the same cycle of inefficiency and missed opportunities.

As we've seen from the experiences shared by industry leaders like Emma Bates of Holiday Extras, Chad Flynn of Pearl Meyer, Margie Eggen of Seismic, and Lou Desiderio from FormAssembly, the path to success lies in seizing the moment, fostering a culture of accountability, and championing incremental progress. So, embrace the challenge of driving behavior change, armed with the knowledge that each step forward brings you closer to a future defined by strategic clarity, alignment, and achievement.

If any of this resonates and you’re interested in learning more about how we're working with world-class Strategy and Operations Leaders, we’d love to connect with you. Whether you are at the stage of needing a solution like Elate or just simply looking for advice on introducing a new operating framework, we’re here to help. Built by Strategy and Operations Leaders for Strategy and Operations Leaders, Elate is the leading Strategic Planning and Execution platform for today’s growing companies.

Request a Demo and See Elate in Action