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3 Reasons Even the Best Strategic Plan Can Fail

At the end of 2016, many sales leaders were putting the finishing touches to their 2017 strategic plans. As they return from their holiday break they are likely to be gearing-up for glitzy kick-off meetings to get their teams energized and ready to hit a whole new slew of targets.

But often it’s only at this time of the year that the strategic plans are discussed at all. Given the substantial time and cost made in creating them, this “set it and forget it” approach is not the best use of resources.

Three Problems to Avoid

There are three common reasons even the best strategic plans can fail to be successfully implemented, and also examples of what progressive companies do to overcome them.

1. Personal and corporate goals aren’t aligned: All too often firms fail to align individual efforts with top business priorities. This situation leads to a disconnection between the organization’s overarching business goals and the objectives of individual business units, leaving employees unable to understand and appreciate the impact of their performance on the company’s business outcomes.

One member company in CEB’s networks developed a goal “cascading” method to address this issue. Starting at the top, sales executives create business-unit level objectives mapped directly to corporate ones set by the CEO. The goals are then cascaded down to the front line, with managers at each level mapping their own goals to the level above.

This allows employees at all levels to easily understand how their goals align with corporate strategy. CEB Sales Leadership Council members can read more about this tactic on the dedicated website.

2. Strategic assumptions go unchallenged: One of the biggest breakdowns in implementing strategic plans comes from senior managers failing to explain the assumptions that a strategy is based on. Although strategy must be set at the top, the justifications for strategic decisions are not always made clear further down the organization. This frequently results in pushback and debate rather commitment to the strategy.

To combat this, one firm in CEB’s networks began documenting the assumptions that support its strategy and communicating them to the entire organization. Sellers are encouraged to challenge these assumptions (such as the spending power of the middle class in a particular emerging market) as they see them changing within their daily commercial interactions — essentially pressure testing the strategy in real time.

This harnesses the observational power of the entire salesforce, allowing for informed strategy shifts. Perhaps more importantly, the process ensures a high degree of buy-in from sellers.

3. Requests for sellers’ time aren’t aligned with strategic priorities: As the old saying goes “If everything is important, nothing is important.” Without a way to prioritize, sellers simply can’t make sense of all of the requests pulling them in different directions, and still focus on aligning their work with corporate strategy.

Another firm in CEB’s networks built a set of filters to screen requests for reps’ time and ensure that only the most important tasks — ones that align directly with strategy — end up on a seller’s to-do list. It also established a priority map for tasks that make it through the filter, allowing reps to know exactly where they should be focusing their time and efforts.

Contributed by CEB, a best practice insight and technology company. Read more CEB blogs here.

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