Strategic Plans

Strategic planning can yield less than desirable results if you end up in one of the possible planning pitfalls. To prevent that from happening, here’s a list of the most common traps to avoid:


  • Not having a burning platform. A strategic plan is an outstanding tool if you use it. But you and everyone on your team need to agree on why this effort is important so the plan gets used. What is your burning platform that is causing you to invest in this effort now?
  • Relying on bad information, too little information, or no information. A plan is only as good as the information on which it is based. Too often teams rely on untested assumptions or hunches, erecting their plans on an unsteady foundation.
  • Ignoring what your planning process reveals. Planning isn’t magic: you can’t always get what you want. The planning process includes research and investigation. Your investigation may yield results that tell you not to go in a certain direction. Don’t ignore that information.
  • Being unrealistic about your ability to plan. Put planning in its place. It takes time and effort to plan well. Some organizations or partnerships want the results but aren’t willing or able to make the investment. Be realistic about what you can invest. Find a way to plan that suits your available resources, including your time, energy, and money.
  • Planning for planning’s sake. Planning can become a substitute for action. Don’t plan so much that you ignore the execution. Well-laid plans take time to carry out, and results take time to yield an outcome.
  • Not having your house in order first. Planning can reveal that your organization isn’t in order. When an organization pauses to plan, issues that have been buried or put on the back burner come to the forefront and can easily derail its planning efforts. Make sure your organization or partnership is in order and reduce conflicts that exist before you embark on strategic planning.
  • Ignoring your culture and organizational readiness. Strategy and culture are intimately intertwined. With that in mind, adapt your planning to fit what you know works for your current organizational rhythm, philosophy, and needs. A big pitfall is not fitting the process to your organizational needs. Consider a simpler process or one that’s more robust based on the organizational culture.
  • Avoiding “no.” Strategy is about defining what your organization or partnership will do to achieve its goals. No agency or partnership, however, can do everything. A good strategy says “yes” to some actions, but says “no” to others. If your mission statement is so broad that it encompasses everything, if your values statement praises all that is good, or if your strategy says that you will be all things to all, then you need to learn to say no. Saying no is about being disciplined to 1) what your organization stands for (values) and why it exists (mission);2) what your organization can uniquely contribute to the people it touches; 3) what best drives your resource (time, money, staff).
  • Not connecting to actions. Your strategic planning can produce a reasonable approach to improving supports and services for children and families, and then nothing happens. Everyone goes back to the office and proceeds as if nothing has changed. Without action steps, the big picture strategy is useless. To develop those steps, the team must identify actions that are necessary to carry out the strategy. Devote resources—staff and money—to implementation.
  • Using vague action steps. These are examples of vague action steps: “We’ll work smarter, not harder,” “We’ll foster a culture of accountability,” or “We will honor our partners and clients.” These vague thoughts are sometimes listed as action steps, but they fail to do the job. A good set of action steps helps people to know what to do first. If your strategic plan fails to define what the key team members will do and by when, then it needs good action steps with a definitive timeline.

A good strategic plan does more than urge stakeholders forward toward a goal or vision. A good strategic plan honestly acknowledges the challenges being faced and provides an approach to overcoming them. And the greater the challenge, the more a good strategy focuses and coordinates efforts to achieve powerful results or problem-solving efforts.