Plan for Success: Avoid These Mistakes
Strategic planning can yield less-than-desirable results if you experience planning pitfalls. To prevent that from happening, avoid the following common traps:
- Leaving out key players. A strategic plan needs to account for all individuals, teams, and entities that have a stake in the organization’s work. This means involving players from both inside and outside the organization in the earliest stages of planning. While everyone cannot be involved in every step of the strategic planning process, find ways to invite participation from a broad representation of the early childhood community in various places along the creation and review of the strategic plan.
- 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 is not magic; you do not always get what you want or anticipate. The planning process includes research and investigation. Your investigation may yield results that clearly guide you not to go in a certain direction. Do not 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 necessary investment. Be realistic about what you can invest; that is, 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 is not 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 solid and reduce or resolve existing conflicts before embarking 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 aligning the process with your unique organizational needs. Consider a simpler process or one that is more robust based on organizational culture.
- Avoiding “no.” Strategy is about defining specifically 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 possible actions but says “no” to others. If your mission statement is so broad that it encompasses everything, or if your values statement praises all that is good, or finally, if your strategy strives to address every issue, 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; and 3) what best drives your resource engines (time, money, staff).”
- Not connecting to actions. Your strategic planning efforts can result in a reasonable approach to improving supports and services for children and families—but then nothing happens. Everyone goes back to the office and proceeds as if nothing has changed. Without action steps to implement the plan, the big picture strategy is useless. To develop those steps, the team must identify what actions are necessary to carry out the strategy. Devote resources—staff and money—to the implementation phase.
- Using vague action steps. These are examples of vague action steps: “We’ll work smarter, not harder,” “We will foster a culture of accountability,” or “We will honor our partners and clients.” These sentiments lack specificity and are sometimes listed as action steps, but they fail to clearly state how goals will be achieved. A good set of action steps helps people to know what to do first. If your strategic plan fails to define what tasks the key team members will complete and by when, then it needs to be revised. Good action steps need to outline responsible parties, specific tasks, and a definitive timeline.
A good strategic plan does more than urge an organization toward a goal or vision. A good strategic plan plainly acknowledges the challenges being faced and provides an approach to overcoming them. The greater the challenge, the more a good strategy needs to focus and coordinate efforts to achieve powerful results.
 Collins, J. (2005). Good to Ggreat and the Ssocial Ssectors: Why business thinking is not the answer, p. 19. HarperCollins. by Jim Collins, page 19, Hedgehog Concept.