3 Early Pitfalls to Avoid when Strategic Planning

Does this sound familiar? Someone says he wants to change his life, but then gets in the way of his own well-intentioned goals. What’s true of a weight-loss plan or an earnest effort to improve a relationship is also true of a good-faith desire to engage in strategic planning – sometimes clients can be their own worst enemies.

In our last blog post we talked about how strategic planning guides intentional change-making. We presented the process Bloom uses to build an organization’s ability to self-manage. In this post, we’re going to discuss what can be thought of as “reluctant” or “sabotaging” behaviors. These behaviors can be conscious, but often they’re not – acting instead as subconscious indicators of an organization’s resistance to change. Intentional or not, such behaviors can crop up at any time and impede the strategic planning process. In this blog, we highlight red flags that may be present before strategic planning even gets underway – and which must be addressed and resolved for a successful planning process and outcome.


1. Authority. The first potential red flag involves “authority.” At a high level, the above graphic, adapted from work by Ashley Jochim at the Center on Reinventing Public Education captures key conditions requisite for successful strategic change to occur. Jochim’s emphasis on authority frames one of our first questions to a prospective strategic planning client: Who in your organization has the authority to approve, direct, and execute a strategic plan? In early conversation, it’s often an assistant or deputy-level employee who recognizes the need for strategic planning, but who’s not empowered with the authority to act on it. She has her finger on a real need, but needs access to, and the ability to influence, the decision-making leader who will ultimately have responsibility for the planning process and outcomes.

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2. Organizational Readiness. That said, authority alone does not ensure a successful planning process. A second potential red flag is organizational readiness. Sometimes boards of directors will approach us about strategic planning while their organization is in leadership transition. They mistakenly believe strategic planning is a mechanism to bridge this transition. This error is compounded when the new executive director comes on board and is handed…a strategic plan she had no part in developing. That said, the strategic planning process can begin (including research and visioning, and maybe high-level initiative setting) while the outgoing leader is still on board. The potential value in this scenario is the development of a partial plan that informs the selection of a new leader with the right qualities to carry out the organization’s evolving vision. The new leader can then take on the remainder of the planning process and own responsibility for implementation. In this way, she can be fully invested in a plan in which she was involved, rather than one which she inherited.

Is the timing right for your organization to consider a new direction?
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3. Funding. A third potential red flag is funding. If a client approaches us without a clear sense of budget for the project, it may indicate a lack of understanding about strategic planning generally. It may also reveal a lack of clarity about their involvement in, and goals for, the process. It’s important for clients to conduct prior due diligence to understand the range of possible costs for a comprehensive strategic planning process (including pricing, timing, and resource requirements) and budget accordingly for them. This is especially important in situations where the organization doesn’t plan to implement a formal competitive bidding process.

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involved with strategic planning, and are you able to provide for them? 

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Unaddressed and unresolved red flags, like those described here, are threats to a successful strategic planning process, which is why we address them directly during preliminary sales meetings and the final project proposal: We work to ensure the conditions are right for strategic planning before strategic planning even begins. We maintain this watchful perspective even through the project’s kickoff meeting.

If you or your organization are contemplating a new strategic vision, Bloom recommends serious consideration of the following questions as your first step:

  1. Do the leaders of your organization support this work? (Authority)

  2. Is the timing right to consider a new direction? (Organizational Readiness)

  3. Do you understand the financial costs and organizational resources involved, and are you able to provide for them? (Funding)

These are issues that are healthy to consider regardless of whether you decide to pursue strategic planning tomorrow or sometime in the future. Bloom is always happy to talk about these and other issues with prospective clients.