5 Common Strategy Mistakes

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Article by 
Tom Wright
  —  Published 
October 28, 2022
June 7, 2023

What are Common Strategy Mistakes?

You've probably heard the statistic that over 90% of strategies in organizations fail.

We see our fair share of both successes and failures here at Cascade, so in this post, we're going to dive into the 5 most common strategy mistakes we see people make.

This list of common strategy mistakes includes mistakes in both the planning and execution phases.

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1) Front-loading your strategy

We've all been there...You come up with an awesome new strategic direction for your company. You arrange a strategy off-site with your team and write down this awesome plan of action.

Then....it all fizzles out within a few weeks and you're back to square one. This happens when organizations put all of their strategic energy into ideation leaving nothing behind for the long, hard execution phase.

A successful strategy builds slowly over time, and eases into becoming 'business as usual'. That means being pragmatic about the start dates for the goals in your plan, and allowing yourself time and space to finish the things you're currently working on.

2) Ignoring culture

While smart ideas and dynamic strategies are great - they're worthless without the right mechanism to implement them. That mechanism is your people – from the head office to the front line. If the culture of the organization is not conducive to engagement and transparency, implementing any strategy is going to be an uphill struggle.

You won't get live feedback on what's working and what's not - and the chances of your strategy truly delivering are going to be pretty slim. Make an honest assessment of your organization's culture. Ask yourself questions like:

Do my people feel comfortable telling me when things aren't working?

Is my plan all my own work, or has it been informed by debate and engagement with my staff?

Take the time to address any cultural deficit you might perceive before you embark on any kind of major strategic change.

3) Relying on others to tell you what to do

Millions if not billions of dollars are spent on third-party consultants - and often that spend relates to helping organizations with their strategies.

Consultants most definitely have a valuable role to play in this regard - but good consultants will be those that help YOU come up with your own strategy - rather than doing it for you.

No one knows your business as you do - and no one is better placed to know what will work with your people, than you and your trusted team of internal colleagues. If you're working with consultants, ask them the right questions.

They can be great for helping you to find frameworks, methodologies, and tools to create and execute strategy. But they shouldn't be telling you directly what to do. Use your own people and your own experiences for that.

4) Thinking that 'growth' is a strategy

Number 4 on our list of common strategy mistakes involves the actual content of your strategy. So many strategic plans have top-line goals related to growth. 'Be a million $ company'. 'Triple our revenues'. etc.

Growth isn't a strategy! Everyone wants to grow! Growth is the thing that happens when you successfully implement a strategy.

The strategy itself needs to be far more specific about exactly how your company, with your particular strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities will thrive.

There's nothing wrong with including ambitious financial KPIs in your strategic plan. But these form one of the measures of success rather than one of the top line focus areas or organizational goals.

5) Over-complicating strategy

You can expend a great deal of time and money on building complex strategy models and frameworks. They certainly have a place in helping to shape your thinking - but strategy in essence is extremely simple.

What do we need to do? How do we do it? Are we doing it?

There's nothing wrong with having some frameworks in place. But make sure that they're simple enough for everyone to understand. The moment that a strategy becomes complex and elitist, is the moment it can no longer succeed.

At the absolute most, we always recommend no more than two dimensions for framing your strategy. One of our favorites is McKinsey's Strategic Horizons - it's simple, everyone understands it AND it makes you consider critical aspects of strategy that will help you succeed in both the short and longer terms.

In Summary

In addition to our list of common strategy mistakes - the one other thing I'd add as advice is to never underestimate the importance of your people in strategic change.

As the leader of strategy - you are the catalyst of change - but it's the people of the organization that will carry your vision and turns it into reality. Yet so often, human psychology is an afterthought to the planning process, rather than a foundation.

Keeping this one fact at the forefront of your mind will help you to avoid not just the common strategy mistakes outlined above - but many more as well.

We'd love to hear your additions, thoughts, and personal experiences of common strategy mistakes you've made in the comments below.

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