5 Common Strategy Mistakes

You’ve probably heard the statistic that over 70% of strategies in organizations fail. We see our fair share of both successes and failiures 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 like 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 to 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 turn 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.

Claim your FREE 14 day trial of Cascade

Cascade is the complete strategy execution platform and will help you to create your strategic plan and much more. Easy to use, incredibly powerful and trusted by some of the largest (and smallest) brands in the world. Pricing starts at $29 per month

Showing 3 comments
  • Alexis de Leffe

    Thank you Tom for this article.
    I would add that, in order to have the right timing with the right people, a strategy shall be followed by a detailed action plan, with clear schedule and objectives, and with a clear understanding of who the actors will be, with which responsibilities and target.
    The other point I would like to mention, is the importance of organisational change management which is, in itself, a whole field. Somebody able to do a great strategy might not be the right person to perform the corresponding changes in the company.

  • Boyd Park

    I could add a more important factor if I may
    There are too many self centered with their own agenda
    As long as they collect their pay checks etc they will sit while Rome burns nothing changes with frustrated lower managemt at end of tirades
    I work for myself so in charge of my own destiny but have many experiences of above and a lot of these organisations going to the wall because the principal goes down a vortex of delusion
    Hope that helps

  • Rahul Nimkar

    Nice article. For successful implementation, the strategy has to be further broken down into short term & altra short term budgets, function wise targets, etc. Continuous monitoring will further help in achieving the desired results.
    Further, technically, many strategies or budgets, plans fail to succeed if not supported with cash flow & projected Balance Sheets.

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