Boriana Valentinova

Why do action plans fail?

So, you have your business goal and roadmap to start your business or transform an existing one. Next comes your action plan. It is an exciting step as it means getting things done, making changes, and moving forward. However, a massive percentage of start-ups or transformations fail at this stage: at the execution.

Usually, there is nothing wrong with the action plan. It has all the milestones, all the right activities and all the correct schedules. But somehow, it fails. The root causes are mainly 4: goal definition, poor planning, resistance to change and ego.

1. Goal Definition

Consider this goal: I want to make enough money.

Sounds fantastic, but as J.D. Rockefeller Sr. said, if it is your only goal is to become rich, you will never achieve it. If money is the only thing you are trying to accomplish in life, then you never will because money is not a destination, but a means to get to the actual destination. So, ask yourself this: What is being rich mean? And what will you do with the money? How will you make it happen?

This is just an example. The point is that you must be specific when defining your goal. This way will be possible to direct your action plan in the right direction, focus, and get the people you need to help you on board. If your goal is too ambitious or completely disjoined from your reality, achieving it is mission impossible.

So, redefine your goal into something like this: I want to save $XX/year and retire by the age of 40.

2. Poor planning

You’ve probably seen this picture a million times, but look at it once more and imagine that person at the bottom is you facing the goal you are setting for yourself. How can you possibly climb that slop without ropes, axe and training?

Then imagine, instead of slop, that you a facing a staircase. All you have to do is take one step at a time. How much more achievable is that? A detailed action plan. So, instead of imposing on yourself and your team impossible actions like secure financing, creating the best working environment or even developing the most advanced microchip, define specific activities that are realistic and attainable.

Consider these:
  • Prepare a sales deck for financial institutions.
  • Establish a meeting governance structure for teams to interact, and share progress and feedback.
  • Develop a next-generation x12speed more miniature microchip.
Keep the big slogans for communicating your vision and break it down into tangible goals and steps to create your action plan.
But, planning doesn’t stop here. It goes beyond just putting the actions and activities needed to grow or change. Planning must include the resources: what do you need to do these actions, and how are you going to get it?
Business resources are usually grouped into financing, assets, people and time. And all of them must be planned for and considered in an action plan. For example, you can’t possibly develop a software platform without the proper IT infrastructure (asses), talent (people), investment (financing) and quickly (time). So, plan realistically for all that when you break down your goals into actions.

3. Resistance to change

In business, many tend to ignore or misunderstand one crucial figure: the stakeholder.
A stakeholder is any person who has a direct interest or is somehow affected by your future business or company transformation. It could be partners, key customers, suppliers, family, or even somebody you might not know yet. It could also be your boss. Managers or colleagues from other departments can be your stakeholders if you work in an organisation.
Your success depends on the buy-in of these people. If they are not on board, you won’t make it. When people don’t know what you’re doing, they consider it a threat to their comfort zone and build walls, handicap your progress. Resistance to change is challenging to tackle and usually assumed to disappear with progress or even delegated to others to deal with it. That’s a recipe for disaster.
As a business owner or change driver, you must identify your stakeholders and communicate with them. Bring everybody on the same page and share your plans and the benefits everyone will see in this project. As unbelievable as it might seem, communication is the key to addressing resistance to change (get more guidance here).

4. Ego

A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance is like a double-edged sword. On the one end, it can drive you to achieve incredible things and bravery. On the other, it might destroy you. Ego handicaps us often from thinking objectively and estimating our potential and knowledge.
It takes courage to become an entrepreneur or lead an organisation through complex transformation and growth. It also takes a continuously learning curve. Overestimating one own’s skills and knowledge leads to incorrect goal setting, resource estimation and market understanding. It also leads to an autocratic leadership style, mechanical thinking and not learning from mistakes.

And you don’t want that for your business if you want to last.

So, assume that you know little or nothing about the upcoming change. Open up to learning, rethinking and rediscovering. Involve your team in the planning process. Consequently, you will find solutions out of the box and support from many. Then you can set realistic actions, pick the right team, and convince your stakeholders. Ultimately you will get everyone on board and build your business.

Action plans work when they are based on realistic goals, activities are of smaller scopes, resources are in place, and resistance to change is managed through involvement and communication. Of course, an action plan will never be accurate and attainable 100%. There will always be changes and adaptations. But with the proper focus, resources and management style, you can execute actions on time.

Seems pretty straightforward. It is, in most cases:-)