What to Do When Business Realities Get in the Way of Strategic Goals


Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth – Mike Tyson

A crude analogy, perhaps, but an apt one when it comes to strategic execution. No matter how carefully we plan out all possible iterations and situations, the punch – the one thing we didn’t expect – comes from left field.

There’s tremendous pressure on companies to deliver on strategic goals and priorities. Yet these priorities can fall by the wayside at the first sign of trouble in the trenches. Often, a company believes wholeheartedly their strategy will drive them forward, but consistently acting on this strategy becomes an ongoing hardship. The 2013 PwC Global Performance Alignment Survey noted that 78% of business leaders believe they have defined the right purpose, vision and ambition to reach their full potential, only 54% said they were executing their strategies well.

Operational realities are the nitty gritty of being down in the trenches of the company every day. Often, what’s really going on can be vastly different from what the management team perceives when strategy is put in place. This is why careful attention must be paid during the planning and information-gathering stages – to ensure any strategic plan is grounded in the realities of the market.


To use a military analogy, strategy that is conceived in the office often doesn’t survive a single day in the trenches. You make a plan but when the enemy does something unexpected, you have to throw it all out and start again.

The key here is strategic risk assessment – ensuring operational risks are taken into account when creating and implementing strategy. The plan, and your implementation procedure, have to be flexible enough to pivot when something unexpected occurs. This means:

  • Identify relevant risk-factors during strategic planning – for this, it can help to have representatives across all levels of the organisation to ensure as many risks as possible are accounted for.
  • Embed risk-management into the standard operational routine – make this standard practice for everybody. Build a pervasive risk-culture at every level.
  • Create clear expectations around accountability for risk management – so everyone knows who they are accountable to and what for.
  • Establish guidelines for the company’s “risk-appetite” – level of acceptable and desired risk. If you want to be a market disruptor, you have to shoulder additional risks.


For our clients, we advocate adherence to a 90-day plan. This drills down strategy into actionable insights and projects that can be completed within a 90-day period.

90 days provides plenty of time to execute projects on a small-medium scale, while making inroads in goals within larger, longer-term projects. At the same time, it provides a framework to reassess and pivot strategy every three months as market changes, operational realities, and unexpected events are taken into account.

Checking in on strategy every 90 days ensures a strategic plan retains its relevance, is correctly focused and aligned, and can respond quickly to changes in the market.

Do your strategic goals align with what’s going on down in the trenches? Learn more about strategic planning and execution with our free guide, The Four Cornerstones of Strategic Execution.

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