Four Pitfalls to Avoid in Board-Level Strategic Planning

a wooden dummy falling into a pitfall
Lisa Hochgraf Photo
Senior Editor

3 minutes

High Performing Board Digital Series presenter describes how to avoid key problems in your process.

Steve Morrissette has been in many boardroom strategic planning sessions—both as a director and as a consultant.

Visiting professor of strategy at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Morrissette led the April session of High Performing Boards Digital Series on strategic planning. In his presentation, Morrissette described the role of the board in strategic planning as detailed in a previous article. He also outlined four strategic planning pitfalls to avoid, the details of which are below.

Strategic Planning Pitfall No. 1: Not Everyone Is Heard  

The worst thing is for a board member to stick to the process, have ideas, have questions and never had said them,” Morrissette said in his session. “We often ask for their input but frankly sometimes we do it in a way that’s not that genuine. Or they say it and we don’t hear it.

“I recommend that every director is given a questionnaire and every board member is interviewed,” he added. “There is something to be said for one-on-one dialog. There’s also something to be said for … talking outside the board room. I’m not talking about hallway chat, but in a proper way make sure everyone gets heard.”

Additional tips for avoiding this pitfall:

  • Get the board’s input in advance
  • Don’t assume everyone is on the same page
  • Be sure all directors are “heard”; especially those with other views
  • Need to do a lot of work outside the boardroom

Strategic Planning Pitfall No. 2: Decisions Without Data  

Morrissette asked rhetorically, “Would you let a surgeon operate without any diagnostics?” That is, without having taken an X-ray or doing some blood work?

He emphasized that good planning can’t be done in a vacuum. Board members and executives need to look at what members are saying and at trends in the industry. “You need to make sure your decisions are based on data not just opinions or assumptions,” Morrissette said.

Strategic Planning Pitfall No. 3: Not Considering Alternatives  

Decision-making research shows that better results are obtained when decision-makers consider options—and often the third or fourth option discovered is the best, Morrissette said.

In addition, having talked about additional options can help leaders later if pivoting to “plan B” is warranted.

Morrissette recommended that executives recommend a path but discuss a few options so the board can consider things in context. “That’s how you notice differences and make sure you’re not just rubber stamping,” he said.

Strategic Planning Pitfall No. 4: Confirmation Bias and Rubber Stamping’

Decision bias is an important concern that the chosen process and the strategic planning facilitator must address, Morrissette said.

Some key things to do to avoid this pitfall include encouraging dissenters to challenge assumptions, getting views of staff members outside the C-suite, looking at data and being open-minded, being mindful of board culture and politics, and defining and then following your rules of engagement.

Lisa Hochgraf is senior editor of CUES.

Apply It to Your Boardroom

  • Which of these pitfalls has your board experienced?
  • Which of these pitfalls might be a danger for your board in the future?
  • How do the suggestions for avoiding or overcoming these problems seem like they would work for your board?
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