Babette Bensoussan: The Pretenders of Strategic Planning

Commercial Intelligence
Babette Bensoussan
Babette Bensoussan

Mutters – The Pretenders of Strategic Planning

Have you heard….
“Strategy is a waste of time.”
“The agenda is just like last year where we achieved nothing.”
“We got no real direction, and nothing we agreed was ever implemented afterwards”.

Sound familiar?  The typical company strategy planning process involves a few days at a remote retreat where delegates pretend to listen to reviews of last year’s plans and performance and lists of next year’s goals.  Delegates use the time to read emails, tweet to friends on phones, laptops or iPads or leave the room for “urgent” matters.  Everyone has totally switched off.

At the end of 2 days of presentations or questions and answers, everyone pretends that “strategy has been done” for the year.  The CEO ticks off “strategy planning” as completed.  People comment on the venue and food whilst organisers are pleased that everything ran smoothly – even though no strategy has actually been developed.

It seems everyone is a pretender – delegates, the leaders and the facilitators.



  • Pretend to be there. They sit in the room, however, their minds are far away.
  • Pretend to listen. They may be twittering or chatting privately instead.
  • Pretend to ask a question.  A delegate asks a question of the CEO to look important or to get noticed.
  • Pretend to contribute to a strategy. A delegate makes a controversial statement that launches a debate on an unrelated matter that effectively draws attention away from developing a new strategy.
  • Pretend to act in the best interests of the organisation.  A delegate will present a reason why strategy shouldn’t be developed, creating a distraction from developing a strategy. 
  • Pretend the retreat was successful, even congratulating the CEO or facilitator on an excellent retreat.




  • Pretend that a venue makes a retreat.  Believing that being away from the office will ensure delegates are focused on strategic planning but allowing delegates to continue to be connected to friends etc through technology.
  • Pretend that the purpose of the retreat is to allow the group to co-create a strategy.  Sometimes the leader has already developed the strategy but wants the team to believe they participated.
  • Pretend that presenting a strategy is enough to excite and inspire others.  They try to gain buy-in to the strategy by a pretend question and answer session.




  • Pretend it is possible for a team to develop a vision of the future without considering how the future may be different from today.  Did they discuss how shifting trends in political, economic, social, technological, market and competitor environments could change the rules for being successful in future?
  • Pretend it is possible for a group of bored people to create a brilliant strategy.  Creative people know the typical format for strategy retreats eg presentations, actually prevent people thinking creatively or strategically.

The end result of these retreats is a sham.  Time is wasted, nothing gets achieved or documented and employees feel a lack of direction from their leaders.

What your team has achieved by the end of the strategic retreat determines whether it is a pretence or a success.

Adapted from: “The Strategic Planning Process – What makes strategy fail”, by Ruth Tearle

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