Too many companies rely on colorful graphs, pie charts, and over-used words like "synergy" to get their message across.

That's why "many strategic plans end up as shelf decorations or hard-to-find files in crowded hard drives," write Ron Ashkenas and Logan Chandler, partners at Schaffer Consulting, in the Harvard Business Review. For many companies, "the activity has devolved into either an over-explained budget or just bad amateur theater--lots of costumes in the form of analysis, charts, and presentations--but with very little meaningful substance that can be translated into action." 

Here are their tips for improvement:  

Conduct experiments.

Your strategy will require "hypotheses that certain outcomes will result from a given set of initiatives," Ashkenas and Chandler write. But if your company relies on assumptions, your strategy could fail. "To overcome this inertia, ask managers to include specific, short-term experiments, whose results will communicate what works and what does not."

Do away with the jargon.

Avoid empty and over-used terms like "synergy," warn the authors. "Language like this can signal that a team doesn't have a clear idea of what they need to succeed." One CEO they encountered outright banned those words at her company. 

Ask the hard questions.

Strategic planning should spark a debate and draw "unscripted answers" from your employees. "A few that we've heard include: 'What are the top two or three things that must go right for this strategy to work?'" say the authors. "'If we pursue this strategy, what are we deciding not to do?' and 'What specific capabilities will we need to develop in order for this plan to succeed?'" All of these are worthwhile to ask.