Strategic planning is used to define your company’s priorities, direction and goals to ensure that everyone is working together towards the same outcomes. Done well, it gives you a roadmap of the actions you need to take to reach your goals – and a way of measuring success.
There are many different frameworks and approaches for strategic planning. Our preferred approach involves 8 key steps across 4 phases:
Phase 1: Research
Strategic planning begins with research. Depending on the size of your company, allow 1-2 weeks for introductory research that will cover the following key steps:
Start by gathering a “lay of the land”. This includes outlining qualitative factors such as your mission, values and vision, and quantitative ones such as revenues, growth percentages and market share. Also define why you’re embarking upon the strategic planning process and what you want to achieve from it. If possible, include a wide range of voices, and seek to build a plan that will be scalable across the whole organization.
Analyze your organization’s internal and external positioning to get an understanding of your capabilities, your customers and your overall business environment. There are many different ways of undertaking your analysis, but a popular one is “SWOT” (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats). By taking into account internal factors (strengths and weaknesses) and external ones (opportunities and threats), it lets you evaluate your business from all angles. Use it to identify areas where you’re performing well, and where you need to shore up your capacity.
Your SWOT analysis will give you insight into major issues that you’re facing, as well as business or market opportunities that you need to consider. Identify these in terms of not just the problem or opportunity itself, but the consequences of failing to manage the issue or take advantage of an opportunity. The size of the impact will help guide your decision to take action.
Phase 2: Action Planning
Now that you have the information you need to make informed results, it’s time to begin building your action plan. The action planning phase covers the following three key steps:
Goal and Objectives
Define the goals that should arise from your strategic planning process. These should stem from your “SWOT” analysis and should be actionable and measurable, allowing you to effectively implement them and monitor outcomes. Define a handful of long-term and organization-wide goals along with how they’ll be measured (KPIs), what success looks like and who’s responsible for implementing them.
Key Publics, Messages and Tactics
Buy-in is key to ensuring success. Achieving it requires personalized messaging targeted at the right people – your “key publics”. These are those people who are critical to the success of your strategy. Define your key messages and tactics and how you’ll share these with operations, with departments, and with team members. Ensure that those at the top are also communicating your efforts – this will help promote uptake throughout the organization.
Calendar and Budget
Planning how you’ll roll out your strategic planning – plus what it will cost – is critical. Define your implementation schedule, including strategy reviews and what staff are required to bring to those reviews. You’ll also want to fold your communication calendar into this. A measured, well-timed roll-out will help sync up your strategic plan with the rest of your business, improving the likelihood of success.
Phase 3: Implementation
This is the crucial phase – and the one that will set you apart from others, many of whom manage to plan, but not execute.
Start communicating your strategy to your organization based on the messaging approach and calendar outlined above. Take critical actions so that your plan moves off the page and out into the world – having a formal execution process will put you ahead of the competition! Have a plan for how you’ll execute your strategy that spans at least the first 90 days; you can incentivize staff to get on board by building execution into performance reviews. To further ensure alignment to your goals you’ll want to set up monthly, quarterly, and biannual meetings with reporting procedures, assessments and plan reviews.
Phase 4: Evaluation
Having powerful analytical capabilities is invaluable for effective strategic implementation. Data analysis is core to the final step of your strategic planning process (and will help inform your next iteration).
Evaluation criteria and tools
The final step of your strategic planning approach involves assessing outcomes and revising your plan accordingly. Regularly monitor your plan implementation and adjust goals and deadlines as needed – remember, a strategic plan is a guideline, not a rigidly defined set of rules. That said, if you’re lagging behind, consider why your goals aren’t being met before simply pushing out your due dates. Be sure to track goals in order to foster ownability, accountability and empowerment among your staff.
Need help with defining and implementing a strategic plan? Get in touch!