Money Talk: Strategic Planning Is Not Just for Your Competitors

Strategic planning has always been a key ingredient of any successful business operation, yet its focus has drastically changed in recent years. Long-range plans were traditionally developed for five or even 10 years. But with today’s market demands, a much more fluid time limit of one to three years is more realistic. Flexibility is a key ingredient in these shorter-term plans in order for businesses to react quickly to changing market conditions and technological innovations. The more a strategic plan takes into account how to handle future changes, the longer the strategic plan will be viable.

The Core Team

  • The most effective strategic plans are developed and implemented using a core team selected by the owner.
  • Job responsibilities of team members vary based on company culture, but the core team members usually are key people with the combination of abilities, commitment, and personality traits to work together to plan and implement your common goals.
  • A minimum of three or four people works well to provide a range of perspectives, while a maximum of six keeps the process from getting bogged down with too many different input sources.
  • Adding an outside (or neutral inside) facilitator to help manage the process can be key to its success.
  • The facilitator’s role is to bring together disparate individuals, to create buy-in to the plan by all parties, to track the plan’s action items and target dates, and help move the plan to its full and successful implementation.

Mission & Objectives

A missions statement is a brief description of the company’s fundamental purpose and why it exists. It should be developed to include the company’s core values and visionary goals.

The team should develop or review this statement to ensure it reflects the company’s current focus and goals.

The Process

  • The core team process begins with the completion of a SWOT form by each team member to identify Internal Strengths and Weaknesses, and External Opportunities and Threats to the company.
  • Individual SWOT comments are combined (usually by the neutral facilitator) for the initial core team discussion. We recommend that this initial session take place off site, away from daily work distractions, and last no more than 1½ days.
  • Formation of a Strategic Plan outline is the next step in the process to identify an outline of five to 10 achievable company goals.
  • It should also be noted that company financial information needs to be shared at some level with the core team so informed recommendations may be made. For example, if the core team recommends a $2 million technology upgrade, they need to know how that fits within the company resources, and what the best timing would be for the purchase so they can effectively plan.

The Action Plan

  • Once you have a consensus in the core team about your goals, each goal should be subdivided into measureable action steps, with target timelines for completion and assignment of responsibility for each action item.
  • The initial action item compilation may be completed by a single core team member or the facilitator, then reviewed and adopted by the core team so everyone agrees on the timelines and responsibilities.
  • It is helpful if items requiring significant investment also list projected costs for planning and budgeting purposes.
  • The goals and action items that comprise the strategic plan then need to be communicated downward at appropriate levels through the whole organization.

Monitoring Progress

  • One caution here—Strategic plans tend to start out with great enthusiasm and accomplishment, but can get off track over time unless they are constantly monitored and updated. This again is where a facilitator is helpful in following up on target dates and action items.
  • The core team also should commit to regular ongoing meetings to monitor Strategic Planning processes and to make changes as needed.

Strategic planning is an integral part of achieving a company’s vision. The process considers the strengths and weaknesses of the company and external factors, sets goals accordingly, identifies the logistical steps needed to reach those goals, and assigns responsibility to personnel for specific action items. Done correctly, strategic planning can support a strong company culture in which everyone, right down to the entry-level staff person, understands what the company is trying to accomplish and how their job function supports that goal. It is a powerful motivator and an excellent management tool to keep everyone moving positively in the same direction for maximum company success.