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Simple Strategic Planning - Overview

Sep 2, 2017

An effective strategic plan is a user-friendly document that guides business growth. It can help a business uncover where it can draw on its strengths and also where it needs to focus attention and shore up weaknesses in order to more effectively drive toward the future.

A simple strategic plan doesn’t mean it’s simplistic. Rather it is straightforward and gets right to the key issues to be addressed. It clearly identifies what has to be done and includes specific designations for who does what and by when.

The strategic plan is the tool the business uses to choose its destination, chart the route it will take and decide on the resources it will need along the way.

Where do you start?

Like most efforts that are worthwhile, it’s best to start at the beginning. Begin by asking yourself what you want to gain with a new or updated strategic plan. If the effort were really successful, what would you see at the end? Think big picture about where you want the business to be in five years and what you want this plan to help you do.

With that in mind:

  •  Consider using a facilitator to help build your plan. This individual can help keep the process and the team on track. A facilitator can help manage through difficult or complex discussions.
  • Work hard to make it an inclusive process and bring in those people who can contribute as well as those who will be asked to implement the final plan.
  •  Make the process efficient, quick and easy to accomplish. Don’t get bogged down in overly complex steps and stages.
  •  Make sure the process leaves time for reaching understanding and that everyone involved has a chance to participate.
  •  Make time to for both dreamers and pragmatists – together they create the best plans.
  •  Keep in mind the interplay between the interests/needs of the business and those of the family. Their success is not separate and distinct but rather interrelated and dependent on one another.

How do you maximize your planning effort?

The best plans are based on information and data and not assumptions.

  1. Take some time to collect information you can use to build your plan.
  2.  It’s always helpful to go back to your current plan – even if it’s only in your own head right now.
    1. If you’ve really been working from that plan you should be able to compare where you are now with where you were then.
    2. Think about how well you have performed against the current plan.
    3. What progress has been made? Where did you fall short?
  3. Collect the data and pieces of information that will help populate the next plan.
    1.  Think about what’s happening right now with your customers and in your market niche.
    2.  Collect supporting documents such as sales and operational data, market and customer intelligence, etc. that will inform the next plan.
  4.  Take time to gain thoughts from others who know about organizational vision, goals, and desired plan outcomes. Are there leadership team members, board members, or trusted advisors who have valuable thoughts on the business and its future?

With your data in hand, the next step is to shift your thinking forward to explore what has to happen next for the company to reach its future goals. At this stage it is particularly important to have someone help the planning team work through the discussions.

Your conversations should enrich your final outcome not get bogged down in past successes and failure. Remember it is very easy to lose forward momentum. The critical need is to identify, understand, distill, and move on.

How do you write a simple plan?

Now it’s time to get together and to start creating a path for what’s next for the business. Your plan is the description of that path. Time to write down what must happen in order to reach those goals you’ve been thinking about. Remember to keep the process simple and the discussions robust so you can get to the most helpful document possible.

One simple and effective process for planning is called the three P’s. Briefly it goes like this:

  • Create three columns on flipchart or individual sheets of paper.
    •  On the one page/column write the word POTENTIAL.
      • Begin here by describing what you see as the true potentialof the company, in the next three to five years, if the current constraints were removed.
    •  On the second page write the word POSSIBLE.
      •  Now describe what is possible in the next 18 months to three years – what would move you in the direction of realizing the company’s potential?
    •  On the third page write the word PRACTICAL.
      •  List what is really practical in the next six months to 18 months.

“Get it done” tactical list

Objectives for reaching goals

Long term goals

  • When you look at these three pages/columns you will discover that you have created a set of long term goals (that’s the POTENTIAL). You’ve created a set of objectives for reaching those goals (that’s the POSSIBLE). Finally, you’ve created a list of tactical – “get it done” – items that that help support the objectives you’ve identified (that’s the PRACTICAL).
  • Take these pages and connect the goals, objectives, and tactical items so that they are in support of one another and rewrite them to become the goals and objectives of your strategic plan.
  •  Finally, think about the vision, values and culture the company will demonstrate and how they will support the journey you about to embark on. What will hold the business together in both good and difficult times? How do you want your company to be viewed by others?

Your final document really doesn’t need to be much longer than that. If you’ve identified the future outcomes (goals), activities to get you there (objectives), and the values and culture that will support the process; you’ve created a viable plan. Now, it’s about implementation.

How do you make the plan work for the business?

For many, planning can quickly become that activity you completed and then promptly filed in the drawer. This, more than any other reason, is why most plans don’t succeed. Not because they aren’t viable and worthwhile. Rather, they just don’t get put to work on behalf of the business. So, how do you make your plan get to work?

First, make sure the plan includes clear goals and objectives. Make sure they are actionable – meaning someone can actually do the work. If they are too lofty, or if they aren’t supported by the resources needed to complete them, they are doomed to sit idle. SMART goals have proven helpful for many as they begin plan implementations.

Second, make certain the plan is shared throughout the organization.

  • Make sure that everyone on the leadership team is on-board. Testing that assumption could be part of a regularly scheduled team or check-in meeting. Being overt about the intent to implement – beginning with leadership – is critical.
  • Now it’s time to share the plan, especially the values and objectives, across departments. Leadership team members must accept that part of their role is to bring the message of the plan to those who report to them.
  • Work hard to make sure lead workers know their part of the plan. Are they prepared for and supported in the work they are being asked to do?
  • In some companies, the plan is posted in common areas so everyone is aware of its importance and reminded of its content.

This process of cascading is what makes a plan come alive.

Finally, all the energy of creating and cascading a plan can quickly run astray if people aren’t held accountable for the segments they are responsible for. Accountability is reinforced by:

  • Affirming that people have the tools and resources they need to be successful with their part of the plan. 
  • Creating specific timelines for expected completion. 
  • Holding regularly scheduled meetings during which plan progress is discussed.
  • Encouraging open and honest conversations when deadlines slip or tasks are left undone.

What should you look for after the plan is in place?

If a quarter has gone by and you haven’t heard a single word about how the strategic plan is performing, it’s time to check in. The plan in action should create a buzz that will sustain energy across the company. A plan in action should be prompting you to do three things:

  1. Review – Are the goals still on track? Do they need revision? Are people having success with implementation – even small elements at first?
  2. Celebrate – Accomplishments need to receive recognition. The plan implementation is a cause for celebration – don’t forget to take time to do so.
  3. Renew – When goals and objectives are met, what new ones can be developed that will continue to move the company toward the future it has chosen?

Where can you get more information?

If you would like more in-depth information on strategic planning or would like help in any other aspect of running a family-owned or closely held business, please contact us.

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