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Why a Strategic Plan is Important

April 10th, 2021

As consultants, we work with a variety of businesses across a number of industries as well as non-profit entities. In reviewing the performance of these organizations, it is interesting to note that those businesses that perform at the highest levels usually have some sort of formalized strategic plan in place and have implemented it well.

On the other hand, those businesses that struggle usually have no plan in place and seem to flounder in their attempts to be successful. And many of the organizations that are successful in the implementation of their strategic plans use a simplified strategic planning process to get the plan written and implemented more quickly and efficiently. One of the things that caused some to proclaim that strategic planning had lost it luster was the tendency of some to drag out the process too long and to create more work than necessary. The simplified, rapid development approach has helped immensely in getting good strategic plans developed and implemented.

In order for a business to be successful, there needs to be a road map for success. The development of sound business strategy is a result of the strategic planning process. A significant mistake that is made by businesses large and small is defining critical business strategies without going through this process. A strategic plan helps to provide direction and focus for all employees. It points to specific results that are to be achieved and establishes a course of action for achieving them.

Another common mistake is simply allowing the organization to wander aimlessly without having even generalized goals in place. Having well defined goals, objectives, strategies and tactics reduces the risk of business failure and helps increase the likelihood of solid success. And speaking strictly from the perspective of a manager, owner, director, president, CEO, etc., their own success can be defined by having a well developed strategic plan in place that is well implemented.

A strategic plan helps the various work units within an organization to align themselves with common goals. But perhaps most importantly, the strategic planning process provides managers, owners and entrepreneurs the necessary framework for developing sound business strategy.

Arguably, the leading cause of business failure is not having a strategic plan in place that is implemented effectively. If a business has little idea where it is headed, it will wander aimlessly with priorities changing constantly and employees confused about the purpose of their jobs. And it could chase strategies that have little or no chance of success.

Building a strategic plan is not difficult. It will take some thought and some feedback from customers and others, but businesses should be routinely garnering feedback from appropriate constituent groups on an ongoing basis. The process of developing a strategic plan should be rewarding for all involved and usually helps develop stronger communications between members of the planning team.

Managers and business owners need a well developed strategic plan in order to effectively establish expectations for their employees. Without a plan, expectations are developed in a void and there is little or no alignment with common goals and strategies. A good strategic plan looks out 2 to 5 years and describes clearly what market, product/service, pricing, marketing and other strategies will be followed. In short, it defines how the business will grow and prosper over the defined planning horizon.

Strategic planning does not end once the plan is put on paper. Once developed, the key to making the plan work is a commitment to seeing it through coupled with sound implementation. Unfortunately too many good strategic plans end up on a shelf gathering dust without being even partially implemented. The commitment to not only creating a sound strategic plan, but to its full implementation must be made at the beginning of the planning process.

The strategic plan will contain an action plan that will detail the steps to be taken in order to fully implement the strategies and tactics defined in the plan document. And that action plan will delineate specific deadlines and individuals or teams responsible for completing defined tasks.

Far too many organizations, large and small, fail to develop even basic strategic plans. The absence of a strategic plan is one of the key reasons many businesses struggle or fail. Without that road map provided by a solid strategic plan, decisions are made in a vacuum and/or there is considerable confusion and inconsistency evident within the organization. During tough economic times, the need for a solid strategic direction and plan is even more pronounced because the margin for error generally becomes smaller for most businesses.

All employees need to understand the guiding principles of the business and what everyone should be aiming to achieve. A strategic plan that is well developed, properly communicated, and carefully implemented can launch struggling or underperforming businesses to new heights.

Take a look at your business. Are your critical business strategies well defined? Are they successful? Does there seem to be a lack of focus on where the company is headed? Does everyone clearly understand the goals for the business? Strategically, how will the business achieve those goals? Is your current planning horizon longer than one year? Are you developing annual business/operating plans without a strategic plan in place? Strategic plans should drive or at least help define operating plans and budgets.

Writing a strategic plan isn’t as complicated as some would lead you to believe. Simplified strategic planning has been our focus for some time because too many organizations get caught up in the process and lose sight of what is important. We have found, without exception, that businesses which create and execute sound strategic plans are generally far more successful than those that do not. Remember that successful implementation of the plan is a must. If you write a plan and then allow it to gather dust on a shelf, you might as well have no plan. There must be a commitment to implementing the strategies and tactics detailed in the plan.

Make no mistake about it, if your business or non-profit organization is operating without an effective strategic plan in place, it runs the risk of underperforming or even failure. As mentioned, writing a strategic plan is not difficult and it does not have to be overly time consuming.

The notion that strategic planning has to be a long arduous process to be successful is complete nonsense. In fact, our experience clearly points to a far more successful planning experience and better plans when the plan is completed without a lot of “bureaucracy” and extraneous analyses.

There are certain steps required in the strategic planning process in order to develop a solid and actionable plan. Using a strategic plan template is an effective method of getting a solid plan written and implemented. At the request of our clients, we have created such a template that includes instructions and examples of each step as well as worksheets that can be completed to effectively create your plan.

If you feel that such a template would benefit your planning process, visit our sister site, http

Strategic Planning: Street-Wise Tips to Make It Work for Your Organization

March 10th, 2021

Strategic planning can be either a boon or a bust for an organization. Many people bring “baggage” to the process. Some people have had terrible experiences. They vehemently oppose committing time and other resources to it. Others yawn, glaze over and are completely skeptical that the process can produce any measurable results. Others enthusiastically embrace the process and produce extraordinary results.

What makes a strategic planning project successful? How can you get the most out of the time and money invested in the project? The following points address key factors that will help you take action to plan and implement a successful strategic planning project.

1. Invest time in “planning to plan.”

Get commitment from the CEO and senior management. Make sure that the CEO and senior management will be active participants. This means clearing their schedules to ensure attendance in all face-to-face strategic thinking sessions. Be sure they understand that the commitment of resources extends beyond face-to-face strategic thinking sessions. Resources, including time as well as money, must be committed to the implementation and measurement stages in order for the strategic plan to be successful.

Appoint a Project Planning Team. This team will usually consist of two to four people who are responsible for making decisions about the structure of the project and communicating with the others who will be involved.

Determine whether to use an internal or external facilitator. An external trainer enables all those involved to actively participate in the strategic thinking activities. It is extremely difficult for an internal person to facilitate and also express their personal insights as questions are raised. An external facilitator also offers “the third person” perspective, can bring information from other sources and challenge “entrenched in-house thinking” or “corporate taboos.” An external facilitator can manage the group’s participation without concern of the hierarchy, political consequences or personal repercussions.

Develop a clear statement of what you want to achieve. By clearly articulating what you want to accomplish, you improve your chances for success. Utilize the facilitator to help you. Communicate this statement to participants and other members of your organization.

Explore the benefits, drawbacks of a variety of formats with the facilitator.Work with the facilitator to select the format that best meets the unique needs of the organization and individuals involved. (Do you want to utilize pre-session activities conducted by electronic media/fax/mail to get participants thinking before the face-to-face sessions? Is there a need for market research? If so, what type and to what extent? What existing information is pertinent for the group to review? Should strategic thinking sessions be half-day, full-day, spread out over several months or condensed into several days back-to-back? Should the strategic thinking sessions be held on-site or off-site? What atmosphere is most conducive for the participants to leave behind the day-to-day pressures so they can fully concentrate on strategic thinking?)
2. Gain an understanding of the key elements of the process and the facilitator’s style. A comprehensive strategic planning project should include:

Conducting an Environmental Scan – This helps you understand the current environment that your organization operates within. It often includes market research in the form of surveys, focus groups or industries studies. It should include an analysis of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT.) It should identify the organization’s core competencies.

Developing or reaffirming of the organization’s Core Values, Mission and Vision.

Identifying and prioritizing the Key Strategic Issues/Directions.

Developing an Action Plan that includes goals, objectives, action steps, time lines and outcome measurement strategies.

Implementing the Action Plan.

Evaluating progress by how effectively you’ve met the outcome measurements.

Communicating the benefits of the strategic planning process to those who will be participating.
3. Conduct the strategic planning activities.

Work with the facilitator to determine the logistics of any pre-session activities. Determine how those activities will be conducted — by phone, email, fax or mail? Who will disburse the information? Who will gather the responses, compile and distribute summaries? Determine who is to be contacted?

Work with the facilitator to develop an agenda for any face-to face strategic thinking sessions.

Give the facilitator freedom to implement the process in the manner that works for him/her. Each facilitator has his/her own style. Allow them to utilize their style to maximize the results.

During the strategic thinking activities, allow the process to work the participants. Be on your guard for an individual or group of individuals who try to control or manipulate the process to achieve (or avoid) preconceived results. A good facilitator will minimize the chances of this happening, but support from the Project Planning Team can be very helpful.
4. Implement the action plan.

Implementing the action plan is essential to your overall success. Strategic planning is much more than merely the strategic thinking and strategy development. The essence of strategic planning is implementing the strategy, measuring the outcomes and adjusting your organization’s performance based upon the outcome measurements.

Use the strategic plan to guide day-to-day activity, budget development, research and development, etc.

Measure, measure, measure. Measure your progress by utilizing the outcome measurement strategies that are part of the action plan.
5. Review, re-evaluate and revise.

Review the strategic plan at least annually. Better yet, record progress quarterly. Then review the progress on an annual basis.

Re-evaluate the environment, core values, mission, vision and key strategic issues/directions. If these need to be revised, do so.

Revise as needed and develop a new action plan.

Make strategic planning an ongoing activity rather than one that is conducted every three or five years.
Strategic planning provides your organization with the foundation for sustainable growth. It helps you know where you want the organization to go and when you have achieved your goals. Strategic planning not only helps you manage change, but profit from change. It increases your control over those forces that affect you and helps you to respond more effectively to those forces that you cannot control. During these uncertain times, a successfully implemented strategic planning process can be the “guiding light” that helps employees and management manage and prosper from change.

2011 Center for Strategic Change, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Judy Whalen is founder of Whalen & Associates, Inc. and the Center for Strategic Change, LLC. Judy has over 18 years of experience as a consultant to business and nonprofit leaders guiding them through strategic thinking sessions and developing strategic plans. The Center for Strategic Change provides consulting services in the areas of strategy, market research and communications. It also offers teleseminars, webinars, live workshops and a DVD series to help business and nonprofit leaders grow and sustain their organizations. Judy is also the founder of Strengthen the Harmony between Your Life, Family and Work to help individuals build harmony between their personal life, family life and business life.