Whether your organization is large or small, strategic planning is critical to the success of your business. Even individual departments must create their own strategic plans to drive sustained business results. Whatever our size or scope, we need to plan where we’re going and how we plan to get there in order to achieve our objectives. Otherwise, we run the risk of never reaching our intended destination!
In my experience, there are two ways to develop a strategic plan. The first approach plans from past experiences, reviewing where we’ve been and deciding where we want to go in the future. A second and more effective approach, I would offer, jumps forward to some point in the not-too-distant future to focus instead on possibilities regardless of where we’ve been in the past. We may learn from and be informed by our past. To be strategic though, I don’t want simply to repeat my past by putting it in my future. Instead, I want to work backwards from an ideal future state to determine how best to create this alternate future.
Over the years, I have used – and seen the benefits of – both methods; however, I prefer to focus on envisioning the future irrespective of the past and then plan from the future rather than from a place of prediction based on historical events. This model of starting backwards from a place of what’s possible enables powerful “out of the box” thinking rather than constraining an organization to where it has already been. Planning from the future also creates opportunities for being creative, dreaming big, and innovating in a way that can take an organization to even greater heights of success.
Before you go off and simply create your strategic plan, make sure to take into account a much broader perspective. Throughout the strategic planning process, it’s essential to enlist the support of all your key stakeholders from across – and outside – your organization. Take into consideration the perspectives of your business owners, senior leaders, employees, customers, and other groups outside of the organization. Each of these groups may have unique views about your organization’s vision and should be engaged in the strategic planning process.
Next, establish a few guideposts – your vision, mission, and values – to lay the foundation for your strategic plan. Your vision describes the benefit your organization provides – your end goal or final accomplishment. Typically, a vision is an object of your imagination and creativity and therefore may be unattainable. Your mission describes what your organization must do to achieve the vision. And your values establish clear boundaries of behavior for pursuing your vision.
After your guideposts are in place, establish intermediary strategic targets throughout the planning horizon (e.g., 10 years, 5 years, 2 years, etc.). These sub-goals provide the basis for developing an action plan and will move your organization towards achieving your vision. To be successful though, you will also need to develop a more specific and tactical Year One action plan with quarterly and even monthly goals to operationalize the plan. Without these clear accountabilities, your strategic plan is likely to end up on a shelf and be forgotten.
With your strategic plan and Year One action plan in place, be sure to conduct regular project status and review sessions to measure your progress and monitor the results of your ongoing work. This discipline will keep your implementation efforts on track. It also provides excellent opportunities to make any necessary adjustments along the way as your business and/or market environment changes. Together, this process of continuous evaluation and plan refinement will keep you moving forward and bring your organization closer and closer to achieving your vision for the future.