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7 Strategic Planning Essentials
20 May 2014
No planning process is failsafe or perfect, and the very nature of planning for the future means we have to be flexible.
However, these seven considerations are essential to your strategic planning process:
1.You must be totally involved in the process.
This may sound ridiculous, but I’ve had the misfortune to run two strategic planning retreats for clients that have stood out because of the clients’ lack of involvement.
In both situations, their expectation was that I would turn up on the day and create a 12 month strategic plan without their involvement at all. In both cases, neither CEO actually knew what was involved and didn’t know how to go about it, but at some point had been convinced that they needed a strategic plan.
Even when requested to, they both failed to give any direction to their team about why they were doing it or the engagement required from everyone to make it a success, or even the outcomes expected. They refused to lead the process.
If you were having a new house designed, wouldn't you want to brief the architect and have a lot of input regarding your expectations?
You cannot lead your time and drive your business, if you fail to fully engage in your company’s strategic planning process.
2.Do the preparation
Developing the strategic focus for your company requires a lot of preparation, without which your plan will be nothing but a set of wishes.
You need to know about every aspect of your business – how it’s performing, where are the problem areas, where are the risks, where are the real returns, where are the growth areas, what are you doing well, what isn’t working, what resources will you require for the next stage of growth...
Most of the work needs to be done before you have a strategy day, so you can really focus on making decisions about direction and priorities on the day. You will already have a strong indicator of these things when you’ve done all the preparation.
3.Don’t gloss over important considerations
If you don’t know what you’re doing it’s easy to gloss over the important considerations. For example, I have actually heard clients dismiss new entrants to the market as well as innovation from existing competitors, failing to address the potential risk that this could be to their business. Their blanket optimism in their company's superiority was quite astounding and of concern.
There may also be personal considerations you need to address, such as relocating to another city to expand your reach, or travel more frequently overseas to acquire international clients, or expand into larger offices that mean you will extend your commute each day by an hour.
Better to address all the important considerations now rather than when it’s already impacting your business, or your life.
4.Address known problem areas
Again, I have heard clients actually dismiss specific issues that are causing problems within their business, and take them off the table, not to be discussed. The reasons they do this include not having the skills or answers to address them (which is why the strategic planning process is used – as a tool to help address the difficult questions), and an all-time favourite reason is not wanting to upset personal relationships with employees, strategic partners, suppliers or clients.
I had a client who struggled with delays and rising costs of a critical supplier, which were proving to affect their business. He asked me how to deal with this and when I gave him three different options for dealing with this supplier he refused to act on any of these. He didn’t want to affect the relationship they had.
Your business isn’t a charity – don’t turn it into one.
5.Implement the strategies
When you’ve done all the preparation, planning and brainstorming and agreed on your company’s strategic direction, you need to implement.
Again, this may sound like a ridiculous thing to say but when you and your team get caught up in the day to day operations again with business as usual, sometimes implementation of new ideas and innovation falls by the wayside.
If you want to keep improving and growing your business, you have to implement.
6.Don’t go ‘off plan’ because you won’t let go
Sticking to a strategic plan 100% never happens as there are too many variables in business that bring about changes in plan. However, to completely go off plan and decide to do something quite different from what you agreed as a team, is either not going to be good for the business, or it will impact the morale and involvement of the team who did all the work on preparing and developing the strategy in the first place.
I’m not referring to new opportunities that suddenly appear and need to be assessed. I’m referring to a complete shift in focus for the business and its resources.
An example would be a company strategy to focus on the top 100 corporate organisations as prospective clients, and then completely shift to focus (also) on a product or service for small and medium sized companies as well. I have seen businesses do this just because they can’t seem to let go of all opportunities in order to focus on their best opportunities.
These sorts of ‘off the plan’ segues should have been discussed and covered off as part of the strategic planning process.
7.Follow up and assess regularly
Monthly management teams and quarterly review meetings are essential to stay on track with your strategy. If you need to adjust, modify your plans, slow down or fast track, these can all be achieved with regular reviews.
It’s a really good idea to set up a structured process within your business to keep everyone on track and accountable for implementing your strategies and tracking results. Quarterly half-day or full day reviews are perfect for this.
If you want a solid planning process for your company, keep these seven strategic planning essentials in mind!