By this time in the calendar year, some organizations have already started to develop strategic and/or annual operating plans. Some call these sales plans and in large organizations there may be both long-range strategic plans as well as yearly plans that operationalize the long-term strategic plan. Some even have plans down at the team or departmental level.
For small businesses, the plan for 2015 may just be ideas, scribbles on paper, or notes slapped on a computer screen. The “plan on a napkin” may even be present!
Still for others, there is no business plan. In fact, there may not be any type of plan! Without solid planning a business carries more risk, misses opportunities, allows a competitor to seize advantages, slows down progress, and creates confusion.
As General Eisenhower famously said, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
So, what is strategic planning and what are the important components of a plan? First, let’s pull apart the term strategic planning.
I define strategy as the art and science of creating a plan to bring about a desired outcome. Before you plan, you want to be strategic in order to reach an outcome. In your business or life; if you want to do something, how are you going to do it? Strategy helps you to think about how to get there.
Planning can be defined as helping to identify those strategies and accompanying actions to guide you toward a desired outcome. Planning are the tactics and the ways to get there.
Taken together, these definitions bring to life what successful organizations do so well: strategic planning.
Over the years, we have observed and worked with many organizations on their strategic plans.
We believe that strategic plans and the strategic planning process should reflect and respect the following: the culture of the organization, the people involved, the mission/vision/values of the organization, the need for realistic and attainable horizon goals, the resources that can be deployed for implementation, and the desire for focused action.
At this point you may be asking yourself where to start and what process to use. The best marketers use a “divergence and convergence” approach that creates many ideas and then filters those down against a set of criteria for success to arrive at a set of actions for their plan. I call this a “double diamond” and a typical process is shown in this graphic that produces horizons of initiatives:
As such, the following are elements of plans that have worked, and if you desire to do some planning I would suggest that you imbed these in your work.
Successful strategic plans have several common traits:
• A plan based on the reality of today but is aspirational: Stretch yourself to reach for a bold goal.
• An executive sponsor and owner of the process: Someone has to lead these efforts and the CEO or owner cannot just deputize.
• An executive sponsor and owner of implementation: Plans are just that unless you do something with them, and then the power of progress is unleashed.
• Navigates the political realities of the organization: Agendas and culture can get in the way, so accommodate realities.
• Goals, imperatives, and tactics tied to specific outcomes: Setting goals is nice, but be clear on the purpose.
• Innovative techniques to reveal new opportunities and create an experience: Strategic planning can be boring, but the revelation and inspiration of new ideas can be sparked by creating innovative experiences to open new ideas.
• Clear and unifying agreement of the brand promise: Your product makes a promise to a customer and in turn that customer has an expectation on what they will get if they use your product. Define and deliver on that promise – it’s that simple.
• Collaborative input across the organization: The best ideas come from those vested in the results and through partnering.
• Socialized throughout the organization for full understanding: Being familiar with the plan is not enough – insure that employees and leaders understand it and that there is there alignment around the plan.
• Focused on 3–5 strategic objectives and a very clear plan of implementation: Most organizations try to cram too many ideas into a strategic plan. Focus. The best plans have 3–5 main initiatives.
• Supports real-time strategic decision-making: Use the plan to take action and not window dress.
• Aligns resources to insure implementation: It takes time and investment to reach your goals.
• Is a continuously improved plan against annual and long-term goals: While many strategic plans take a 3–5 year horizon view, they should roll annually and there should be a yearly adjustment based on business and market changes.
• Measures progress and implementation over time: Hold yourself and others accountable.
You do not have to take all of these steps nor use a very rigorous process, and perhaps the best place to begin is to just write it on a napkin. But I encourage you to embrace this approach and through it you will find your own diamond.
Mike Dabadie is the founder of Heart+Mind Strategies, LLC, a research consultancy that continues to pioneer the use of personal-values insights and marketing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.