Why a Strategic Plan is Important

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

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Strategic Planning – Key Success Factors and How to Avoid Ten Common Mistakes

Organizations employ strategic planning as a way to move toward their desired future status (End Game). It is the process of developing and implementing plans to reach goals and objectives. Strategic planning, more than anything else, is what gives direction to an organization.
Obtaining buy-in from all relevant parties is essential for successful strategic plan implementation

Key employees from all areas of the business should be included.

Communicating the strategic plan to all employees is an important critical step.

Challenging various departments to develop their own supporting tactical plans with specific objectives that focus on supporting the overall strategic plan of the company is the final piece.

Accountability for execution is the glue that holds the plan together.

In many cases, a well thought out strategic plan is developed that has the potential to substantially improve a company’s performance, but little thought is given to implementing, execution and accountability for the success of the plan.

There are a number of ways to insure that company behavior really changes as a result of the strategic planning process:

1. Specific real-world objectives must be set. These could be as simple as implementing a new pricing model, or as far-reaching as starting up a new Greenfield operation outside of your current geographical market area.

2. The objectives should be specific so that there is no ambiguity about what is required. Ideally the objective should not be to “consider becoming “Employer of Choice” (EOC), but should be to become EOC by recognizing specific initiatives required to succeed by a specific date. Exceptions will of course exist if there is information that must still be developed in order to finalize a specific objective.

3. Expected timing and personnel accountability should be created throughout the action planning for each objective. Ideally there should be one individual who is accountable to company management for reaching each core initiative.

Ten Common Mistakes Made in Strategic Planning:

1. A Dart Board approach that generates numerous initiatives but no means for implementation

2. Failure to involve employees form all levels of the organization

3. Developing vision, mission and value statements but no real actionable foresight as to what the business needs to look like 5 to 7 years into the future

4. A weekend retreat where everybody drinks the same koolaid but little gets done that is actionable

5. Failing to complete an effective roll out process

6. Violating the “people-support-what-they-help-create” premise. The “End Game” should be reviewed and consensus of direction should be reached by the strategy team and the CEO-0wnership

7. Conducting business as usual after strategic planning with no sense of urgency about the new strategic focus

8. Failing to make the tough choices and holding people accountable

9. Lacking specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and measuring only what’s easy, not what’s important to the success of the strategic plan

10. Seeing the planning document as an end in itself and then letting it collect dust

“If you don’t get people to buy into the strategic process on how change is managed, it will fail. This makes a “Roll Out Process” and a Core Strategy Statement that is understood by all levels of employees absolutely essential.

The CEO Strategist Methodology

There are five components that make strategic plans effective. They are:

1. End Game – Vision for the Future

2. Critical Core Initiatives (CCIs)

3. Strategic Implementation Plans (SIPs)

4. Accountability – The Strategic Review Meeting (SRM)

5. The Roll Out Process

The End Game

The End Game is actually a Chess terminology used in the context of the end game strategy to win the game. It focuses on centralization of the king, the role of the pawns, the principle of weakness and the bishop’s impact and that is as far as I will go with chess talk. I am not a chess player. However, the concept of the “End Game” in business is actually quite the same as in chess, the point being — how do we win the game.

The “End Game” in business is simply defining what winning the game in your business is really about. What does winning mean. If you have seen one end game, you have seen one end game. Every end game is different, unique to the business, unique to its creator. The end game can be as simple as a statement about the character and integrity of the business or as detailed and complex as defining individual business segment growth with specific financial goals outlined with attendant timelines. Contrary to the definition of End, the “End Game” is really the beginning, the beginning of long term strategic planning.

Critical Core Initiatives

Critical Core Initiatives (CCIs) define how the End Game will be achieved. They provide the general framework for the “big picture” improvements in the most important areas. They are broad and ambitious. Each Critical Core Initiative is supported by a set of SIPs that contain a sequenced set of tasks, schedules, and named responsible individuals. The creation of SIPs indicates that the chosen area is one that provides a high payoff in terms of innovation and managed change.

Strategic Implementation Plans

Each Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) also has an owner. On an annual basis, this responsibility may be reassigned, at management discretion. It is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that the agreed action steps and changes are accomplished within agreed time frame. For purposes of SIP accountability, each owner will be accountable to the President or another top-level executive, depending on organizational structure. It must be clearly understood that independent departmental segment business plans must be developed as the tactical part of this process once the strategic plan is approved.

SRM——The Review and Control Process

The key managerial tool to ensure steady, consistent progress on SIP tasks is the formal Strategic Review Meeting (SRM). The SRM is held monthly – Bi-monthly or Quarterly. It provides a critical feedback loop for the strategic plan.

The purpose of the SRM is to:

o Clearly understand the status of your key initiatives.

o Keep executive focus on strategic, rather than just urgent, issues.

o Facilitate communication and support throughout the executive team and the company.

o Formulate emergency responses to company-wide threats or opportunities.

o Leverage all appropriate company resources while maintaining proper accountability for performance.

o Review progress and determinate status of deferred SIPs

The SRM should be attended by members of the Strategy Team, executive management and other senior managers. It will follow a formal agenda and discussions should be driven by two objective measurements: performance against Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and progress of SIP task completion. SIP and action item owners must be held accountable for achieving the desired results by the due date indicated in the plan. The entire team should be held accountable for meeting KPI goals.

The Roll Out Process

Make no mistake……….. Strategy is executed bu the employees. Communication with the employees that creates an understanding of what the company is trying to accomplish is essential to get employees on board and willing to give what it takes to create success. The key emphasis during this process must be about answering that age old question….. “Whats In It For Me” (WIIFM). Employees must recognize that value and success for the company creates value and success for them.

A key objective in the roll out process is to create a simplified version of the “Vision” that every employee can understand. This is often done by creating a strategic theme or “Core Strategy Statement”. Nike for example uses the statement “Just Do IT” not only for marketing purposes but it has helped create an internal success culture. One CEO Strategist client simply uses the term P.R.I.D.E. to represent their strategic focus.

PRIDE –”it’s more than a goal —- it’s a way of life at XYZ Company”

Professionalism – Reliability–Innovation–Dedication–Excellence

Of course the roll out process must clearly define exactly what that means to the employee. You get an “A” if you ask any employee and they can tell you what the companies strategic focus is about. You get an “A+++” if they can not only tell you what the strategic focus is but they can also explain their role or how they impact that focus.

Strategic planning is a creative process the starts with the visionary creativity of the owner or CEO. The fresh insight it engenders might very well alter past initiatives. Planning also consumes resources which are precious commodities. It can be an overwhelming and daunting task, but it is a process that eventually defines the direction and activities of the organization. Despite its overwhelming nature, the benefits of planning can far outweigh the hard work and pain involved in the process. Strategic planning is a key process that adjusts an organization’s direction in response to a changing environment. It supports the fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide an organization. A sound strategic plan can help define and focus a distributor’s efforts to move the company in the right direction, using the best methods.

Strategic planning creates a team culture that is necessary for success. Working together effectively is not automatic. It takes a specific effort and the development of a culture that is supported by executive management. Shared experiences create unity and value. Knowledge transfer is essential for an organization to grow. Without knowledge transfer and the sharing of the planning experience it is difficult for the group to share the vision and work toward common goals.

[http://www.ceostrategist.com] – Sign up to receive “The Howl” a free monthly newsletter that addresses real world industry issues. – Straight talk about today’s issues. Rick Johnson, expert speaker, wholesale distribution’s “Leadership Strategist”, founder of CEO Strategist, LLC a firm that helps clients create and maintain competitive advantage. Ne

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