Our firm has facilitated dozens of strategic planning processes with clients in all sectors. Inevitably, the question comes up: What does it mean? What is strategic planning?
Before I tell you our answer, let me say why it’s so important to be clear about it. People can typically list lots of things that are wrong in their organizations and need to be fixed: for example, their marketing message, their sales force, their IT department, their retention of key employees. Too often, those kinds of issues make up the “strategic plan.” But none of these issues are necessarily strategic. They could simply involve fixing current operations.
So, when groups ask us to define strategic planning, here’s what we say:
“Strategic planning is a key aspect of leadership. It requires the ability to assess and analyze, explore alternative strategies, assess the resources required, and finally to decide to execute on a specific plan that concentrates resources on key areas of the organization over a sustained period of time in order to gain long-term advantage.”
Specifically, here’s what’s involved:
- Strategic planning involves first looking objectively at your organization’s current performance and assessing where the opportunities are to achieve greater impact or higher levels of performance. This is typically where a S.W.O.T. analysis comes in handy, or a trends analysis. These assessments need to be data-driven. You can’t simply rely on opinions and “urban myths” to draw the right conclusions. As issues are identified, you need to keep asking: What data do we have and what does it tell us? How significant is this problem relative to our competitors or peers? What is within our power to control?
- Strategic planning involves developing recommendations and making decisions about strategic change: i.e. what could we do that would have a long-term impact on your strength as a company or organization? Key questions include what outcomes you’re trying to achieve, how to achieve higher levels of impact, and how you would measure success.
- Next, strategic planning involves developing a strategic plan. The plan should define specific goals and objectives, how to achieve those goals and objectives, how resources will be applied to achieve those goals – and how to measure whether the intended outcomes are being achieved.
- Lastly, strategic planning involves figuring out the ongoing process to implement your strategic plan. This includes monitoring your measures of success, following up on action steps, and determining whether your plan is achieving the intended results. This is often where a strategic planning process falters – and why the commitment to meet and track the plan on an ongoing basis, and adjust course accordingly, is so important.
There’s obviously a lot more to it than these four steps. But that’s the gist of strategic planning. Done well, it will vastly improve your organization’s sense of direction and provide much-needed direction. Done poorly and it will be an exercise that people are reluctant to do again – much to the long-term detriment of your organization.
Download the PDF – The Six Rings Strategic Planning Model
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