Strategic planning is essential because, as Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you will wind up somewhere else.” A sound strategy delineates the specific steps, initiatives, and deliverables that enable an organization to realize its vision. The final strategy should be a dynamic guide for the company; the process of creating it is just as dynamic. How can you ensure that you use planning time effectively to craft a strong, clear strategy?
Here are my eight guidelines for effective strategic planning:
1. Start in August or September.
It’s important to get a good jump on planning and get everyone together to focus on the coming year.
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2. Only plan one year out.
A few decades ago, companies would write strategic plans that looked five years ahead. Today, the higher rate of change in the economy, regulations, and technology make it virtually impossible to project that far. If you look further ahead and go for three years, you must have a crystal ball. In more volatile industries, some companies only plan quarter by quarter.
3. Plan with 5 to 8 people.
This range allows a manageable cross-section of perspectives and expertise. If you exceed 8 people, you have endless discussion and very little consensus.
4. Examine industry trends.
What external issues are going to impact your organization significantly in the period ahead?
5. Look at government regulations.
Obamacare, for instance, will have huge ramifications for a lot of businesses. Make sure you know what’s coming and how it might affect you.
6. Don’t forget about the competition.
What are your rivals doing in the market? Have they expanded to new customer bases or started diversifying their products?
7. Look at internal resources.
Where a lot of companies fall down is in the implementation of strategy. It’s not the plan; it’s your team’s ability to execute it. Do you have the capacity and resources – money, time, personnel, SMEs, technology, infrastructure, etc. – to implement your plan?
8. Consider using a facilitator.
This helps the process run smoothly and efficiently. Often, a CEO or other leader “owns” the strategic planning process, which means it’s his/her strategy that gets laid out; not the team’s. A facilitator is objective and includes valuable input from all players. This also ensures that everyone has a reason to buy-in to implementing the plan.
The goal is to know where you’re going so you wind up there. Playing by these rules of the game ensures your resulting strategy will be a valuable roadmap as your organization works to achieve its vision and objectives.