Strategic Planning Process
When it comes to making decisions as a business the proper planning, organization, and commitment are needed to make sure those decisions actualize into results. Committing to a strategic planning process is often easier said than done. Many times we are held back by variables such as lack of resources, weak communication, or overly ambitious goals. Strategic planning is an organizational tool that businesses use in order to develop the proper method for their organization to take a great idea and turn it into a great outcome.
Strategic planning offers decision makers a structured format when developing, implementing, and maintaining a new procedure into their business’ current operation. By having a strategy in place from the beginning you can know exactly what to expect when carrying out each step, while also assuring that the rest of your organization is informed and aware of what needs to be done.
The process that strategic planning utilizes incorporates many different skills. In depth research, astute decision making, and effective leadership are needed in order to effectively enact a plan. If one of these skills is weaker than the others it can lead to a complete failure of the task at hand.
Good ideas aren’t valuable if you don’t have strong communicative or directive skills. Likewise an effective team doesn’t serve its intended purpose if the information they are using is limited and shortsighted. Strategic planning offers a method that not only addresses each of these components but offers insight into how each of these parts should be used to effectively carry out the proposal.
Steps of the Strategic Planning Process
When it comes to the strategic planning process there are four main steps in which we take to ensure success. These steps are as follows:
Assess the Situation
Design a Strategy
Build a Path Towards Your Goal
Manage Progress and Maintain Devotion
These steps allow us to feel confident about our progress at every point in achieving our goals. From the beginning we have the information needed to know exactly what we want to improve and as we start to formulate a plan of action, we are able to stay on track by making sure every effort we incorporate works towards achieving that initial goal.
By making sure you are confident in each step of the strategic planning process you can move from step to step without uncertainty. A common problem that we often see is that organizations will get to the point of actually implementing their plan, just to realize they don’t have all of the information. At this point they either go ahead with their plan as is, committing to a weak strategy, or they have to go back to step one of researching and analyzing their situation, often killing any momentum or enthusiasm they and their team might have.
Assess The Situation
The best place to start when formulating a strategy is to assess the situation. This is where research and analysis is done. In order to make the educated decision you need to be well informed.
Gather as much information as you can and start to see where patterns or trends may arise. Getting a better idea of your industry, internal operations, consumer preferences, and legislative changes in order to account for all factors you may come across in achieving your goal. Look at current research, evaluate competitor’s actions through competitive intelligence, survey employees and consumers. By looking at all of these different avenues you can assure you are getting an all encompassing view of your market and competitive landscape.
One of the best ways to organize this information is through a Porter’s Model or SWOT Analysis. A SWOT Analysis is an organizational tool. It evaluates the overall operations of a company and the industry they operate within. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
The strengths and weaknesses refer to the positives and negatives the company itself holds. Every company has unique strengths and weaknesses that allow them to get ahead or fall behind in their industry. Likewise, the opportunities and threats refer to the external variables that exist in a company’s industry. Influences such as availability of resources, amount of competitors, government regulations all are variables that affect a business’s operations without their direct control.
These external and internal sources of information help us understand the situation. From this point we can start to formulate a plan. Knowing where opportunities may be and where difficulties may arise allows us to focus on the best options available.
Design A Strategy
Now that you have a better understanding of your current surroundings it’s time to start developing your strategy. By sitting down with your team you should be able to effectively formulate a strategy and communicate what is meant to be achieved by these efforts.
Some initial questions that should be asked: What is your mission statement? What works? What doesn’t work? How does this idea work in reflecting our business? Does this fit our brand’ image/identity? These are just some of the questions you should be asking at this stage. It is important to clarify these issues first before moving on to determining a plan.
It is important to incorporate input from members of multiple departments of your business, especially if their expertise will be utilized later on. If you are looking at expanding your distribution system, it would be valuable to incorporate their input into the initial strategy. This way you can find out if there are any limitations that might hold back anticipated capabilities.
In order to achieve an objective as a business you will need to make sure it accounts for your financial desires, customer desires, and operational desires. Financially you want to increase profits, but you also want to make sure you are doing that within the means of your company, so as to not cause bigger issues. From a customer perspective, you want to be offering something that they are looking for while not alienating the current viewpoint they hold of your company or brand. Operationally you want to make sure you are equipped to handle this new task. Knowing your restrictions is important and gives you a realistic view of what is possible. Expansion is an option, but it is important to look at the long term effects that might have on your business as a whole.
By incorporating all involved facets of your business from the beginning you are also establishing a clear line of communication and accountability. Establishing that everyone involved is authorized knowledge of what is going on you can minimize confusion. Making sure everyone involved is aware of what the plan is will benefit your overall success greatly.
Build A Path Towards Your Goal
Now that you have a knowledge of the landscape you are working in and have established some of the questions you need to answer it’s time to build a plan of action. This plan of action is the framework of what should be carried out. This plan should be comprehensive of all actions that need to be taken.
Goals are a great way to measure your progress, but it is important to not get too carried away. It is important to keep goals realistic, measurable by data generated and time allotted, as well as specific to the task at hand. If you formulate your goals within this framework you can make sure you are interpreting useful information and showcasing suitable results.
By formulating your goals this way you can be specific in results you wish to receive. Establishing a timeline can be a great way to make sure each goal is achievable. Utilizing a benchmark of what kinds of progress you wish to see in six months, one year, five years, ten years is a great way to measure goals while keeping them realistic and focused.
Goals also offer a level of accountability to those involved. By including everyone in the decision making process you have made them aware of their tasks and given them explicit instructions of what is expected from the rest of the group. Now each department can go off to accomplishing their assignments. They also know who to contact with concerns if something is not working as planned.
Manage Progress and Maintain Devotion
Now that everything has been established and everyone is on the same page about what needs to be achieved, you will probably find yourself riding high on the enthusiasm to get things done. This is great, but it’s important to make sure that enthusiasm doesn’t go away. If devotion is lost at this stage all of the work done previously will have been done for nothing.
In order to maintain enthusiasm and ensure devotion there are a few things that need to be done. Make sure everyone involved has a detailed plan that holds them accountable, utilize a uniform system of tracking performance, and review progress periodically.
Accountability is crucial at this stage. With so many different departments working together for the same objective it is necessary that everyone does their part. By having an established line of communication and allowing everyone knowledge of each part of the process you can hold each other accountable.
Tracking progress is how you measure goals. Everyone needs to be tracking the performance of their progress as they complete their tasks. Utilizing a uniform system of data collection is the key to report progress with ease. By using the same metrics you can ensure everyone else involved understands how things are going.
Reviewing progress is the ongoing communal maintenance that needs to be done in order to keep everyone dedicated. Set up a periodic time to meet and evaluate the overall progress of the project. This is where concerns of accountability can be brought up, performance results can be shared, and goals can be evaluated. This meeting should be consistent; whether it be monthly, quarterly, etc. it should be a chance to make sure everything is continued as planned.