October 28, 2014
Elements of Strategic Planning
By TRISH HAYWARD and SANDRA SMITH
In a few short weeks, 2015 budget and headcount numbers need to be finalized. At this stage, you’re either flying blind, scrambling the jets, or expecting a smooth arrival with the runway clear in your sights. Regardless of your level of preparedness, you most likely encountered a few of these common planning issues:
- There are too many initiatives and a lack of criteria to prioritize
- Tactics are not linked to goals
- The team is not aligned on where to focus investments
- The team is getting whiplash as the direction of the plan keeps shifting
There’s a simple reason why these pitfalls have become so prevalent. Plans must be anchored with strategy, but many companies or business teams don’t have a strategy.
Having a well-articulated strategy is great, theoretically. But, finance will be tracking you down for the numbers shortly. How do you create some strategic grounding without investing 6 months and $1MM by hiring a big firm to do it? Use the following DIY approach.
Step 1: get familiar with the core components of a strategic plan. They are clearly defined in our proprietary strategic planning framework:
Step 2: set up a ‘short and sweet’ planning process with your key management team members, including those who are closest to the customer and operations of the company. Be sure to assign a strong, organized, and articulate planning lead (or hire Catalyst to take on this role if you can’t spare a person). Assume this process will consume the lead’s time for 4 solid weeks.
[Light Prep | week 1] Assign one of your team members to developing a simple situation assessment, including SWOT
- Important: you don’t have time for primary research and detailed modeling, so go with the data you have. Schedule interviews with the people who are closest to the market (i.e., sales and service team, etc.), do a few ‘friendly’ customer interviews (if possible), and conduct a bit of secondary research.
[Planning Session #1 | early week 2] Hold a six-hour planning session, ideally with a 3rd party facilitator, with the following agenda:
- Share an overview of process and objectives for the day
- Review and crystallize the SWOT; define key openings and issues to be addressed in the strategy
- Brainstorm on vision for your organization
- Brainstorm on mission for your organization
- Agree on 3-5 long-term SMART goal categories for the organization; you can finalize the numbers later
- Brainstorm on strategy
[Crystallize outcomes | end of week 2, early week 3] Articulate stake-in-the-ground vision, mission and long-term goals based on the team’s discussion at the session
- Define a list of potential strategies
- Review this with top 3-4 stakeholders to gain initial buy-in
- Refine as needed
[Planning Session #2 | end of week 3] Hold a second six-hour planning session, ideally with a 3rd party facilitator, with the following agenda:
- Share where you are in the process, objectives for the day
- Review and gather feedback on recommendations for vision, mission and long-term goals; get to 70%+ agreement (i.e., the ‘gist’)
- Review strategy ideas from prior session; drive to decision (leveraging vision, mission, and goals) on competitive advantage
- Tighten focus of strategic priorities for the organization to reach goals, address major issues or capture strategic openings
[Crystallize outcomes | week 4] Form a draft strategic plan
- Review this with top 3-4 stakeholders to gain buy-in
- Refine as needed
- Review again with key stakeholders and gain approval for distribution
[Publish | week 4] Mark it as “PRELIMINARY” and distribute to the team for grounding during this year’s operational planning
True, this is not a bullet-proof strategy. But we’ve used this type of process with dozens of companies and we can guarantee that this 70%, duct-taped version of a strategy is WAY better than having no strategy at all. Don’t forget, you can (and should) take the time starting in January to validate and finalize the strategy. In the meantime, the team won’t be shooting in the dark anymore while doing 2015 planning. You have lit the runway for a clear approach and smooth touchdown.
Don’t miss our next blog post, where we will share our tips for developing an annual operational plan. Hint! It should be firmly grounded in your strategic plan.
Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.Alan Lakein