Strategic Planning for Business

This is a great time of year to review your existing strategic plan, or to take steps to put one in place for your business.  Don’t know where to start?  Read on to learn the basics.

What is Strategic Planning?

Strategic planning is an organizational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals, establish agreement around intended outcomes/results, and assess and adjust the organization's direction in response to a changing environment. It is a disciplined effort that produces fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, who it serves, what it does, and why it does it, all with a focus on the future. Effective strategic planning articulates not only where an organization is going and the actions needed to make progress, but also how it will know if it is successful.

What a Strategic Plan is:

A strategic plan is a document used to communicate (within the organization) the organization’s goals and the actions needed to achieve those goals. 

A strategic plan or strategy is like the keel underneath a boat. It is this keel that keeps the boat sailing in a certain direction and not merely pushed sideways by the winds and external environment.

What a Strategic Plan is not:

A strategic plan is NOT:

  • an operating plan
  • a business plan
  • a marketing plan
  • a budget
  • an event (it’s an ongoing process)

What are the 5 key steps involved in preparing a strategic plan?

  • Step one – Getting Ready:  The following 5 tasks help pave the way for an organized strategic planning process:
    • Identifying the focus of the planning process
    • Clarifying roles (who does what in the process)
    • Identifying who will participate (e.g., leadership team, division managers)
    • Developing an organizational profile
    • Identifying information that must be collected and/or shared to help make sound decisions (e.g., SWOT assessment, current Vision/Mission/Values statement, etc.)
  • Step two – Articulating Vision and Mission: If you are preparing a vision and mission statement ‘from scratch’, consider the following definitions:
    • A Vision Statement outlines what the organization wants to be in the future.  It is a source of inspiration. It provides clear decision-making criteria. It defines the organization’s purpose in terms of the organization’s values rather than bottom line measures (values are guiding beliefs about how things should be done).
    • A Mission Statement tells you the fundamental purpose of the organization.  It concentrates on the present.  It answers the questions ‘why do we do what we do’ and ‘who do we serve’.  Its prime function is internal – to define the key measure or measures of the organization’s success – and its prime audience is the leadership team.
  • Step three – Assessing the Situation: Once an organization has determined why it exists and what it does, it must take a clear look at its current situation.  This involves identifying current information about the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – information that will highlight the critical or strategic issues that the organization faces and that its strategic plan must address.  These could include a variety of primary concerns such as funding issues, new program opportunities, changing regulations, changing needs in the client population, etc.  The key is to focus on the most important issues to address.
  • Step four – Developing Strategies, Goals and Actions: Once an organization’s mission has been affirmed and its critical issues identified, it is time to figure out what to do about them: the broad approaches to be taken (strategies), the general and/or specific results to be sought (goals) and the key, measurable steps required to pursue the strategy (actions, who’s responsible, timing, required resources)
  • Step five – Completing the Written Plan: This step is pretty straightforward – it involves documenting all of the above information in a short, written Strategic Plan.


What are the 4 keys to effective strategic planning?

  1. Concentrating on the most important subjects/issues
  2. Being prepared to question the status quo and sacred cows
  3. Creating and maintaining a written document
  4. Making sure the strategic plan is translated into annual operating plan(s) – this is where you get practical and specific.


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