Since every organization is in a different life cycle stage, each has slightly different goals for strategic planning.
Yet there are certain outcomes which are fairly common to strategic planning. Outcomes most organizations do – or should – aspire to.
As I go through my list, think about your own goals for strategic planning. Have I identified anything you hadn’t thought of? Do you have anything I haven’t covered?
Strategic Planning Goals
I don’t care how it is accomplished – whether by vision statement, mission statement, mantra, whatever – but preferably by the start of strategic planning, the company must be clear on 1) the business it’s in, 2) the direction it’s heading, and equally clear on 3) what it does not do. Too many business problems are created simply from a lack of focus, so focus is and shall remain Job #1.
Regardless of the size of company, it is my preference that the leadership has identified core values and vision, and gotten the company involved in crafting the mission. Again, this is best accomplished prior to strategic planning but is worth mentioning here as it either drives or derails strategic planning.
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised to find out for just how many companies this is difficult. What I want to see is informed strategic decisions. For example, saying “we need more sales” isn’t good enough, nor is “we need to expand to get more sales.” Having the information that “Expanding into the Northwest will increase sales 30% while only increasing expenses 10%, so we should expand sales into the Northwest,” is a solid, informed strategy.
It’s based on homework rather that gut feel. It’s strategic planning rather than strategic guessing. It emphasizes making business decisions based on business information.
Granted, much of the time business decisions aren’t that obvious. But actually a good portion of the time with just a little homework they are.
The point to strategic planning is coming up with a core set of strategies that will really move the needle for the business.
Goals & Measures
Move the needle for the business? Ok, by how much? To what net effect? For what gain?
I need to see my organizations think in measurable terms in their strategic planning process. I need to see goals like:
Increase Northwest sales from $250,000 to $900,000 by Dec. 31, resulting in a 30% increase in overall sales for the company.
Achieve 35% market share of Northwest sales by Dec. 31, resulting in increased recognition of the company by Northwest clients.
Goals such as these make it clear that:
- We can, do, and should have multiple goals for the strategies we consider important enough to chase.
- We have a defined metric for success in our goals, and a clear sense of what the goal looks like.
Measurable goals transform the strategies into actionable component parts, without yet defining the action.
If measurable goals transform strategies into actionable components, then plans transform goals to action.
I like to see logical Action Plans come out of each goal, and most importantly, at sufficient detail. I’m looking for a list of Action Items that tell:
- What – a description of what needs to happen
- Who – who owns the task, even if a whole team of people are involved
- When – what the due date is. Milestones? Consider making more action items.
I use common sense: it’s enough detail when an action item is a unit of work any reasonable person could figure out, and only one person need own.
A lot of times I find executives aren’t willing to get this “dirty” in strategic planning. Go there. Make the first pass, allowing that there will be change, but get a stake in the ground around the plans you expect to see.
Most organizations have something lurking in the closet that hold them back from greatness. Over the years the wide variety of white elephants I’ve seen have been wide and varied. Without a doubt, those who take the time to deal fully with their skeletons move on better, unencumbered, and accomplish greater things after strategic planning.
I’ve seen bad business deals that were languishing and needed to be terminated, inappropriate relationships between senior staff, sacred cow initiatives that are held as holy even as they lose money… the list goes on.
Take time to examine your organization and see if you have anything holding you back from greatness. Is now the time to find the appropriate manner to deal with it?
Bringing It All Together
Depending on the organization and its prior experience with strategic planning, there are other goals I may have for our time together, and I may stress some of these items above more or less. But they serve as a good guiding point to get started with.
There is one, however, which stands above the rest. One that, if you’re pressed for time or focus, should be your focus. One that should receive attention no matter what.
If you come out of strategic planning only having set measurable goals, only having established for yourself performance targets, you haven’t simply captured the major opportunity of strategic planning.
You have also accomplished the first step of truly first class management: to hold yourself and your company accountable for performance.
And that’s something to brag about.