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What is Strategic Business Planning?
The importance of strategic planning, the strategic planning process, six strategic planning examples, elements of strategic planning implementation.
Strategic Business Planning 101
Operating without a strategic plan is like sitting in the passenger seat of your own business. You see it accelerate into overdrive and pass one milestone after another. Eventually, however, you helplessly watch as it swerves aimlessly or, worse, crashes and burns.
Strategic planning puts you behind the steering wheel. It serves as a roadmap that defines the direction a company must travel, and that helps leaders prepare for potential roadblocks. Companies and markets without this foundation and foresight are far more likely to get lost, stuck, or wrecked.
Strategic planning is a systematic process for developing an organization’s direction. It also articulates the objectives and actions required to achieve that future vision, and outlines metrics for measuring success.
By helping you refocus on your foundational purpose, your goals, development and your opportunities, strategic planning reintroduces you to “the big picture.” It’s the basis for business owners to achieve their vision, which they communicate to stakeholders in a strategic business plan and program.
It’s common to confuse a strategic plan with a business plan, which is used to start a business, obtain funding, or direct operations and generally covers one year.
A strategic plan, on the other hand, is about high-level thinking and generally looks at 3 to 5 years. It can be created at any time and should be regularly revisited. Key points to review the plan include whenever a company begins a new venture (like launching a new product), if the economy or competitive landscape changes, or when new regulations or trends affect the business environment.
Taking the time to identify exactly where your business and your executive team are headed (and how you’ll get there) can help mitigate the risks associated with business growth. In fact, the strategic planning process can fuel long-term success by bolstering these five key areas:
Having a clear picture of your company’s future, plus a roadmap to get there, allows your company to be far more proactive. Rather than constantly reacting to outside forces beyond your control, you can strategically make moves designed to help you achieve your long-term objectives.
Strategic planning can even help you anticipate unfavorable scenarios before they happen and take precautions to avoid them. You can keep up with market trends and avoid common industry pain points.
Every company has a finite amount of human and financial resources. By defining exactly what activities are needed to achieve objectives, a strategic plan helps you assess costs and means to allocate resources in the most efficient way.
CEOs must be selective about which new opportunities they invest in and which they avoid. The strategic planning process makes it clear when to spend and when to pass.
The business landscape changes at a rapid pace. CEOs must contend with new government regulations, shifting workforce demographics, technological advances such as Facebook, and economic uncertainty. A strategic plan puts these challenges into perspective.
The process of reviewing your company’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities can help you rise above tricky situations. You’ll be prepared to respond to a competitor’s new product launch, a technology upgrade on your production floor, or an unhappy customer base. This degree of foresight can result in increased profitability and market share.
The strategic plan is essential for communicating your vision to investors, managers, and employees. It ensures that all key stakeholders are on the same page, rather than struggling (perhaps inadvertently) against one another.
Even more than building consensus, the strategic planning process can improve performance. As an example, it may generate ideas for restructuring to help employees reach their full potential. Sharing realistic goals and metrics for measuring them also motivates employees to keep up their efforts.
Running a business is a tumultuous endeavor; many CEOs are familiar with the feast-famine, boom-bust cycle. And organizations that don’t have a solid foundation—like the one a strategic plan provides—are the most likely to struggle.
According to a TAB Pulse Survey , business owners who say they have a high-quality strategic plan are much more likely to forecast sharp increases in profits and sales revenue over the next year than are owners who lack a plan.
How do you build a strategic business plan? There are many different frameworks you can use, but generally the planning process addresses four considerations.
Understand Your Business
Assess where your business is today. This includes reviewing core business information (such as key financial documents), and writing or revisiting your vision, mission statement, and core values. Do they still resonate with your vision? Changes in circumstances, leadership, or the marketplace may require you to rethink the core of your business from time to time. Take time for serious reflection to come up with something truly meaningful. You may also seek input from your staff, business owner advisory board, or a business coach. When writing these core business documents, ditch the jargon. What is the most idealistic version of your business? What are your most ambitious goals? What is the grandest vision for what your company could be?
Analyze Your Strengths, Weaknesses, and Threats
A SWOT analysis is a tool for critically evaluating your company's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can provide insight into where your business should focus its marketing efforts, give you a better understanding of your industry and customers, clue you into your competitive advantages, and give you a heads-up on potential threats to your growth. Examples of the types of questions you might ask during the SWOT process include:
- What do we do well?
- What do our customers identify as our strengths?
- Which emerging trends can we capitalize on?
- Who are our competitors under-serving?
- What are the most common complaints we receive?
- What outdated technologies do we use?
- What external roadblocks are in the way of our progress?
- What are our competitors doing that’s different?
Even if you’ve done a SWOT analysis in the past, it’s useful to do another as part of the strategic planning process. Don’t love the SWOT method? Skip ahead to the next section to learn about a few alternatives.
Define Objectives and Set Goals
Drill down into specific objectives that will help you achieve your vision. These might include things like launching a new product, trying different marketing strategies, re-allocating financial resources, or improving employee culture. Also, determine the specific initiatives required to meet the big-picture goals. Setting goals is only effective if you actually meet them, so you must also establish how you’ll measure success. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the specific metrics you’ll track to determine progress on goals. KPIs can include things like percentage of market share, customer acquisition cost, and average support ticket resolution time.
Put the Plan into Action
Objectives are future focused, so now you need short-term action steps. Unlike goals, tasks should take only a few days or weeks to complete. Break down tasks into the smallest possible steps. Keep asking yourself, “What needs to happen before we can take this next step?” For example, a goal of “upgrade aging equipment” could be broken down into individual tasks like “research suppliers,” “make appointments with reps at the next expo” and “purchase equipment.” Assign a responsible party to each task, set deadlines for completion, and create accountability. Finally, establish a timetable for reviewing your strategic plan (at least once a quarter). Regularly tracking and analyzing your plan ensures you’ll stay on track and make progress toward your goals. Ask hard questions during these reviews to avoid continuing on with an outdated plan.
SWOT is perhaps the most common tool used in the strategic planning process, but it’s not right for everyone. Some critics think it’s too limited in scope and doesn’t encourage deep analysis. That’s why business advisors have created several alternatives, each with its own structure.
- A SOAR analysis is a common, more positive twist on SWOT. It stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results, and the goal is to use appreciative inquiry to focus on what works, rather than perceived weaknesses or potential threats.
- NOISE stands for Needs, Opportunities, Improvements, Strengths, and Exceptions. This solution-focused process looks at what works and what should improve, and also encourages you to explore opportunities you didn’t realize existed.
- The Five Forces framework examines competitive rivalry, supplier power, buyer power, threat of substitution, and threat of new entry. It can help companies assess industry attractiveness, how trends will affect industry competition, which industries a company should compete in, and how companies can position themselves for success.
- Hambrick and Fredrickson’s Strategy Diamond framework consists of five essential parts that together should form a unified whole: Arenas, Vehicles, Differentiators, Staging, and Economic Logic. It’s intended to serve as a concise way to show how the parts of an organization’s strategy fit together.
- STEEPLE is an acronym for Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political, Legal, and Ethical—and each is an external factor you’ll judge using this tool. (There are several similar variations on this external-focused model, including PEST and STEEP).
- A CORE assessment uses a strictly financial perspective to craft a business strategy and long-term plan. It looks at a company's capital investment, site, ownership involvement, risk factors, and exit strategy.
A strategic plan is useless if it sits on a shelf-collecting dust. That’s why implementation is perhaps the most critical step of the planning process. It’s what turns strategies and plans into actions and successes. The plan is the what and why, but implementation is the equally important who, where, when, and how.
Strategic plans fail for many reasons, including lack of ownership or confusion about the plan among stakeholders, lack of accountability or empowerment, not tying strategy to budgeting, not linking employee incentives to strategy.
Success hinges on a quality implementation plan. It starts with the top brass, who should take responsibility for spearheading execution. It’s essential, however, that all stakeholders are involved.
Start by assessing whether you have the appropriate and sufficient budget, people, resources, content and systems in place to execute on the plan. Shore up any weaknesses before trying to put the plan in motion.
As with most things, communication is key. Educate stakeholders about why the company participated in strategic planning, how the plan and specific objectives support the company’s mission and values, and how employees’ day-to-day work affects the company’s success.
Establish responsibility for tasks to the appropriate parties, a scorecard for tracking and monitoring progress, and a performance management and reward system.
Educate managers on how employee work translates into meeting goals, and regularly check in with them on progress. In fact, it should become the norm to hold structured performance conversations throughout the entire company.
Hold quarterly strategic reviews to monitor progress and make small or big adjustments as needed. During annual reviews, revisit all elements of the plan. Conduct new assessments and adjust objectives and KPIs accordingly.
Strategic planning should be an essential part of any company’s decision-making process. No matter how large or successful your organization is, TAB’s StratPro® process can help you to excel when faced with tomorrow’s business challenges.
The StratPro® process provides an effective framework for transforming your personal vision of your company into a clear and concise road map that will help to guide your organization’s response to every new challenge and opportunity.
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Strategic planning: Read this before it's that time again
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What is strategic planning?
What is strategic plan management?
Benefits of robust strategic planning and management
10 steps in the strategic planning process.
Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. - Dwight D. Eisenhower
It’s that time again.
Every three to five years, most larger organizations periodically plan for the future. Many times strategic planning documents are shelved and forgotten until the next cycle begins. On the other hand, many smaller and newer organizations, propelled by urgency, may not devote the necessary time and energy to the strategic planning process.
Only 63% of businesses plan more than a year out. They fail to see that — contrary to Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire cat — “any way” does not take you there.
For all organizations, a more rigorous annual planning process is critical for driving future success, profitability, value, and impact.
John Kotter, a former professor at Harvard Business School and noted expert on innovation says, “ Strategy should be viewed as a dynamic force that constantly seeks opportunities, identifies initiatives that will capitalize on them, and completes those initiatives swiftly and efficiently.”
There’s hardly a better case that can be made for dynamic planning than in the tech industry, where mergers and acquisitions are accelerating exponentially. Companies need to be nimble enough to navigate rapid change . In this case, planning should occur quarterly.
Strategic planning is an ongoing process by which an organization sets its forward course by bringing all of its stakeholders together to examine current realities and define its vision for the future.
It examines its strengths, weaknesses, and strengths, resources available, and opportunities. Strategic planning seeks to anticipate future industry trends . During the process, the organization creates a vision, articulates its purpose, and sets strategic goals that are long-term and forward-focused.
Those strategic goals inform operational goals and incremental milestones that need to be reached. The operational plan has clear objectives and supporting initiatives tied to metrics to which everyone is accountable . The plan should be agile enough to allow for recalibrating when necessary and redistributing resources based on internal and external forces.
The output of the planning process is a document that is shared across the enterprise.
Strategic planning for individuals
Strategic planning isn’t just for companies. At BetterUp, strategic planning is one of the skills that we identify, track, and develop within the Whole Person Model . For individuals, strategic planning is the ability to think through ways to achieve desired outcomes. Just as strategic planning helps organizations realize their goals for the future, it helps individuals grow and achieve goals in a unified direction.
Working backward from the desired outcome, effective strategic planning consists of coming up with the steps we need to take today in order to get where we want to be tomorrow.
While no plan is infallible, people who develop this skill are good at checking to make sure that their actions are in alignment with the outcomes that they want to see in the future. Even when things don’t go according to plan, their long-term goals act as a “North star” to get them back on course. In addition, envisioning desired future states and figuring out how to turn them into reality enhances an individual’s sense of personal meaning and motivation.
Whether we’re talking about strategic planning for the company or the individual, strategic plans can go awry in a variety of ways including:
- Unrealistic goals and too many priorities
- Poor communication
- Using the wrong measures
- Lack of leadership
The extent to which that document is shelved until the next planning cycle or becomes a dynamic map of the future depends on the people responsible for overseeing the execution of the plan.
What is strategic plan management?
"Most people think of strategy as an event, but that’s not the way the world works," according to Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. "When we run into unanticipated opportunities and threats, we have to respond. Sometimes we respond successfully; sometimes we don’t. But most strategies develop through this process. More often than not, the strategy that leads to success emerges through a process that works 24/7 in almost every industry."
Strategic business management is the ongoing process by which an organization creates and sustains a successful roadmap that moves the company in the direction it needs to move, year after year, for long-term success. It spans from research and formulation to execution, evaluation, and adjustment. Given the pace of change, strategic management is more relevant and important than ever for assigning measurable goals and action steps
Many organizations fail because they don’t have the strategic management team at the table right from the beginning of the planning process. A strategic plan is only as good as its ability to be executed and sustained.
A strategic management initiative might be driven by an internal group — many companies have an internal strategy team — or an outside consulting firm. Ultimately company leaders need to own executing and sustaining the strategy.
Strategic management teams
In this Harvard Business Review article, Ron Carucci from consulting firm Navalent reports that 61% of executives in a 10-year longitudinal study felt they were not prepared for the strategic challenges they faced upon being appointed to senior leadership roles. Lack of commitment to the plan is also a contributing factor. In addition, leaders attending to quarterly targets, crisis management , and reconciling budgets often consider the execution of a long-term strategy a low priority.
A dedicated strategic management team works with those senior leaders and managers throughout the organization to communicate, coordinate and evaluate progress against goals. They tie strategic objectives to day-to-day operational metrics throughout the enterprise.
A good strategic management group can assist in creating a culture of empowerment and learning . It holds regular meetings with employees. It sets a clear agenda and expectations to make the strategic plan real and compelling to the organization through concrete objectives, results, and timelines.
Strategy development is a lot of work, but the benefits are lasting. After all, as the saying goes, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Taking the time for review and planning activities has the following benefits:
- Organizations and people are set up to succeed
- Increased likelihood of staying on track
- Decreased likelihood of being distracted or derailed
- Progress through the plan is communicated throughout the organization
- Metrics facilitate course correction
- Budgets enterprise-wide are based on strategy
- Cross-organization alignment
- Robust employee performance and compensation plans
- Commitment to learning and training
- A robust strategic planning process gets everyone involved and invested in the organizations
- Employees inform management about what’s working or not working at the operational level
- Innovation is encouraged and rewarded
- Increased productivity
1. Define mission and vision
Begin by articulating the organization's vision for the future. Ask, "What would success look like in five years?" Create a mission statement describing organizational values and how you intend to reach the vision. What values inform and determine mission, vision, and purpose?
Purpose-driven strategic goals articulate the “why” of what the corporation is doing. It connects the vision statement to specific objectives, drawing a line between the larger goals and the work that teams and individuals do.
2. Conduct a comprehensive assessment
This stage includes identifying an organization’s strategic position.
Gathering data from internal and external environments and respective stakeholders takes place at this time. Involving employees and customers in the research.
The task is to gather market data through research. One of the most critical components of this stage is a comprehensive SWOT analysis that involves gathering people and bringing perspectives from all stakeholders to determine:
- W eaknesses
- O pportunities
Strengths and weaknesses — In this stage, planners identify the company’s assets that contribute to its current competitive advantage and/or the likelihood of a significant increase in the organization’s market share in the future. It should be an objective assessment rather than an inflated perspective of its strengths.
An accurate assessment of weaknesses requires looking outward at external forces that can reveal new opportunities as well as threats. Consider the massive shift in multiple industries whose strategy has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While it was disastrous to the airline and restaurant industries’ business models , tech companies were able to seize the opportunity and address the demands of remote work.
Michael Porter’s book Competetive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors claims that there are five forces at work in an industry that influence that industry’s ability to develop a competitive strategy. Since the book was published in 1979, organizations have turned to Porter’s theory to create their strategic framework.
Here are the 5 forces (and key questions) that determine the competitive strategy for most industries.
- Competitive rivalry : When considering the strengths of an organization’s competitors it’s important to ask: How do our products/services hold up to our competition? If the rivalry is intense, companies need to consider what capacity they have to gain leverage through price cuts or bold marketing strategies. If there is little competition, the organization has a substantial gain in the market.
- Supplier power: How might suppliers influence strategy? For example, what if suppliers raised their prices? To what extent would a company need a particular supplier for our product(s)? Is it possible to switch suppliers in a way that is more cost effective and efficient? The number of suppliers that exist will determine your ability to keep costs low.
- Buyer power: To what extent do buyers have the ability to shop around right into the hands of your competitors? How much power does your customer base have in determining price? A small number of well-informed buyers shifts the power in their direction while a large pool may give you the strategic advantage
- Threat of substitution: What is the threat of a company’s buyer substituting your services/products from the competition? What if the buyer figures out another way to access the services/products that it offers?
- Threat of new entry: How easy is it for newcomers to enter the organization’s market?
Considering the factors above, determine the company’s value through financial forecasting . While almost certainly to become a moving target influenced by the five forces, a forecast can assign initial anticipated measurable results expected in the plan or ROI: profits/cost of investment.
4. Set the organizational direction of the business
The above research and assessment will help an organization to set goals and priorities. Too often an organization’s strategic plan is too broad and over-ambitious. Planners need to ask, ”What kind of impact are we seeking to have, and in what time frame?” They need to drill down to objectives that will have the most impact.
5. Create strategic objectives
This next phase of operational planning consists of creating strategic objectives and initiatives. Kaplan and Norton posit in their balanced scorecard methodology that there are four perspectives for consideration in identifying the conditions for success. They are interrelated and must be evaluated simultaneously.
- Financial : Such considerations as growing shareholder value, increasing revenue, managing cost, profitability, or financial stability inform strategic initiatives.
- Customer-satisfaction: Objectives can be determined by identifying targets related to one or some of the following: value for the cost, best service, increased market share, or providing customers with solutions.
- Internal processes such as operational processes and efficiencies, investment in innovation, investment in total quality and performance management , cost reduction, improvement of workplace safety, or streamlining processes.
- Learning and growth: Organizations must ask: Are initiatives in place in terms of human capital and learning and growth to sustain change? Objectives may include employee retention, productivity, building high-performing teams, or creating a pipeline for future leaders .
6. Align with key stakeholders
It’s a team effort. The success of the plan is in direct proportion to the organization’s commitment to inform and engage the entire workforce in strategy execution. People will only be committed to strategy implementation when they're connected to the organization's goals. With everyone pulling in the same direction, cross-functional decision-making becomes easier and more aligned.
7. Begin strategy mapping
A strategy map is a powerful tool for illustrating the cause-effect of those perspectives and connecting them to between 12 and 18 strategic objectives. Since most people are visual learners, the map provides an easy-to-understand diagram for everyone in the organization creating shared knowledge at all levels.
8. Determine strategic initiatives
Following the development of strategic objectives, strategic initiatives are determined. These are the actions the organization will take to reach those objectives. They may relate initiatives related to factors such as scope, budget, raising brand awareness, product development, and employee training.
9. Benchmark performance measures and analysis
Strategic initiatives inform SMART goals to which metrics are assigned to evaluate performance. These measures cascade from senior management to management to front-line workers. At this stage, the task is to create goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based informing the operational plan.
Benchmarks are established against so that performance can be measures, and a time frame is created. Key performance indicators (KPI’s) are assigned based on organizational goals. These indicators align workers’ performance and productivity with long-term strategic objectives.
10. Performance evaluation
Assessment of whether the plan has been successful . It measures activities and progress toward objectives and allows for the creation of improved plans and objectives in order to improve overall performance .
Think of strategic planning as a circular process beginning and ending with evaluation. Adjust a plan as necessary. The pace at which review of the plan is necessary may be once a year for many organizations or quarterly for organizations in rapidly evolving industries.
Prioritizing the strategic planning process
The strategic planning meeting may have a reputation for being just another to-do, but it might be time to take a second look. With the right action plan and a little strategic thinking, you can reinvigorate your business environment and start planning for success.
It's that time to get excited about the future again.
Betterup Fellow Coach, M.S.Ed, M.S.O.D.
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