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Strategic Planning: A Primer

Posted by Louellen Essex on October 7, 2013 in Change Management

Often short-staffed and under-funded, leaders are driven to focus on operational concerns – getting through each day, meeting short-term objectives and staying afloat. While it may appear this is the only way to survive, the opposite may actually be true. If an organization doesn’t take time to plan for the long term, it may get blindsided by becoming irrelevant or overtaken by a competitor with more savvy leadership.

Strategic planning is a method that involves the development of assumptions about the future, and then creating strategic goals designed to minimize threats and capture opportunities. To enact this process in your organization, follow these important guidelines:

Planning to Plan. Determine who needs to be involved, how long the planning process should take, how decisions will be made and logistics. Identify what information you will need to collect – social, political, financial and industry-specific trends – to ensure participants have adequate knowledge to participate creatively.

Assembling a Planning Group. Choose committed representatives from all areas of your organization. Top-down strategic planning runs the risk of disengaging the staff members who must implement change, so involve as many key players as you can.

Scanning. Analyze the trend data you’ve collected and develop assumptions about the future. Develop a SWOT analysis of your organization’s strengths (S) and weaknesses (W), and potential opportunities (O) and threats (T).

Vision Creation. Create a description of your organization’s ideal future in the next 5-10 years – one that will capture its strengths and opportunities while diminishing the impact of its weaknesses and looming threats. Strive for a statement that is challenging, inspiring and memorable.

Mission Creation. Determine the overall purpose of the organization. i.e. What business are you in and is it still viable given the scanning analysis conducted? Make sure the mission statement is succinct (15 words or less) and distinct, differentiating your organization from others in a similar industry.

Core Values Creation. How will you go about achieving the vision? What behaviors do you expect staff members to adhere to, i.e. integrity, service-orientation, mutual respect, teamwork.

Goal Development. Determine the broad goals upon which you want to focus for the next 3-5 year period. Limit the number of goals to a manageable number. Assign measures to each goal that identify how goal attainment will be measured. Remember: What gets measured tends to get done.

Strategy Formulation. How will you achieve each of the goals? Your choice of method becomes your strategy. Brainstorm options, analyze them carefully and think creatively. Your competitive advantage comes with your ability to achieve outcomes more cleverly than others.

Action Planning and Follow-up. Delineate the specific actions needed to enact the strategies to achieve the goals. Assign completion dates and individuals responsible for each action. Consider retaining the strategic planning group, or a subset of it, to monitor implementation of the plan and report progress.
The product of this process should be a written plan that is a vital document within your organization, providing direction, hope and a rudder in these turbulent and challenging times.

Adapted from Manager’s Desktop Consultant by Louellen N. Essex and Mitchell Kusy, 2007.

What are some of the challenges you face with strategic planning? What strategies have been most effective?

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In these times of rapid change, leaders can never stop learning.”

Dr. Louellen Essex