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How to Write a Great Strategic Plan for Your Business

Published June 17, 2020

Written by: Zachary Hadlee
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Zachary Hadlee

Zachary Hadlee is a technology journalist from London, currently based in Malaga. He writes stories about how the internet works - and how it is changing. From artificial intelligence to UX, things are happening today at a pace that can seem bewildering. He is an associate with future-processing.com.
 
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Strategic planning is something that many of us will talk a lot about this year. As the business landscape continues to evolve, today’s forward-thinking brands are already looking to reinvent their strategies.

Strategic Planning – By Definition

Strategic planning is the business of setting out a brand’s direction and goals and allocating funds and resources accordingly. Essential for most businesses, strategic planning is an essential tool in that it allows businesses to set measurable goals by laying out a map of what they want to achieve and how they intend to do so. There are several reasons for a brand to implement strategic planning, including scaling of the business, extending the business to other areas or, just overall business growth. The following is an example of strategic planning for a business that clearly lays out objectives and strategy.

Strategic Planning – The Example

2020 – 2025 Strategic Plan For Brand X

Financial Strategic Objective: Grow our revenue by 30% each year.

Customer Strategic Objective:  Sign up two new consulting clients at $10,000 per month per client.

Operational Strategic Objective:  Launch integration with two new applications.

PLAN IMPLEMENTATION

  • Appoint or hire a Strategic Plan Manager
  • Hold staff accountable
  • Put an incentive compensation plan in place
  • Train for achievement
  • Empower managers
  • Hold effective strategy meetings
  • Hold special events

This is a straightforward example of a strategic plan in action and would be accompanied by in-depth direction for each point. This will also include detail on which departments – and which individual members of the company’s personnel – will be responsible for actioning specific points. For strategic planning to be successful, a brand requires a great deal of planning and number crunching, however, today we’re going to be talking about the more surprising elements that can turn a good strategic plan into a great one.

Involve Staff Across the Board – Not Just Board Members

One of the biggest mistakes that brands make when it comes to strategic planning is only involving senior members of staff. Whether it’s a fear of “too many cooks spoil the broth” or a belief that junior members of staff won’t understand or care, this can result in many missed opportunities.

For a start, employees who feel involved tend to be more engaged and therefore, more productive in their work. Most of us have, at one time or another, worked for a company where decisions were made without consulting staff – or even informing them of decisions that had been made. This lack of involvement makes employees feel ignored, under-valued and rarely leads to them giving the company their all.

Secondly, by inviting staff at all levels to actively participate in the planning, you’re opening yourself up to a diverse range of ideas and input. For example, say you invite a junior sales guy to take part in a strategic planning meeting. Halfway through your presentation, he or she may point out that your new sales target could be reached by slightly lowering the price. As somebody who is in regular contact with customers, your sales guy might just have valuable information that may not have occurred to more senior members of staff, says one of the senior managers at Future Processing.

Putting Your Theory to the Test

We’ve all heard the term “looks good on paper” and at this stage, that’s all that your strategic plan is. What you’ve primarily done so far is make a wish list of objectives and the ways in which you believe that they can be achieved. You may now think that you’re ready to execute the plan. However,  before going full steam ahead with the execution, you need to test your theories. 

The main reason for testing your plan is that, without this, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Although your strategic planning is allowed to be ambitious, it also has to be realistic to avoid leaving you and your staff disillusioned and your brand embarrassed.

Your strategic plan is comprised of a set of actions that will lead to desired outcomes, such as increased revenue or more customers. In many cases, this is based on assumptions. Task your department managers with conducting short-term experiments on specific actions. This shouldn’t take up too much time or resources but will give you an excellent idea of the validity of certain parts of your strategic plan. Once your experimental phase is complete, you’re then in a position to tweak the plan where necessary to make sure that the project as a whole has a good chance of success.

Ditch the Presentation

So, now that you’ve decided to get the whole squad involved, it’s time to tackle just how you’re going to do that. This means getting the entire team fully engaged with the project.

Instead of a static presentation, think about organizing the day as more of a workshop. Divide your staff into teams and appoint a spokesperson. Provide each with a whiteboard, markers and a copy of the strategic plan (condensed to one page where possible). Task each team with brainstorming each point and adding ideas; however wild, random or funny. At the end of the session, ask the spokesperson of each team to detail and explain the team’s findings. Just by giving the team free rein to spitball ideas, you’re cracking your brand wide open to new ways of achieving the goals that you’ve set out.

Straight Talking

While we’re on the subject of presentation and getting the whole business involved, it’s time to ditch the baffling business jargon. Although you have, without a doubt, put a lot of work into the wording of your strategic plan, “we aim to leverage our synergy and operating capabilities to maintain market access” will just make you sound like you’ve swallowed a dictionary when speaking with your team about your plan.

Having decided to involve staff at every level, it’s now your responsibility to make sure that they all know precisely what it’s all about. Make sure that you have a version of your strategic plan, which is written in plain speak to make sure you effectively communicate the objectives of the plan. You may want to consider using imagery such as flashcards or videos to illustrate specific points as it’s proven that most of us can respond to and to assimilate visuals more easily than just plain text.

Where possible, your plan should include detail on how the project will be carried out and how it will impact each area of the business and, each member of staff.

Time is Fleeting – and Fluid

When you first embarked on your new strategic plan, you undoubtedly consulted the Gods of the internet. In doing so, you probably found an article which said that your plan should cover one year; and then another that said five years…and another which said 10. So, which one is correct?  None of them. It may be that the goals you want to achieve are very much time-related and, you have a specific deadline in mind, which is fine. If not, there are no rules which say that you have to conform to a chronological plan – after all, it’s your strategic plan, nobody else’s. If the main point of your plan is to increase revenue, then you can do this on a rolling plan per year – for example, our brand will increase revenue by 30% per year, moving forward. 

A Moveable Feast

For a more specific action, such as finding two new clients, things get a little more tricky, but it’s still manageable. With this kind of goal, although you don’t necessarily have to stick to a rigid time-scale, you don’t want to leave it floating either. Instead, mark it as a priority item with a review every three months to see the progress that has been made. If the objective hasn’t been achieved within a year, it may then be time to think about a more structured timeline.

Deadlines and forecasting should be based on previous data for the most accurate results. Although it is vital to have a deadline, it’s a good idea to keep this flexible where possible. 

You Got Rhythm

Now that you’ve got your plan and your players in place, it’s time to develop a Think Rhythm system. A what, you say? That’s right – a Think Rhythm. Although we hope that your team will be thinking all of the time, a think rhythm encourages specific members to actively spend time thinking about certain aspects of the plan to help iron out any bumps and keep things focused.  

Essentially, a Think Rhythm is a way of taking a step back before implementing each section of your strategic plan. It’s also a good way of making sure that your project stays on track and doesn’t deviate or fracture. As the name would suggest, this is, in a nutshell, all about thinking – but structured thinking. A think rhythm team can be implemented for any small section of the plan, but in this example, we’ll look at a think rhythm team for the strategic plan as a whole. Although it was essential to involve the entire team when launching your strategic planning, for this stage, you’ll want to harness the power of a cross-section. A good plan would be to invite one key member from several departments, including Client Support, Sales, PR, Marketing, Finance and Product Management. This will be your think rhythm team – a task force for keeping the strategic plan moving forward.

What Next?

With your team in place, it’s time to set regular meetings or catch-ups to discuss progress, problems and changed objectives. These get-togethers can be as formal or as informal as you like and should include:

  • A “listen without judgment” culture where each member gets to have their say
  • Agreement on the degree of collaboration required
  • Assignment of further research or assignments
  • Prioritization of the different aspects of the strategic plan
  • A reporting strategy to be distributed to other members of the broader strategic planning team

Whether you plan these catch-ups weekly or monthly, they are an excellent way of keeping the strategic planning relevant and on target. It also gives you a chance to address any problems or issues quickly and effectively. In between sessions, each member of the Think Rhythm team is responsible for putting in a certain amount of thought to the project so that he or she has something to bring to the table during the catch-up sessions.

When it comes to designing and implementing your strategic planning, it is time to dismiss everything you’ve read on the internet. From set in stone time-frames to “must-have” templates, the only real requirement is that your plan suits your business. Although it is necessary to have some kind of structure to your plan, take into account the fact that things change. Take the pressure off yourself and your team by remaining flexible where possible and organizing regular updates and progress reports. This way, if your plan encounters a bump in the road, it can be considered no more than a minor setback – with only a small re-think needed to rectify things.

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