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Strategic Plan

Strategic plan – limbering up is rule #1

Barely a blog goes by without me mentioning the importance of having a ‘strategic plan’ so I thought it was time to dedicate a blog to the topic. And, limbering up is rule #1.

Strategic planning is how an organisation defines its direction and the process it takes to implement and achieve this vision. When I’m working with my clients we start with just 3 considerations:

1. Where are you now? What are your mangement reports telling you? Understand the good, the bad, the unknown, the gut feeling. Be clear that as much revolves round who your customers are and what they are thinking, as concerns the organisation.
2. Where are you going? Typically, this is about establishing your vision based on your competitive advantage – at the heart of which lies your customer.
3. How will you get there? If items 1 and 2 are about ‘the content’ of your strategic planning, this is about implementation. Set out the road ahead that connects where you are now to where you want to travel.

‘Just’ 3 considerations but they’re strategic, big picture topics, so they’re significant.

In this blog I want to help you approach these 3 considerations with the right strategic attitude because there’s no point taking on such an important task in a half-hearted manner. Or thinking that there’s a ‘quick fix’ to perform for strategic planning. You need to limber up and be ready to take on strategic planning.

Get match fit for strategic planning

Get match fit for strategic planning – this is the corporate equivalent of eating well and taking regular exercise. Otherwise, your strategic planning project will turn into a painful marathon.

1. Research. A plan is only as good as the information it’s based on. Too often, companies rely on untested assumptions or hunches. Take customer profiling and segmenting; it constantly surprises me how little companies use what they do know about their target market. Ignoring the detail (such as ?) and lumping them together won’t help you do the obvious like communicate effectively or create an intelligent pricing strategy. Then there’s the knowledge that could influence your product development…
2. Brand. No, not your logo (though that might be in need of a refresh to reflect the new strategy). By ‘brand’ I mean understanding and expressing broadly what the company stands for and how you differ from your competition. Often ‘the brand’ is wheeled out for official communication by the marketing department while the rest of the organisation behaves in a manner that might or might not reflect any established image. Sort your brand so your customers can recognise you. It doesn’t get any more straightforward than that.
3. Create a diverse strategy planning team. Establish a small (6-10 people) core team. Choose carefully as you want them to gel and support one another. They must represent every area of the company so don’t just include managers and the marketing team – you want people with their ear to the ground too at every level.
4. Get full commitment from the rest of the organisation. Strategy planning might be headed by a small team of people but the rest of the organisation needs to be involved or it’ll be an expensive exercise that gets sidelined. (A bit like the ‘brand refresh’ project.) You need input in the first plance, then implementation must be organisation-wide so buy-in right from the start is important to avoid the whole thing being ‘imposed’ on an unwilling mass.
5. Invest the time and money in this plan. It takes time and effort to devise and carry out such a plan be prepared to invest a realistic amount of time and resource to include research and information-gathering, percolating ideas, feedback and review.
6. Include big-picture, strategic thinking. These are key sessions that enable the team to evaluate and make sense of what they’ve learnt. Or maybe something has unexpected has emerged (good or bad) that needs distilling and understanding. Don’t try to squeeze these sessions in between the vital elements of the ‘day job’. You and your team needs to pay full attention to these strategic moments. Take them seriously – off site meetings if necessary – and your team will have every reason to do the same.
7. Use a facilitator. An impartial third party can help you concentrate on what matters, ask the tough questions and, generally, help you progress. You may find that early on a facilitator is useful at key team meetings, maybe some of the big-picture sessions. A facilitator gives a team (and its leader) ‘permission’ to be fearless and innovative. They can also ensure that no single person monopolises the procedings.
8. Report but don’t obsess. For example, clearly articulate next steps after every session and who’s responsible for what. When you all walk out of the room, everyone must fully understand what they’re responsible for and when to meet deadlines. However, try to integrate reporting back of actions into the workings of the next session. This will make the meetings more dynamic ensuring you move forward. It’ll also help demonstrate the value of people carrying out their actions for the good of the project. Obviously you need to keep a record of actions and progress but be clear and concise, and make them accessible to everyone in the organisation – intranet, file of pdfs on the server, etc.
9. Keep implementation front of mind. It doesn’t matter how good the plan is if it isn’t executed. Implementation is the phase that turns strategies and plans into actions in order to accomplish objectives and goals. And it won’t all happen at the end – some will be simultaenous to other areas of planning. These critical actions move a strategic plan from a document that sits on the shelf to actions that drive business growth.
10. Your plan must change. Good strategic plans are fluid, not rigid and unbending. They must allow you to adapt to change because, if they work, your organisation will evolve and so will your customers.
11. Spur on innovation. It should be every organisation’s aim to encourage people to be innovative – which means being brave enough to come up with ideas that might turn out to be daft. Start with your strategic planning project.

The organisation that doesn’t have a strategic plan is going to find it very difficult to function on a day-to-day basis, let alone grow and prosper. Limbering up is Rule #1.