What is Strategic Planning and How to Make it Work

Ian Elliott

Strategic planning may sometimes feel like a “buzzword”, some mythological business procedure that many talk about but rarely put into action.  But strategic planning can bring real value to an organization – as long as everyone takes the process seriously.

Strategic planning is an organization’s process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy [wikipedia]. Think of it as a road map – a coordinated and systematic way to develop a course and direction for your company. Do you have uncertainty in your business?  Are there risks or opportunities that you know may transpire over the next few years? If so, you need a strategic plan.

What Does A Strategic Plan Include?

In general a strategic plan will include:

  • An executive summary, which is usually written at the end of the process
  • A company description
  • Your mission, vision and value statements
  • A strategic analysis that can be in the form of a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats)
  • An explanation of your strategies and tactics
  • An action plan
  • Budget and operating plans
  • Detailed monitoring and evaluation methods

[from www.bdc.ca]

Is a Strategic Plan a Business Plan?

No, don’t confuse a strategic plan with a business plan.  A business plan is much larger and more comprehensive. A business plan often includes a business strategy, marketing strategy, operational plan, human resources plan and other items. The strategic plan, in contrast, contains an action plan with specific objectives and due dates while defining the responsible parties.

Who Participates in Strategic Planning?

Strategic planning should be conducted with the key members of your business, including the President/CEO who should get input from other employees.  As a team the group should identify the key factors for the strategic analysis and as a team determine the issues at hand. The group should also be responsible for the formulation of the strategic direction and action plans.

When Should You Conduct Strategic Planning?

In general, strategic planning should occur annually as a mechanism to review your year to date results and formulate your plan for the following year.  However, it largely depends on the needs of your organization and if there is an immediate and impending change in business you should conduct strategic planning sooner rather than later.

The Business Development Bank of Canada recommends strategic planning:

  • When you start a business
  • If you’re preparing for a new venture such as a product launch
  • When markets are changing
  • If the business environment (laws, regulations, business practices) is changing

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Why Should You Have a Strategic Planning Session?

Conducting strategic planning can have many positive direct and indirect impacts on your business:

  • Engagement: your team will be better aligned with the corporate goals and direction of the company if they are active participants in strategic planning
  • Improved Efficiencies: strategic planning focuses the business on what is important, what staff should be spending their time doing (vs not doing) to achieve the corporate goals for the organization
  • Better Understanding of Industry / Environment: an important part of every strategic plan is conducting a SWOT analysis to identify the internal strengths and weaknesses of the business while also reviewing the external opportunities and threats that may impact you in the future. This introspective analysis will almost always provide fresh new insights in ways to grow and protect your business.
  • Improved Execution:  having a strategic plan with timelines and responsible parties will allow staff to have a roadmap outlining the business focus.  It will also allow improved accountability for important initiatives that must be completed to achieve the corporate goals.
  • Results: a strategic plan, if developed and executed correctly, will produce measurable results in the business.  It does not need to be a lengthy or cost prohibitive exercise and the amount of work it takes to conduct and create a plan will provide exponential rewards to the business.

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