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Business + Management: Marty Mcghie

Crafting the Strategic Plan

This critical element of business is surprisingly overlooked.




In the ordinary course of business, we constantly find ourselves strategizing at different times and at different levels. But how many of us really take the necessary time to do real strategic planning? This critical element of business management is surprisingly overlooked or ignored by many companies. Strategic planning can ultimately make the difference between a company struggling to adapt to challenges and a company that successfully responds to changes in the business environment.

First, though: What is a strategic plan? It might be easier to begin by defining what it is not. Your strategic plan, for instance, is not a “to do” list of what you need to accomplish over the next few years as a business. It’s not the development of standard operating procedures or corporate policies. Nor is it the development of your company vision, values, and mission statement (which I discussed in the January issue); actually, it’s a product of that vision, values, and mission statement.

In a nutshell, your strategic plan should define the direction and purpose of your organization. It should be a plan that your company can orient itself around for the future. It will involve planning around some of your critical long-term goals and, perhaps, even some short-term goals. Your strategic plan will provide you with a blueprint by which you will make future decisions and will assist you in your shop’s long-term operations. If you find yourself ready to make a decision that goes against your strategic plan, then you have a couple of choices: Either you don’t implement that strategy, because it’s contrary to your strategic plan, or you change your strategic plan, because the decision makes sense.

All together now
So who should take part in your strategic planning process? Certainly the owners and senior or executive management team need to be heavily involved. If you have a board of directors, they don’t necessarily have to be involved at the detailed planning level, but they should be kept in the loop about where your strategic plan is taking the company.

One of the most recommended approaches to developing a successful process is to form a strategic-planning team. The advantage of having a team in charge of developing the plan: It understands that this is its responsibility and it is ultimately in charge of completing the assignment. Too often, when projects don’t have a specific group tasked with making it happen, it doesn’t, in fact, happen. Make sure there is a chairperson in charge of the team. Again, this team should be well represented by ownership and senior management, so the chairperson could very well be the company president. Additional team members could include key employees from your production staff, perhaps your HR manager, a member of your accounting department, etc. The better represented the team is from the various parts of your organization, the more chance you have of your entire staff buying into the strategic plan and helping it succeed.

Regardless of whether you take the team approach or not, there needs to be regularly scheduled meetings regarding your strategic plan. Set up some benchmarks and time frames in which you want to complete your plan. This is difficult, challenging work, and as such, is easy to postpone. Believe me, your business is just like everyone else’s—there will always be at least a dozen “pressing issues” that you have to deal with rather than spend time on your strategic plan. That’s probably the number-one reason why so few of us actually have one.


Crystallize via questioning
Now that you’ve assembled a crack team, how do you begin the process? My best advice is to just jump right in. There really isn’t a magical, perfect approach to developing a strategic plan. Begin by committing to a timeframe for your plan. I’d recommend putting together a three-year plan to start—one or two years might be too short, and over a five-year period of time a lot of things can change.

Once you establish your timeframe, begin identifying where you want your business to go. What products do you want to sell? How do you want to attack your market? Are you selling in the marketplace you want, or, even more important, where will you have the best chance of success? What are your revenue-growth goals? Does your growth strategy include traditional selling, online commerce, or perhaps both? What are your goals for profitability? Asking yourself these types of questions will help you begin to crystallize your thought processes and assist you in beginning to build a strategic plan.

Then, map out the necessary steps to achieve your goals. These steps are best structured when consistent with the framework of your corporate organization. For example, your strategic plan could be split up into financial, managerial, and operational sections. There may be sections dealing with human resources and other ancillary parts of your business that may not be specific to operational plans, but are critical support systems. The idea is to make certain each part of your business is accounted for in your strategic planning.

When your strategic plan has been put in place, use it. Revisit it monthly, and at the end of the year, update it for the coming year. Don’t be afraid to alter your plan as the business environment changes. Be flexible, but at the same time, stick with your plan. Creating a plan, but neglecting to use it, is a waste of valuable time.

Although the current state of today’s economy would have been impossible to predict, I can’t help but wonder if my own company would have been better equipped to deal with the economic turmoil had we had a better strategic plan in place at that time (as we now do). Make it a goal in 2009 to begin the process of a strategic plan for your business. You will, without questions, become a better company.




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