Strategic Planning for Organizational Success

Let us take you through the process of developing a strategic plan that will bring to life, your organization’s vision and strategic imperatives.


In today’s environment, if you are standing still, you are falling behind.  Making the right decisions at the right time is critical.  Following through on those decisions is challenging.  In a survey of a broad section of CEOs, the Malcolm Baldrige Foundation learned that CEOs believed deploying strategy is three times more difficult than developing strategy.


The executive team’s strategic planning process must address, both the development of your key strategic imperatives and the successful execution of these strategies.  The process starts by identifying your organization’s vision and mission.  Your organization’s vision and mission should outline the development of your future direction, the key influences on how you operate and the key challenges you currently face.  Through an understanding of your organization’s operating environment and your key relationships with your customers, suppliers, partners and stakeholders, you will then be able to describe your organization’s competitive environment, ensuring that your key strategic imperatives maintain your benchmarked position.  However, the process of developing this Strategic Plan seems onerous to many and of little value to others.  In our experience, we have found that the fault lies not in the concept of Strategic Planning but rather in the process of developing the plan itself.  Let us take you through the process of developing a strategic plan that will bring to life, your vision and strategic imperatives.


I.               Develop a Future Vision for the Organization


The first step in the strategic planning process is for the President/CEO and the executive team to work together and create a compelling vision.  Creating this vision and developing the strategies to achieve it is one of the most difficult challenges for many organizations.  In this complex and fast-changing world, anticipating the future can be very difficult.  The vision is more than just a dream.  It is an ambitious view of the future that everyone in the organization can believe in, one that can realistically be achieved, yet offers a future that is better in important ways than what now exists.  When the vision is clearly articulated, everyday decisions and actions will respond to current problems and challenges in ways that move the organization toward the future vision rather than maintain the status quo.    


II.             Develop the Strategic Plan


Once the vision is developed, the executive team will follow this process to develop their strategic plan: 


1.     Collect customer feedback


Dramatic gains in overall organizational performance are very often customer driven.  Customers focus on how the organization’s delivery of products and services produce the results they’re looking for in quality, price, delivery, service, etc.   Your organization’s success depends on your ability to satisfy your customer’s needs.  In turn, this ability depends on how well the organization’s internal processes work to meet this external demand.   Understanding the customer is key to determining some of the requirements for the strategic plan. 

The leadership team must know:


·       Who are the customers?


·       How is the quality in product and service delivered to the customer measured?


·       How do you obtain your customer feedback?


·       What do you do with the information it provides?


2.     Collect employee feedback


It is essential to involve employees in the planning of strategy and direction for the department and/or organization.  Employee’s input will:


·       Provide insight into issues, challenges, concerns, and opportunities which may not have been known.


      ·       Ensure their “buy-in” during the Execution Planning Stage which will link the Strategy Development into Action Plans.


The leadership team will come to the strategy development session prepared to respond to questions, derived from their staff (in meetings and one-on-one sessions with them).  Questions may include:


·       What has been accomplished in their area(s) over the past couple of years?


·       What have their customers been saying about their level of service?


·       What have been their performance strengths, weaknesses, current goals, structure and ways of operating?


·       What do they see as emergent opportunities and threats?


·       What Benchmarking information is available and relevant?


·       What would staff like to see in the future?


·       What are the concerns and issues among staff and what do they see as the opportunities?


3.     Conduct Benchmarking research


Benchmarking is an integral part of the planning and on-going review process to ensure a focus on the external environment and to strengthen the use of information in developing plans.  Benchmarking is used to improve performance by understanding the methods and practices required to achieving world-class performance levels. 


Comparisons to other similar and dissimilar organizations and their departments can yield valuable insights into determining the right strategies to improve overall quality, process, procedures, structure, and so on.


4.     Review the current organizational and/or departmental situation


Each member of the leadership team will present a summary of what they’ve accomplished in their own area of responsibility over the past year.  As well, they will include any long and short-term problems that they encountered.  Essentially, we are trying to set the stage for understanding the past so that we can overcome the obstacles, which might prevent the organization from meeting it’s vision. 


This stage in strategy development engages the leadership team in thinking about their view of their department and areas of responsibilities and related positions.  Reports collected from customer feedback and employee input and involvement will help understand the current situation.  The questions that are raised, discussed and recorded might include:

·       What are our performance strengths & weaknesses?

·       What other strengths & weaknesses do we have?

·       What strategies do we see as necessary to bridge this gap?

·       What do we think are the organization’s current goals, structure & ways of operating?

·       What are the emergent opportunities and threats bearing on the organization from various environmental sectors? (i.e.; from customer feedback, knowledge of  present market, staff feedback)

·       What are we doing to create these opportunities and threats…not looking for blame i.e.; the economy; rather, how are we working around the real issue of the economy. 


 5.     Consider your “ideal” future


Before leadership can begin developing their future strategies they engage in a general discussion that focuses on questions to get their thinking going; nothing is recorded yet.  This step reviews:


  • Staff responses from earlier meetings with them, on their vision of the future, together with customer’s future needs.  As well,
  • Results from all Benchmarking research.

To define the strategic direction and determine the best focus of effort for the organization, this process requires that the leadership team consider several key questions:


1.     What is our dream or vision of what we want to be contributing to the organization over the next 1 – 3 years?

2.     What are the key assumptions about external circumstances that will exist in this time frame and what is our best opportunity to provide a unique contribution, based on these assumed circumstances?

3.     How do we translate this dream into action?

4.     What action plans must we develop?

5.     How will we get the financial, human and physical resources to implement our plans?

6.     What performance standards should we use to measure the quality of our effort?

7.     Do we have the commitment of others upon whom we depend?  Do our partners share our vision and performance standards? If not, how will we gain commitment?

8.     How will we measure our success?  How will we measure our contribution to building stakeholder value?

9.     What information should we monitor to alert us to external changes that require changes in our vision?


The philosophy behind these questions is:

·       No matter who you are or what roles you occupy in the organization, you can form a vision of what you want to be contributing over the next several years.  This requires making correct assumptions about what the organization will be like, and about your potential for making unique contributions, over the next 2-3 years.

·       Leadership engagement in discussing these issues is essential to the strategy development process because success depends on the understanding & commitment of everyone involved in making the vision a reality.

6.     Develop the Key Strategies


The key strategies will aim to close the gap between the present situation and the “ideal future”.  Essentially, these strategies will translate the vision of what the organization is trying to become in the customer’s eyes into reality.   It is the framework, derived from an understanding of the customer’s needs, that describes the goods and services the organization is offering, to satisfy customer needs and expectations.  Ultimately, all employees must be able to understand, accept and adopt these strategies.


The development of the strategies requires considerable brainstorming using various creative techniques including Affinity Diagrams, Innovation Processes and Critical Thinking Skills.  Discussions among the leadership team will take time as ideas are thrown out, discussed, weighed and evaluated.  It is important that the leadership team not eliminate any ideas too quickly.  Rather, they should combine all ideas into key strategies and allow the balance of this strategic planning process to assist in the determining which strategies should be included in the short-term plan and which are better suited to a longer-term plan.

7.     Conduct a Risk Assessment

Assessing risk must be a part of looking at the organization’s ideal future.  It includes conducting an analysis of what would prevent the organization from reaching each of the identified key strategies.  This analysis will include identifying the risks and creating mitigation plans to overcome them.  Keep in mind that:


·       Risk can be either the most paralyzing or the most empowering force at your disposal.

·       The situations having the greatest opportunity and high potential are probably also the ones with medium-to-high risks.  

·       These are the ones that are highly unlikely to survive the leap from Strategy Development to the Execution Plan simply because risk becomes a paralyzer. 

·       Low risk strategies, which usually have low potential, are much more likely to be implemented.


Become more comfortable with the risk.  You can achieve this by:

·       Insisting on creative problem-solving that focuses on reducing risk without reducing opportunity.

·       Put contingencies in place to ensure an “out” in case the worst possible scenario comes true.

·       Withhold spending in other areas to allow some needed security.


The risk assessment process includes:


    1)    Analyzing the strategies and determining the risks of either implementing them or not implementing them.  Use a cause and effect analysis and/or pros and cons and/or driving and restraining force-field analysis for examining each risk.


2)    Analyzing each strategy in relation to their potential cost in dollars, materials, resources, and so on.  Benchmark this analysis against expected benefits.  This cost-benefit analysis will help determine the strategies that can be completed in the short-term, longer-term and/or eliminated.


3)    Completing a SWOT analysis on those strategies that leadership determines to move forward with.  This helps prioritizing the strategies and determining the ones that can be realized in the shorter and longer term. 


·       Strengths…continue to do


·       Weaknesses…eliminate, change or improve


è Strengths and Weaknesses should consider people, money, technology, information, resources, etc.


·       Threats…what might prevent continued success


·       Opportunities…what can we start doing


è Threats and Opportunities should consider outside resources, information, competition, industry changes, global issues, etc.


4)    Identifying which strategies should stay in the Strategic Plan and which should be eliminated?  Why?


        5)   Identifying which strategies will be short-term (1-2 years) and longer-term strategies?


 8.     Create the Execution Plan


The Execution Planning process begins with gaining agreement to the Objectives required to meet each of the Strategies and the detailed Action Plan required to meet each Objective.  Then, adding performance measures to ensure that it is clear when each strategy and related objective has been met.  Unless the objectives identified in Execution Plan are translated into Action Plans, it is unlikely they will ever be reached.


This Execution Plan will include:


·       Who will do it?

·       What will they do?

·       When will they do it?

·       What resources are required?

·       What costs are required?


 III.           Summary


Developing a strategic plan takes discipline, foresight, and a lot of honesty. Regardless of how well you prepare you’re bound to encounter challenges along the way.  Like most everything in life, you get out of a plan what you put in. If you’re going to take the time to do it, do it right.  This means having the right people involved, analyzing the business environment and setting meaningful priorities that focus on results and making sure that your people contribute to the planning and that they understand and commit to the strategies.


About the Author


Michael Stanleigh has a reputation for helping businesses get to the root cause of their problems and generating effective solutions.  He has been fortunate to consult and advise some of the most admired organizations in the world to define their strategic direction, manage change, become more innovative, improve the performance of their leadership and manage their projects.  As a Certified Management Consultant (CMC), Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and CEO of Business Improvement Architects, Michael shares his consulting wisdom and secrets for operational success to help organizations to succeed.