Planning to Win (Strategic Planning)

Published October 2009

It’s hard to imagine any head football coach at the high school level or beyond entering a game without a well thought out game plan communicated to assistant coaches and players. By kick-off time every member of the team understands the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and what the plan is to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” to quote Bing Crosby.

Thus, when one considers how much more is at stake with a business, it’s shocking how many organizations go along without a strategic plan. In effect, these organizations make it up as they go along; similar to the plays we dreamed and drew up in the dirt during childhood sandlot football games. Unfortunately, the consistency of their results is not much better than our ad lib backyard plays.

“Strategic planning” may sound intimidating and vague; perhaps something better left to sophisticated Fortune 500 organizations. But it’s appropriate for any organization that competes with other like organizations in order to succeed. That includes businesses of course, but also non-profits, school districts, municipal governments – yes, even churches! It includes multi-national corporations down to small businesses like Brimeyer LLC, and everything in between.

While the components of strategic planning vary slightly and occasionally go by different names, the ingredients generally include:

  • A Mission Statement explaining why the organization exists
  • Values describing what is important to members as they work together
  • A Vision articulating as clearly as possible the long term goal

These three elements should be regularly reviewed and occasionally tweaked, but ought to remain relatively static unless a major shift in the industry demands a new Mission Statement or attainment of a Vision requires a new one. Other components of a strategic plan, however, should be thoroughly reviewed and constructed on an annual basis. These include:

  • A Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Analysis which is used to define the current situation facing the organization
  • A handful of critical Business Objectives for measuring progress against the Vision
  • Strategies explaining the points of focus for meeting the Business Objectives
  • Initiatives which are the actual projects to be pursued to realize the Strategies

A well-constructed strategic plan allows the rather lofty Vision of an organization to come to life in terms of Initiatives. These are the critical projects that everyone within the organization understands “we must get done this year.” These Initiatives thus cascade into goals for the various departments or sub-teams of the organization and ultimately into personal objectives.

The actual process of creating and updating a strategic plan can be a challenging but highly aligning activity for leadership teams. It requires forward thinking, teamwork, and an ability to manage healthy conflict as differences in opinion are likely to exist.

It’s generally a good idea to utilize a facilitator from outside the management team who is experienced working with strategic planning and comfortable working with management teams. This allows managers to focus on creating the strategic plan and not to be preoccupied with facilitating the process.

In addition to being the heart of football season, the fourth quarter is a logical time to develop or update your organization’s strategic plan. An early start is recommended as the economic events of the past year likely caused more revisions to existing plans than typical. This will allow adequate time for multiple iterations of reflection and refinement as the plan is created, and finally several opportunities to communicate the plan to all employees. The goal is for everyone to hit the playing field on the first workday of 2010 with a clear understanding or their role in ensuring victory.

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