As consultants, we work with a variety of businesses across a number of industries as well as non-profit entities. In reviewing the performance of these organizations, it is interesting to note that those businesses that perform at the highest levels usually have some sort of formalized strategic plan in place and have implemented it well.
On the other hand, those businesses that struggle usually have no plan in place and seem to flounder in their attempts to be successful. And many of the organizations that are successful in the implementation of their strategic plans use a simplified strategic planning process to get the plan written and implemented more quickly and efficiently. One of the things that caused some to proclaim that strategic planning had lost it luster was the tendency of some to drag out the process too long and to create more work than necessary. The simplified, rapid development approach has helped immensely in getting good strategic plans developed and implemented.
In order for a business to be successful, there needs to be a road map for success. The development of sound business strategy is a result of the strategic planning process. A significant mistake that is made by businesses large and small is defining critical business strategies without going through this process. A strategic plan helps to provide direction and focus for all employees. It points to specific results that are to be achieved and establishes a course of action for achieving them.
Another common mistake is simply allowing the organization to wander aimlessly without having even generalized goals in place. Having well defined goals, objectives, strategies and tactics reduces the risk of business failure and helps increase the likelihood of solid success. And speaking strictly from the perspective of a manager, owner, director, president, CEO, etc., their own success can be defined by having a well developed strategic plan in place that is well implemented.
A strategic plan helps the various work units within an organization to align themselves with common goals. But perhaps most importantly, the strategic planning process provides managers, owners and entrepreneurs the necessary framework for developing sound business strategy.
Arguably, the leading cause of business failure is not having a strategic plan in place that is implemented effectively. If a business has little idea where it is headed, it will wander aimlessly with priorities changing constantly and employees confused about the purpose of their jobs. And it could chase strategies that have little or no chance of success.
Building a strategic plan is not difficult. It will take some thought and some feedback from customers and others, but businesses should be routinely garnering feedback from appropriate constituent groups on an ongoing basis. The process of developing a strategic plan should be rewarding for all involved and usually helps develop stronger communications between members of the planning team.
Managers and business owners need a well developed strategic plan in order to effectively establish expectations for their employees. Without a plan, expectations are developed in a void and there is little or no alignment with common goals and strategies. A good strategic plan looks out 2 to 5 years and describes clearly what market, product/service, pricing, marketing and other strategies will be followed. In short, it defines how the business will grow and prosper over the defined planning horizon.
Strategic planning does not end once the plan is put on paper. Once developed, the key to making the plan work is a commitment to seeing it through coupled with sound implementation. Unfortunately too many good strategic plans end up on a shelf gathering dust without being even partially implemented. The commitment to not only creating a sound strategic plan, but to its full implementation must be made at the beginning of the planning process.
The strategic plan will contain an action plan that will detail the steps to be taken in order to fully implement the strategies and tactics defined in the plan document. And that action plan will delineate specific deadlines and individuals or teams responsible for completing defined tasks.
Far too many organizations, large and small, fail to develop even basic strategic plans. The absence of a strategic plan is one of the key reasons many businesses struggle or fail. Without that road map provided by a solid strategic plan, decisions are made in a vacuum and/or there is considerable confusion and inconsistency evident within the organization. During tough economic times, the need for a solid strategic direction and plan is even more pronounced because the margin for error generally becomes smaller for most businesses.
All employees need to understand the guiding principles of the business and what everyone should be aiming to achieve. A strategic plan that is well developed, properly communicated, and carefully implemented can launch struggling or underperforming businesses to new heights.
Take a look at your business. Are your critical business strategies well defined? Are they successful? Does there seem to be a lack of focus on where the company is headed? Does everyone clearly understand the goals for the business? Strategically, how will the business achieve those goals? Is your current planning horizon longer than one year? Are you developing annual business/operating plans without a strategic plan in place? Strategic plans should drive or at least help define operating plans and budgets.
Writing a strategic plan isn’t as complicated as some would lead you to believe. Simplified strategic planning has been our focus for some time because too many organizations get caught up in the process and lose sight of what is important. We have found, without exception, that businesses which create and execute sound strategic plans are generally far more successful than those that do not. Remember that successful implementation of the plan is a must. If you write a plan and then allow it to gather dust on a shelf, you might as well have no plan. There must be a commitment to implementing the strategies and tactics detailed in the plan.
Make no mistake about it, if your business or non-profit organization is operating without an effective strategic plan in place, it runs the risk of underperforming or even failure. As mentioned, writing a strategic plan is not difficult and it does not have to be overly time consuming.
The notion that strategic planning has to be a long arduous process to be successful is complete nonsense. In fact, our experience clearly points to a far more successful planning experience and better plans when the plan is completed without a lot of “bureaucracy” and extraneous analyses.