Every organisation, whether for profit or not for profit, large or small needs a strategic plan, yet many either don’t believe they need one, have one that has not been touched for far too long or have one, maybe even a great one, but it is kept locked away, only accessible to the senior personnel. To be truly effective, strategic planning needs to engage all members of the organisation from top to bottom and be an ongoing and iterative activity that is continuously refined to reflect changes in the business environment and the capabilities of the organisation.
Stages of strategic planning
To be truly effective a strategic planning process needs to cover a number of stages, our recommendation to clients is that there should be 4 levels to a robust strategic planning process;
- and Actions
We refer to this as the ViSTA process. Each of these four stages builds on the one before, each has its own timeframe and each is typically conducted by and, in some cases applicable at different levels in the organisation.
Typically the domain of the business owners or the CEO and board, setting the vision for the business involves determining where the business wishes to place its self relative to its market, its competitors and the environment in which it operates. Vision statements are typically broad and sweeping and provide a foundation for the rest of the strategic planning process to build on. A typical vision statement would be of 20 to 100 words in length and is often framed and placed on the wall of an office, indicating that it is clearly not a fluid or dynamic document.
Setting the vision for a business would occur when the organisation is first established and may be revisited every three to five years. Maintaining a relevant vision statement is important for any organisation as it is the first signpost for the direction of the organisation.
Development of the strategic plan takes place after the vision has been set, strategic planning without a vision is like leaving your house for a walk without deciding where you are going, you will possibly have a bely pleasant walk but will not know when you are where you want to be and may find yourself in places you had no desire to visit.
There are many different ways to undertake a strategic planning exercise, two of the most useful ways to start the process in our experience are a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) style workshop or a Scenario’s exercise, both serve very different purposes, are performed in quite different ways and are useful for different businesses but both can give very powerful results if conducted correctly. The outputs of the SWOT and/or Scenario exercise are then used as input to the strategy workshop where the organisation’s strategy to move closer to achieving its vision is developed. I have posted separate articles on SWOT and Scenario planning to go into more detail on how to choose one or the other and how they are performed.
A strategic plan should be developed by the management of the organisation with input from as many stakeholders within the organisation as possible. Engaging broadly in the organisation should help ensure the strategy adopted is more broadly accepted and that the personnel will relate more to it, a strategic plan developed in a silo will most likely remain as such and have little real benefit to the business.
Unlike the vision stateliest described above, a strategic plan should be a dynamic document, being revisited, revised and adapted at least once every 12 months, left for much longer and it will rapidly become out of date and less relevant to the business environment, revised too often and the business will not have the opportunity to test the strategy for its ability to serve the organisation’s needs.
Many organisations stop their strategic planning process at the strategy level, believing that once the strategy is set they can get back to business as normal, but we would argue, and our experience is that to get real value from a strategic planning process the organisation needs to go koch deeper and plan in more detail. We refer to this phase of the process as the tactical planning process and as the name suggests, here you plan your tactics for putting the strategy into action.
So, if your organisation’s vision is to be the dominant coffee shop in your city, the strategy will be to have a highly rated coffee shop in every suburb, the tactics will then be how you will achieve those aims, i.e. how do you become a highly rated coffee shop and how do you get a store in every suburb, the tactics are the way of making the strategy into reality.
A tactics planning session will be held in a lower level of the organisation to the level where the strategic planning happens, but should include some people who were part of the strategic planning process and the tactic must link to the strategy. It is no good having a strategy that is built around coffee shops but tactics that drive toward being a great sandwich bar.
Tactical plans should have a life cycle measure in months and should be reviewed quarterly against a strategic plan that is reviewed annually. The tactics should be achievable and tangible and meaningful to the business and to those tasked with enacting them.
The final stage in our strategic planning process is action planning, in the action planning phase the detailed activities associated with enacting the tactical plan are developed and put into place. Action planning is undertaken at the lowest levels of the organisation, led by someone who was part of the tactical planning process and aligned completely to the tactics developed. The actions should be assigned to individuals, teams of individuals or business units dependant on the kind of business involved.
Extending the analogy of the coffee business described above, the tactical plan could be to source coffee beans front he best locations possible and to establish storefronts in all of the target neighbourhoods, while the action plan would be to make sure the quality is maintained or improved, manage customer surveys and enact recommendations, keep the stores relevant to the customers, develop and deploy seasonal offers etc.
As you can see from the analogy, actions are short lived and often repetitive tasks, as such they need to be regularly reviewed against the tactics and strategy to make sure they are supporting the vision of the organisation and not taking it in a different way. Action plans would therefore be developed and reviewed very regularly, potentially weekly or even more frequently to exploit particular opportunities.
Developing your strategic plans
As can be seen front he above discussion the strategic planning process is an ongoing exercise, one that has many different iterative cycles with the vision setting being a long cycle of years while the action planning process has a cycle measured in days. Each part has a vital part to play in the development of a robust, sustainable organisation and each must be undertaken in a serious and timely way. Good strategic planning, undertaken against a known and understood business environment can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful business.
As a specialist management consultancy Ulfire is experienced in working with organisations throughout the strategic planning process. Please feel free to contact us to discuss any needs you may have.
Please enter your details below to subscribe to our newsletter.