Every good business needs a strategic plan. You’ve accepted this reality, and you’re well into your first strategic planning session. Or, perhaps you’ve been around the block and devised multiple strategic plans in a variety of companies; this is just your latest trip through the process.
One thing you’ve noticed, however, is the strategic planning process is almost never as simple as it seems at first glance. While you and your colleagues might think it should be a straightforward road, there are often plenty of unforeseen twists and turns on your journey to a better plan.
Below are some tips to help you improve the strategic planning process.
Begin with the Broad
When you wrote essays in school, your teachers probably told you to start with a broad statement, and then narrow your focus. The same logic applies when you begin mapping out your business’ future. Open with broad visions about where you see the company in five or ten years and where you want to go.
Why start with vague ideas? A broad vision helps you see the forest before the trees, so to speak. Once you’ve chosen your destination, you can begin working on the finer details about how to get there.
Many people begin with those finer details; they get wrapped up in a particular project or a goal for a particular department, forgetting the broader vision about where the company as a whole is going. When that happens, companies can lose their direction—which makes reaching that future a more difficult endeavor.
Objectives and Goals
Once you’ve determined where the business as a whole is going, you can begin to focus more narrowly on objectives and goals. If the business’ goal is to be top in the market in five years, what initiatives do you need to take to get there? What do particular departments and divisions need to do to support this vision?
An example: If your business is to be top in the market, you need to ask what your IT department needs to do to help you get there. Do you need to expand or upgrade your infrastructure? Do you need to develop a new customer-facing website or a new app for your customers to use? Once you’ve asked about IT, move on to accounting—what will they be doing?
All of your departments and divisions should have separate goals, but those objectives should work together to support the business’s overall goal.
Prepare for Dissent
Most people would like the strategic planning process to be straightforward: Someone proposes a great idea, and everyone else around the table nods and applauds.
While consensus is your ultimate goal, be prepared for some people to disagree. There may be disagreement about what the business’ goal should be, just as there will be dissent about different departmental objectives and the steps to take to get there.
This isn’t a bad thing, and you should be prepared to handle it! Disagreement can expose flaws in the plan, which in turn allows you to rethink and revise the plan to make it even better. In many ways, you should encourage disagreement during the strategic planning process.
Consult with Outsiders
Some people might think bringing in an outside opinion during the strategic planning process might make things, well, a little messier. After all, you may already have plenty of opinions; there may seem to be a few too many chefs in the kitchen already!
An outside opinion during the strategic planning process is invaluable, however. The perspective of an outsider can bring issues to light at an earlier stage, allowing you to address them and nip problems in the bud—leading to a better strategic plan for your firm.