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Choosing the right strategy tools

by Tom Wright, on Dec 8, 2015 8:01:17 AM

Welcome back to our mini-series on how to create and execute the perfect strategic plan for 2016. Last time around, we talked about a simple process for reflecting back on your success and failures in 2015. This week, we're going to focus on the selection of the appropriate strategy tools and methodologies for creating your strategic plan. Here's a snapshot of whole this mini-series is going to pan out:

  1. Reflect on your last strategy
  2. Choosing the right strategy tools
  3. Writing your perfect strategic plan
  4. Sharing your plan with others
  5. Launch and communicate your strategy
  6. 5 tips to help your strategy to succeed

A final word before we get into the detail - we like to keep strategy simple, pragmatic and real - at the end of this journey, you're going to have a document that looks a lot like this:

Download sample strategic plan (pdf)

That was created using Cascade our cloud based strategy platform - but none of this series requires you to use our platform!

We've tried to keep things short and sweet, but if you reeeeeaaaaallllly don't want to read everything below, you can jump straight ahead to downloading a free copy of our strategy toolkit - a downloadable Excel strategic plan template that you can use instead of our online strategy platform Cascade (we have a free 14 day trial, but maybe you're feeling a bit old school and fancy the offline Excel approach - that's cool.)

Your Strategy Framework

Strategic planning is much easier than many people realize.  If you have an intimate knowledge of your business and are able to think pragmatically about your strengths and weaknesses, you should be able to create a strategic plan fairly easily. The framework presented below is one that we have used with over 1,000 different organisations in our cloud based strategy platform Cascade. It borrows heavily from other sources (too many to properly give credit too).  However it's easy to use, and it works.

To give you an idea of how a good strategic plan will look once finished, we've created the simple diagram below.  It's fairly self-explanatory, but we'll explore the individual components in a moment.


Think of your strategy as a document that reads from top to bottom getting increasingly detailed as it goes. We call our own strategy platform 'Cascade' - strategy needs to not only cascade down throughout your organisation, but it itself needs to cascade from a Vision Statement, to Focus Areas, to Strategic Objectives, Projects, etc.

Over the coming weeks we'll be diving right into the detail of each of these sections. But here's a quick summary of what each part means:

  • Vision Statement - A simple but powerful anchor point for your strategic plan that sums up your ultimate end state in a clear and inspiring way.
  • Values - The key behaviors that your own people need to exhibit in order to deliver against your ambitious new plan.
  • Focus Area - A high level grouping of strategy that gives a clear indication of what outcomes you are prioritizing to achieve your Vision Statement.
  • Strategic Objectives - A tangible outcome that will deliver against the relevant Focus Area - complete with a deadline and owner.
  • Project - A project, assigned to one or more individuals that will deliver against the appropriate Strategic Objective

Your Strategy Scorecard

Strategy scorecards shot to prominence in the 80's and 90's, mostly fueled by the popularity of the balanced scorecard. Whatever you think of some of these scorecards, one thing we've found with our own clients, is that a well chosen scorecard can add series muscle to the ways that you report on the progress and success of your strategic plan. Think of your scorecard as a way of slicing and dicing your data that is incremental to the core plan elements outlined above. For example, our framework above is great, but it lacks any kind of measure of how innovative different elements of your plan are. This is where a scorecard can really help. Here's our quick take on some of the most popular ones out there, and when you might want to use them:

1) The Balanced Scorecard

Many organisations already utilize a balanced scorecard approach for grouping types of goals.  Balanced scorecards are well suited to larger organisations who wish to ensure a balance between key focus areas. Note that if you use the balanced scorecard, you need to ensure that it does NOT duplicate against your Focus Areas - they should be different and unique.

Find out more: Unlocking the Power of the Balanced Scorecard

Your goal types would be configured as:

  • Financial
  • Customer
  • Process
  • Learning & Development

2) McKinsey’s Strategic Horizons

Strategic Horizons provide a high level categorization of goals against short, medium and long term outlooks.  This framework is well suited to product and service organisations and those for whom innovation and medium / long term growth are key focus areas.  Using this scorecard places a strong emphasis on your desire to be innovative and forward thinking.

Find out more: Mcksiney's Three Horizons of Growth Can Help you Innovate

Goal types would be configured as:

  • Horizon 1 - Short
  • Horizon 2 - Medium
  • Horizon 3 - Long

People will often aim for a 70/20/10 distribution between the three types to keep a balance of delivering against the needs of today and those of tomorrow.

3) KPIs

Your organisation may already have a robust set of KPIs that you wish to group goals against. This is particularly appropriate for service delivery organisations. The exact KPIs will depend on your business, and some goals will always fall into the ‘other’ category, however an example is below:

Find out more: KPI Guide - Definition, Best Practices, and Examples 

Goal types might be configured as:

  • Customer Service Score
  • Customer Net Promoter Score
  • Market Capitalization
  • Staff Retention Rate

4) Stakeholders

Objectives can also be defined in terms of who or what they are designed to benefit.  Whilst there is some overlap with a balanced scorecard approach, not-for-profit organisations often find it useful to express objectives in this way as it creates a tangible link between employee activities and the causes they are serving.

Find out more here: The Benefit of Applying the Stakeholder Theory 

Groupings might be configured as:

  • The Environment
  • The Community
  • Each Other

5) Goal Origination

Sometimes it can be useful to group goals based on where they originated, thus painting a picture of the type of organisation you are running.  For example, to help measure how proactive vs reactive you are, how dictatorial your management culture is, etc.

Goal types might be configured as originating from:

  • Annual Operating Plan
  • Customer / Client Feedback
  • Manager Directive
  • Self Directive

However you choose to categorize your goals - the main advice is to keep it simple (no more than 5 different options per scorecard, and a max of 2 different scorecards). Try to think forward to what kind of questions you might face around reporting as your plan rolls out, and build your scorecard to meet those needs.

Online Strategy Software

Strategy software is a new breed of SaaS that gives you an online hub for the creation, communication and execution of your strategy. Full disclaimer - we think it's great - that's why we created Cascade, which does just that. But here's a quick run down of what we think the pros and cons of these platforms are, so that you can decide for yourself:


  • A ready to go framework for creating your plan
  • Easier to share and collaborate on your plan online
  • Instant analytics on your plan
  • Tools for deploying and ultimately executing your plan
  • Quick, print-ready exports of your strategic plan


  • May have a cost (Cascade starts at $29 per month after the free trial)
  • Some training may be required
  • Works best when you use the default strategy framework

Don't worry, even if you're not quite ready to jump into the world of strategy software, we're going to be supporting you with a host of offline templates and toolkits throughout the process of creating your strategic plan!

That's it for this article - here's a quick list of links to the main resources that you might have missed:

Until next time!

Topics:Strategy Execution


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