So far, we’ve written about how to create the perfect vision statement, as well as a set of great organisational values. Now we’re going to show you how to start creating your actual strategic plan – starting with your strategic focus areas.
This article is part of our mini series ‘Strategic Planning 101’. You can download our free Strategic Planning 101 eBook which contains all of the articles from the series here:
You can find the individual articles below:
- Strategic Planning 101 – The Basic Foundations
- How to Write a Good Vision Statement
- Writing Your Organisational Values
- Creating Strategic Focus Areas
- Writing Good Strategic Objectives
Stay focused on delivering your Vision Statement
It’s now time to move on to the specifics of our plan, starting with creating Strategic Focus Areas. As always, we’ll start with a quick refresher of how our complete strategic plan will look:
What is a Focus Area?
Focus Areas are the foundation stones of your strategy. They expand on your Vision Statement and start to create some structure around how to actually get your organisation to achieve its goals. In past articles, we’ve used the example of a local bakery to illustrate aspects of a solid strategic plan – we’ll continue that theme here. To recap:
Our Focus Areas:
1) National Expansion
2) Repeat Business
3) Innovative Products
4) Proud & Happy Employees
A common question we receive from organisations using our cloud system Cascade is ‘How many Focus Areas should we create‘? The answer is in the question. How many things can you and your people realistically focus on at one time? In our experience, 3 to 6 is probably a reasonable range. Focus Areas should be easy enough to remember so that any employee you bump into in a corridor should be able to easily recap them. Any more than 6 Focus Areas runs the risk of you being, well….unfocused!
One of the hardest things about choosing Focus Areas for your organisation, is deciding what to leave out. You probably have a thousand things that you want to achieve, but one of the key outcomes of this process is to refine these things down to those that really matter in the here and now for your organisation. The rule is, if an activity does not fit into one of your Focus Areas – it shouldn’t be happening – at least not right now. Sure there may be ’emergency exceptions’ here and there – but it’s important to commit to the process of refinement wholeheartedly, so spend enough time creating your Focus Areas to ensure they cover the gambit of everything you want to achieve.
Some Rules of Thumb for Choosing Focus Areas
To help you create quality Focus Areas, we’ve devised the following checklist that by-and-large, all your Focus Areas should conform to:
1) No longer than 5 words each
Long winded Focus Areas are an oxymoron – if you can’t distil your focus into 5 words or less, keep refining it until you can – it needs to be simple and memorable.
2) Not too broad
Don’t cheat by creating broad Focus Areas like ‘Be profitable’ unless this really is a specific focus (e.g. for new startups) – this defeats the point of the exercise and doesn’t help you to focus at all!
3) No jargon
Avoid ambiguous terms like ‘maximise’ or ‘succeed’ – state what you are trying to achieve as an outcome, not how you are going to do it.
4) No metrics
Conversely, it might be tempting to add specific targets or metrics to your Focus Areas – avoid this. Metrics will absolutely come into play for your plan, but not at this stage. Keep things high level for now, but still outcome focused.
How to Get Started
In truth, when we distil the various Focus Areas of clients we work with in Cascade, we can surmise that the vast majority fit into one of the following broad business objective categories. If you’re struggling for inspiration, think about which of the following categories you want your organisation to focus on and build out some Focus Areas from there:
- Expansion / Growth – e.g. Expand network to Asia Pacific
- Revenue / Cost / Margin – e.g. Increase sales
- Customer Satisfaction – e.g. Repeat business from customers
- Compliance – e.g. Zero regulatory issues
- Innovation – e.g. Launch new product lines
- Engagement with a Stakeholder Group – e.g. Engage with our community
- Employee Happiness – e.g. Proud & Happy Staff
You may well create Focus Areas that don’t fit into any of the categories above, but hopefully this list gives you a good starting point. The methodology is not dissimilar from ones such as the Balanced Scorecard and most other strategic frameworks for that matter.
Linking Focus Areas to your Vision Statement & Values
The key outcome that we’re trying to achieve with our Focus Areas, is to realise our Vision Statement. Ask yourself, if you succeed on each of your Focus Areas, will you realise your Vision in full?
If your gut tells you ‘no’ – then you’ve got a couple of options. Either revisit your Focus Areas or revisit your Vision Statement. Either approach is valid – one of the key rules around creating our Vision Statement was to incorporate an element of pragmatism (not too much though!). If your Focus Areas encompass the entirety of what you think your organisation can realistically achieve (even with any growth that forms part of your plan), and they still won’t realise your Vision – don’t be afraid to go back a couple of steps and make some tweaks.
When it comes to aligning our Focus Areas to our Values, this is equally important albeit for a different reason. Well written Values should encompass our desired organisational culture. Our culture is the environment, or if you prefer the enabler for our activities. There are no hard and fast rules about how Values and Focus Areas should fit together – but a couple of obvious examples might be:
- (Value) Energy – [Focus Area] Expand our business internationally
- (Value) Empathy – [Focus Area] Responding to Customer Feedback
- (Value) Continuous Learning – [Focus Area] Staff Training & Empowerment
In much the same way as for your Vision and Values – we would strongly encourage you to involve your key team members in the process of creating your Focus Areas. As always, the more involved people are in the creation process, the more empowered they will be to deliver them. There are many ways to do this, from running Focus Groups, issuing Surveys and simply being responsive to ideas and suggestions as they come up as part of business-as usual. Some cloud platforms including our own Cascade incorporate tools to help you do just this – but nothing beats a culture of open and honest communication where such discussions occur naturally as a result of people’s pride and passion for the organisation.
As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and additions on this article. What else should a good Focus Area contain? Reach out to us via the comments, social media or email!