Strategic Planning: The Definitive Guide (with a free eBook)
by Maddy Mirkovic, on Sep 6, 2018 2:33:16 PM
Our definitive guide to strategic planning is the complete guide to creating and launching the perfect strategy for your organization. It covers every step in the strategic planning process from reflecting on your previous strategy, to ensuring your new plan succeeds. The main topics include:
1. Reflecting on your previous strategy's performance
2. Choosing the right strategy tools and methodologies
3. How to write your strategic plan
4. Getting feedback about your new plan
5. Launching & communicating your new strategy
6. Ensuring that your strategy succeeds
Before we get into the strategic planning process though, there are a few definitions we need to cover below.
What is Strategic Planning?
Strategic planning is the process undertaken by organizations to define the direction in which they wish to move and the plans of how they will do it. The process entails organizations setting their key business objectives, allocating time and resources and ensuring all employees are working towards these objectives. If done correctly, strategic planning should not only tell you the direction of the organization, but also what achieving that will look like.
What is a Strategic Plan?
A strategic plan is a document which outlines the vision of an organization and the strategies of how they intend to achieve their vision. A strategic plan will generally encompass a vision or mission statement, corporate values, focus areas, and the objectives, goals, and KPIs that will achieve the vision/mission of the company. It is used to communicate an organizations strategy with its employees and shareholders.
What is Strategic Management?
Strategic management is the ongoing activity and combined processes that work to coordinate and align resources with the strategy to achieve the vision of the organization.
Free Strategic Planning Ebook
Our first eBook "Strategic Planning 101" received such an overwhelming response (it's now featured in several MBA courses across the globe) that we’ve decided to compile a brand new version: Strategic Planning: The Definitive Guide. It's a free, downloadable eBook based on years of experience working on strategic plans for thousand of organizations across the globe. This is a truly practical guide that can be easily applied to your own business.
Get access to our Strategic Planning eBook!
This guide will help you to create and implement the perfect strategy for your organization.
STRATEGIC PLANNING GUIDE
CREATE THE PERFECT STRATEGIC PLAN
As we embark on the process of strategic planning, it’s that time again when we look back on what we achieved from our last strategy and start dreaming about what we want to achieve next. Hopefully, your last strategy helped you finally start to achieve your goals. But whether you did or didn’t, we’re on a mission to help you create the perfect strategic plan. What does a perfect plan actually look like you say? Well, in this 6-chapter guide, we’re going to teach you how to create a plan which is simple, pragmatic, relevant and impactful. The guide looks as follows:
Let's jump right on in. Chapter 1 looks at how to reflect on your previous strategy and extract value from your past experience of creating and executing strategy.
Embarking on the task of creating a new strategic plan should always begin with reflection. Even if you feel like you had a pretty successful execution of your previous strategy and delivering your goals, there are always lessons that can be learned to make things even better. So, before you even start thinking about your new goals, you need to do a frank and honest assessment of how well you did last time, and what can be improved upon.
What went wrong last time around?
We recently came across a great blog by the team over at Zapier on how to do a ‘project postmortem’ – and 90% of what they say applies here. Rather than regurgitate their content, check out the original blog article here then head back over here where we’ll put some strategy context on to their framework.
OK, grab a notepad and start by asking yourself a few simple questions about your old plan:
What was I hoping to achieve by the end of the last strategy?
Maybe it was a revenue target, a sales goal or a new product launch. Note down around 3 key things that you were planning to achieve by the end of the last strategy (whether you achieved them or not).
Which ones didn’t I achieve?
Simple enough – put a ‘Result’ against any items on your paper that you either didn’t achieve at all or didn’t achieve as well as you would have liked.
Why didn’t I achieve them?
For each item, write down the main two reasons that you didn’t get there (I know, two reasons is hard, there are probably lots, but this will help us to keep things focused!)
What can I do better next time?
Now the hard bit – once again write down two things (just two!) that you could have done differently to reach your goal. Avoid saying anything like ‘be more realistic in goal setting’! We will deal with pragmatism later (it’s important) but for now it’s a case of finding tangible solutions to your problems.
You can do the whole process in around 30 minutes to an hour, and you can do it either alone or with your team. The purpose isn’t to dwell on past mistakes, it’s to have your previous strategies goals as fresh as possible in your mind as you go into the creation of your new strategic plan.
Make sure you’re ready
To get you ready for the journey, you’re going to want to do a few bits of housekeeping first. Work through the following checklist to make sure you’re ready to rock:
1) Subscribe to Cascade blog
Subscribe to our blog to get our latest strategy tips.
2) Start your free trial of Cascade
Setup your free trial of Cascade, our cloud-base tool for creating strategic plans (optional) but super useful – it’s free to start and to create your plan, so don’t worry about cost).
3) Download our toolkit
Download our free Vision Statement toolkit to help you define your vision.
All done? Great, you’re all set to start creating your new strategic plan!
In Chapter 1, we talked about a simple process for reflecting back on your success and failures in your last strategy. In this second chapter, we’re going to focus on the selection of the appropriate strategy tools and methodologies for creating your strategic plan. 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 beautiful PDF export of your strategic plan.
You can download a free copy of our strategy toolkit – an 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 organizations 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 organization, but it itself needs to cascade from a Vision Statement, to Focus Areas, to Organizational Goals, etc.
Over the coming chapters, we’ll be diving right into the detail of each of these sections. But here’s a quick summary of what each part means:
A simple but powerful anchor point for your strategic plan that sums up your ultimate end state in a clear and inspiring way.
The key behaviors that your own people need to exhibit in order to deliver against your ambitious new plan.
A high level grouping of strategy that gives a clear indication of what outcomes you are prioritizing to achieve your Vision Statement.
A tangible goal that will deliver against the relevant focus area complete with a deadline and a metric.
A goal or project, assigned to one or more individuals that will deliver against the appropriate Organizational Goal.
Don’t worry, we’ve got detailed guides on each of the above sections coming up soon. For now, it’s enough to get a feeling for where this journey is ultimately going to take us.
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 serious 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 organizations already utilize a balanced scorecard approach for grouping types of goals. Balanced scorecards are well suited to larger organizations 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:
Learning & Development
2) McKinsey’s 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: Mckinsey's Three Horizons of Growth
Goal types would be configured as:
Horizon1 – Short
Horizon2 – Medium
Horizon3 – 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.
Your organization may already have a robust set of KPIs that you wish to group goals against. This is particularly appropriate for service delivery organizations. 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 Examples - 84 Key Performance Indicators
Goal types might be configured as:
Customer Service Score
Customer Net Promoter Score
Staff Retention Rate
Goals 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 organizations often find it useful to express goals in this way as it creates a tangible link between employee activities and the causes they are serving.
Find out more: The Benefits of Applying the Stakeholder Theory
Goal types might be configured as:
5) The Ansoff Matrix
The Ansoff Matrix (also known as the Product / Market Expansion Grid) is a strategic framework designed for organizations who want to move beyond ‘business as usual’. It’s designed to help you figure out which of four strategic directions you should take to successfully grow your business.
Find out more: The Ansoff Matrix Helps Organizations Grow
Goal types would be configured as:
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, management and tracking 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
If you'd like to test Cascade's platform, we can offer you a 14 day free trial! Get started below!
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 new strategic plan! (Find out more about our free resources on our blog: Cascade Blog)
PLAN – A STEP BY STEP GUIDE
In our first 2 chapters we talked about how to reflect on past successes and failures. We also spoke on how to choose the right strategy tools and methodologies. Now we get to the fun bit, our step by step guide to help you write a strategic plan that really works. Here’s a reminder of the framework we’ll be using to create our plan:
Follow our 5-step guide :
Step1: Write the perfect vision statement
Step2: Create your organizational values
Step3: Create focus areas for your strategy
Step4: Write organizational goals / strategic objectives
Step5: Share your plan!
Step 1: Write the perfect vision statement
So why do we need a vision statement, and what exactly is it supposed to achieve? It’s to:
- Create the pinnacle of our strategy funnel – which every significant action will ultimately be contributing towards
- Provide a memorable and inspirational goal that describes our reason for existence as an organization. One that helps motivate our people to attract high quality new hires
- Serve as a succinct statement on what our organization is trying to achieve which will help third parties such as investors or the media better understand us
- Be a ‘limiter’ that helps us to rule out certain opportunities which do not ultimately contribute to our vision
What a vision statement SHOULD be:
There are a few common rules that pretty much all good vision statements should follow:
- They should be short – two sentences maximum. It’s fine to expand your vision with more detail, but you need a version that is punchy and easily memorable.
- It needs to be specific to your organization and describe a unique outcome only you can provide. Generic vision statements won’t cut it!
- Don’t use words that are open to interpretation. For example, saying you will ‘maximize shareholder return’ doesn’t mean anything unless you specify what it actually looks like.
- Keep it simple, people inside and outside your organization should understand. No technical jargon, metaphors or business buzz-words please!
- It should be ambitious enough to be exciting but not too ambitious that it seems unachievable. It’s not really a matter of time-framing your vision, because that will vary by organization, but certainly anything that has a time-frame outside of 3 to 10 years should be challenged.
- It needs to align to the values that you want your people to exhibit. We’ll talk more about values later – but once you’ve created those values later on, revisit your vision to see how well they gel.
a) Define what you do as an output
Start by being exceptionally clear about what it is your organization actually does. Be careful to remain ‘output focused’ rather than ‘input focused’. For example, Microsoft famously had a vision statement to Put a Microsoft powered computer on every desk in the world (slightly paraphrased). Strictly speaking what Microsoft ‘do’ is make computer software, but for the purposes of their Vision, they looked forward to the actual outcome of this process – i.e. computers on desks. Let’s look at some other hypothetical examples: A bakery makes bread. But the outcome is consumers enjoying that bread. A consulting company gives advice. But the outcome is the success of others based on that advice. A government department does…lots of things. But the outcome is better lives for the citizens they serve.
b) Define what unique twist your organization brings to the above outcome
Very few products or services these days are truly new most are more like reinventions of something that exists already, but with a different approach, focus or spin. At some point in your organization’s lifespan – someone will have believed that the reason that THIS organization would be successful where others have failed, was because of………something. You need to define that something!
Let’s take our bakery example. So far, our vision statement is looking pretty generic along the lines of customers enjoying our bread. But why will they enjoy our bread MORE than the bread from the place next door? Is it because we use centuries old traditions passed through generations of our family? Because we only use premium grade locally sourced ingredients? Whatever your unique selling point is – let it shine through in your vision statement.
c) Apply some high-level quantification
A common problem with vision statements is ironically, that they are too visionary! With no possible end in sight (or a totally unrealistic one). The initial inspiration derived from a great vision statement can quickly turn to frustration, or even cynicism among employees and customers. That said – don’t be too specific or apply specific metrics at this stage. They will come later in our planning process.
Sticking with our bakery example – we might want to refine our target audience to ‘every customer who walks through the door’. That’s fine, or maybe we want to be bolder: ‘every customer within walking distance of a store’. The quantification we apply could also be industry specific if you’re a B2B. Are you shooting for SMEs or multinationals for example?
d) Add relatable, human, ‘real world’ aspects
OK, your vision by this point should be getting pretty close to being finished. But one final trick you can apply to help make it even more memorable is to add a real-life aspect so that people can conjure up a solid mental image to associate with your vision statement. Let’s look at an example – which of the following statements is likely to be more memorable:
a) To have every working person in the world using Microsoft product.
b) A Microsoft powered computer on every desk.
I would argue that (b) is more memorable, because as I read this, I’m actually visualizing a computer (in my case) sitting on a wooden desk in a room. There’s nothing wrong with (a) but it’s highly conceptual and thus difficult to transform into a mental picture. Let’s look at another example for our bakery: “Ensure that every customer who leaves our store, does so smiling.”
Here, using the word ‘smiling’ as apposed to ‘happy’ is powerful, because it conjures a mental image of a person smiling. It won’t always be possible to bring this level of tangibility to your vision statement – but if it is, I would strongly encourage doing so.
e) Bring it all together
Let’s finish off with a look at what a completed vision statement could look like for our bakery, based on the above:
Producing and selling locally sourced cakes and pies that are so delicious and satisfying, that every customer who leaves our store does so with a smile.
If we deconstruct this into our various steps, we can see each at work as follows:
Producing and selling locally sourced cakes and pies that are so delicious and satisfying, that every customer who leaves our store does so with a smile.
Step1 – The output
Step2 – The twist
Step3 – The quantification
Step4 – The human connection
And that’s it! If you’ve followed the above process, you should have a pretty strong vision statement by now – but before you move one, circle back up to the top of this section, and make sure that your new vision delivers against the key outcomes of what a vision statement is meant to be.
Step 2: Create your organizational values
Organizational values are sometimes viewed as superfluous. In many cases, employees and customers alike dismiss them as mere marketing gimmicks. Our view is different – we see values as a critical part of the strategic planning process – the reason being, that they go right to the heart of the most important ingredient of your strategy – your people.
Internal vs external values
This is the difference between creating values intended for your own people, vs values aimed at your customers or other stakeholders. We’re going to go out-on-a-limb here and say that in our own experiences, internal values are almost always more powerful for helping you to execute your plan, than external ones. External values are always more prone to being gimmicky and marketing oriented. Not that there cannot be cross-over, or indeed a single set of values that apply to both – but for the purpose of this article, we’re going to skew heavily towards internal values and how best to devise them.
Avoiding fluffy, vacuous values.
Perhaps the single biggest reason that values are so often seen as gimmicky, is because they didn’t emerge ‘naturally’. In a perfect world, your values should really write themselves, as they should reflect the qualities and traits of the people you have already hired. Whenever we make decisions about whether to hire or work with someone, we unconsciously assess their values as part of that process.
Look at the people around you – those who the organization’s success truly relies upon. Ask yourself what it was that made you decide to work with them. With any luck, you’ll be able to identify shared and consistent values among those people. Shared Values help to create synergy – and a team of people working synergistically together will always be stronger then a group of disconnected individuals – no matter how smart they may individually be. It’s not a matter of dismissing individuality, but rather one of recognizing the power of a tight set of core behaviors that everyone shares, understands and embraces.
The process in action
To give a tangible example, we wanted to share with you our internal set of values here at Cascade Strategy. In other articles in the series, we’ve used a hypothetical Bakery company for our examples – but values are simply too personal to be anything other than the genuine article. Here’s how we went about creating organizational values that we still stand by today:
Value 1: Learn everyday
We’re a small but growing organization. The strongest trait that our organization needs to achieve success is self-motivated people. Arguably the two most important drivers of this are a) a passion for what you do and b) the ability to genuinely enjoy your work and embrace it as a positive aspect of your life. In the long term, the only thing that can consistently deliver both a) and b) are a process of continued challenge and learning. Why do we enjoy games (sports, video games, board games, you name it…)? – We enjoy them because they’re challenging, and as we learn and improve, we apply that knowledge to move continuously forward – our reward is progress – and that progress gives a sense of pleasure. We applied exactly the same principle in devising our first organizational value.
How do we bring it to life?
We encourage and fully allow people to discover and work with the tools and technologies they want to learn. At Cascade we empower them to implement the processes or techniques they wish to try, and research new ways of doing things. We also allow them to change their minds and we never rebuke ‘failure’.
You can read more examples like this in our dedicated blog post on organizational values here.
A summary of the key steps you need to take
- Analyze the behavioral traits of those around you and identify themes.
- Ask yourself what traits you will be looking for in your next hires.
- Understand your own strengths and weaknesses as an organization. Create organizational values which will play to your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.
- Bring these things together in a set of values that are short both in number and in length (we suggest between 3 and 5 values as a rule of thumb – each just a few words).
- Test these values by asking whether or not they resonate with your people – they must!
- Revisit your vision statement – are your values consist with your strategic vision? Will they take you closer to making it a reality?
- Don’t stop there – write down on a piece of paper why each value is important and tangibly what you will do to live it as an organization.
To conclude, organizational values should be easy to write and should come out naturally. If you’re finding the process hard, it probably means you need to spend a bit more time getting to know your people, or even yourself!
Step 3: Create focus areas for your strategy
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 organization to achieve its goals.
A common question we receive from organizations 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 organization, 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 organization. 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:
- No longer than 5 words each. Long winded focus areas are an oxymoron – if you can’t distill your focus into 5 words or less, keep refining it until you can. It needs to be simple and memorable.
- 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!
- No jargon. Avoid ambiguous terms like ‘maximize’ or ‘succeed’. State what you are trying to achieve as an outcome, not how you are going to do it.
- 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.
Focus Area/Objective Categories
In truth, when we distill the various focus areas of clients we work with in Cascade, 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 organization 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. 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. However 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 organization.
Step 4: Write organizational goals / strategic objectives
Let’s start by defining what it is we’re talking about here. An organizational goal (or strategic objective if you prefer) is a specific goal that you want to achieve, with a clearly stated outcome and a deadline. It differs from a focus area – in that it is specific and measurable, and once completed will be replaced by another, different goal. In other words, it is something that can be tangibly achieved. It is also one of the primary ‘goals’ of the organization, underneath which many sub-goals will eventually align. The way I like to think of an organizational goal is: If I was meeting with my investors / board – what would be the key programs / objectives that I would update them on if I only had an hour. This is a useful way to ensure that your organizational goals are neither too high level to be relevant, nor too detailed to be overly operational.
How many organizational goals should I have?
There is of course no right answer here – though there are certainly risks if you get the number wrong. Too few and you’re probably not stretching yourself. Too many and you’re unlikely to achieve them all, which should absolutely be your intent. As a rule of thumb – if we tie organizational goal into our bigger framework – we would probably suggest having between 2 and 4 organizational goals, per each of your focus areas.
How should I structure an organizational goal?
The main advice here is to keep things simple. Organizational goals should be easy to remember and should be understandable by everyone within the organization. That means no jargon (if possible), and keeping them to one sentence long. You can add more detail of course, but you should be able to sum up what you want to achieve quickly and simply.
We suggest a structure as follows:
Action + Detail + Metric + Unit + Deadline
In other words:
Expand our international operations into 3 new markets by 21st December 2019
Starting off with a verb forces you to be specific about what you’re trying to do. If you possibly can include a metric and a unit – do so. It will help to keep you focused and honest when it comes to tracking your progress. Having a deadline works in much the same way. A nice thing about using this structure combined with a cloud based strategy platform is that you can do some pretty cool reporting on your goals. Such as having the system analyze your ‘Action’ words to give you a flavor of how you’re approaching your strategy (Aggressively? Defensively? Etc.)
How do I ensure accountability?
Depending on the size of your organization, you may delegate some degree of accountability for organizational goals to your management team. Ultimately, as the leader of your organization’s strategy – you still need to be accountable for all of the objectives. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t share that ownership with someone else.
For organizational goals, we would strongly recommend having a maximum of two co-owners for each, including yourself. Why? Because any more than that, and you risk falling into a situation where people become overly reliant on ‘someone else’ to own the goal. You can absolutely involve far more people in delivery – through a series of linked (or cascaded) sub goals. But you want at most two people being responsible for the ultimate delivery of the organizational goal.
Some final suggestions and thoughts
Following the above outline should help get you off to a good start when it comes to writing organizational goals. Here are just a few more collected thoughts to round things out:
- Don’t be afraid to iterate. You probably won’t get things right first time, but sometimes you need to get your organizational goals out on paper to appreciate where the gaps are.
- Involve the people of your organization as early as possible. Don’t sit in a room and try to do things yourself. Define your vision, values and focus areas – and use that to help structure a broader engagement with your team about what your organizational goals should be.
- Consider publishing your organizational goals on your website. Sometimes, for reasons of confidentiality this won’t be possible – but for some organizations (such as public sector or not-for-profits) this is a great way to communicate transparently with your stakeholders. Here’s an example of how we do this in Cascade using our API: http://www.itsmycity.me
Step 5: Share your plan!
In the next chapter, we’ll be going into this in much more detail. But, to give you a heads up – the final step of creating your plan, is to share it. Share it with anyone and everyone that you trust, ask for their feedback, listen and be prepared to iterate. If you’re using a cloud platform, use the export functionality to create a PDF of your plan, and keep it with you wherever you go for the next few weeks – you never know who you’ll be speaking to and how they might be able to help.
Good luck with creating your plan!
ABOUT YOUR STRATEGY
In chapter 3, we shared a detailed process for creating your strategic plan. By now, you ought to be pretty happy with your new strategy – but before we move into the execution phase, it’s time to share your strategic plan with others: get some feedback from your most trusted friends, colleagues and advisers.
Why you should share your strategic plan
Before we get into the how, let’s look at the reasons why you might share your strategic plan with others:
- Perspective: Obvious as it may seem, you might just have missed something. An opportunity, a threat, a market trend or anything else. Maybe you’re just too close to the action and need a 2nd opinion.
- Reflection: When you share your plan, you present your plan. Sometimes, reading your plan out loud can reveal things you didn’t think of when writing it down. You know when you have a great idea in your head, but it sounds really stupid when you try to explain it to someone else? Yeah, that’s why.
- Buy In: At the end of the day, you’re going to need the help of others to execute your strategic plan. The sooner you get those people bought into the process and the more you listen to their opinions about the plan, the more bought in they’ll be when it comes to doing their bit.
- Transparency: Sometimes plans contain big changes that won’t always please everyone. The sooner you let them in on those changes, the less likely they’ll feel blind-sided and react badly.
- Inspiration: Great plans should be inspiring and bring optimism to the people you work with. Share your plan with them early, and realize the benefits of that effect sooner rather than later.
Why you shouldn't share your strategic plan
OK, so we’ve built a pretty compelling case for why you should share your strategic plan. In the interests of completeness, let’s take a quick look at a few reasons why you might not want to.
- If your plan contains commercially sensitive information, you should definitely factor this into your thinking. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share – but you might want to redact any critically sensitive elements first.
- If your plan runs the risk of upsetting people, make sure you communicate it effectively and personally to those people. This gives them a chance to react, ask questions and feel like you’ve given them the respect they deserve if the plan will negatively affect them.
Who to share your plan with
One of the most common traps entrepreneurs and leaders fall into, is thinking they’re the only ones who could possibly understand their business/idea/strategy. In my own experiences, I’ve been genuinely surprised by the insight and value I’ve received from the most unexpected people. That’s right, I’ve had business advice from my mother, father, grandmother, an 8 year old and a Nepalese taxi driver to name a few. And here’s the thing – they know what they’re talking about! Not because they’re businessmen/women or because they’re geniuses, but simply because they’re people. People that see, listen, think, and buy.
Like anything, the bigger range of opinions you canvass, the more balanced an overview you can form. Here’s a selection of people you might want to involve and share your strategic plan with:
Family members – not because they know your business or product, but because they know you. And, I’d wager that you're a pretty important part of the plan you’ve just come up with.
A mentor / adviser – this person probably has the best balance of knowledge between your organization, your ideas and you as a person.
Your employees – they probably know your product better than anyone, and they’ll be able to identify threats or opportunities better than anyone too.
Your financiers – if you’re receiving investment or support from someone, get them involved asap. If they’re onside, everything will be much easier.
Friends – these guys are probably close enough to what you’re doing to help, but distanced enough to be rational and objective.
Aim to share your strategic plan with at least 4 different people from a range of different groups!
When sharing and gaining feedback about your strategic plan, follow a process something along the lines below.
Step 1: The Pitch
Decide what you want to share and how much detail you want to include. If you’re using a cloud based strategy tool like Cascade, make use of the export functionality which is designed exactly for this purpose.
At the minimum you’re going to want to include:
- Your overall vision for the organization.
- The key areas of focus that will get you there.
- A selection of the major goals within each of these focus areas.
- The timelines at a high level.
- Some numerical indicators of ‘what success looks like’ – KPIs.
We’ve prepared a strategic plan template that you can download here that includes all of that information or of course you can use a cloud system.
In addition, try prepping a 2 minute succinct pitch that sums it all up. Write it down and practice it a few times. This article has some great tips on how to do just that.
Step 2: Probing Questions
You could present your plan, and finish with “So….what do you think?”. That might work – but it also might not. When you present your ideas in this way, they often come across as being more about seeking positive affirmation, than inviting genuine feedback. People will tend to placate you and tell you that they like you’re ideas, because they think that’s what you want to hear.
Instead, try popping out a few carefully chosen probing questions – things like:
- Which part of this plan do you think I’m going to find the hardest to achieve?
- What do you think my employees will say about this plan?
- Would you go about delivering this vision the same way as I am?
The key is to make people feel comfortable to say what they really think. Don’t present the plan as finished, present it as a work in progress on which you would really value their input. Also, if they give you what sounds like negative feedback, listen, take notes and thank them. Don’t react right away as it will appear defensive and likely put them off from giving anything but platitudes in the future.
Step 3: Taking it all in
By the time you’ve met with 4 or 5 people, you should have gathered a fair bit of information about what people think of your new plan. Some of it will be contradictory, and that’s just fine. Some of it you will fundamentally disagree with, and that’s fine too (just be sure to give each piece of feedback genuine consideration before you dismiss it). You may also have further questions about some of the feedback – in which case don’t hesitate to reach out to the provider and ask for clarification (they’ll likely be flattered that you’ve taken their ideas so seriously).
Give yourself plenty of time to digest on and reflect on the feedback you receive. If you do decide to take any of the feedback on-board, be sure to reach out to that person and let them know – maybe even show them an updated plan.
Finally, don’t be overwhelmed! Sometimes, you can receive so much feedback that it makes your plan seem hopeless. Be strong! You followed a solid process to get to this point, so don’t just dismiss your ideas because of the feedback of one or two people that might not think it possible. Sure, be reasonable and thoughtful, but no-one knows your potential better than you or your people – so if those two parties think it can be done – it probably can :)
So, you’ve finally completed your strategic planning and you have a great plan. Your nearest and dearest love it. Your leadership team have been involved in the whole process and are ready to rock. In chapter 5, we’re going to share 3 simple steps that will help you to launch and communicate your strategy to everyone else…
Step 1: Create a mini communication plan
Don’t worry, this is actually really easy. Basically, you need to start by drawing up a list of the key stakeholder groups you want to communicate your strategic planning efforts to. Note that this is very different from what we did in the last step of the process, where we were seeking feedback from these groups. This isn’t about feedback any more – this is about inspiring and galvanizing your key stakeholders around your shiny new plan, and getting them to spring into action.
OK, so who might you want to include in this communication plan? It will vary of course, but here’s a cheatsheet of the usual suspects:
- Senior Leaders
- Everyone else in the organization
- The board
- Investors / shareholders
- Key customers
- The public
Once you’ve put together a list of your own, you need to figure out what outcomes you want to achieve from each of these communications. By defining your outcomes, this will help you to structure your messages and communication technique as you go through the process of launching the plan to your key stakeholders.
Here’s a few examples:
Stakeholder Group: The board
Desired Outcome: That board members have confidence that our goals are sufficiently ambitious, without being overly risky. That they’re confident that we have the resources to deliver this plan, and that they will be regularly updated on its progress. When you communicate your plan to this group, you’ll probably end up toning down the hype behind the plan, and focusing on the hard business outcomes. Stats and specific KPIs will help to demonstrate to this group that you’ve thought deeply about the detail of the plan and can be absolutely trusted to deliver it.
Let’s look at an example at the other end of the spectrum…
Stakeholder Group: Customers
Desired Outcome: To give inspiration and hope to our customers that they’ve the made right choice is choosing us as a provider. That they’re doing business with an ambitious, innovative and progressive company. That they themselves are a valued part of the organization’s current and future success. Unlike the board communication, you won’t be focusing on detailed numbers or stats and your language should be much more inspirational and motivational. Even though you’re communicating the same plan, your delivery is going to be very different! It may seem obvious that you’ll deliver differently to different groups, but take the time to plan out your messaging for each one anyway – when you’re up there in-front of people, that extra little preparatory step will be 100% worth it.
Step 2: Invest in a little wow factor
You’ve worked hard to get to this point with your plan, maybe you’ve even spent a fair bit of money too. Don’t let that go to waste by delivering your plan with a boring old PowerPoint presentation! And worse still, DO NOT deliver a new strategic plan message by email! The benefits of spending a little extra time and money on delivery are centered on one inescapable fact: If your people see that you’ve invested in this new strategic plan, they’ll take it much more seriously.
When we work with clients in our cloud strategy tool Cascade, we try to encourage them to record videos focusing on the key elements of the plan (the vision statement, the focus areas, etc). Those videos then become a key component of the delivery (i.e. they’re played on a big screen at the launch event) but they also become a reference point for new employees joining the company to use to get up to speed of what their new organization is all about. If you are using a cloud strategy tool for the first time, that in itself will give you brownie points as something new and innovative.
Here are a few more tips and ideas to bring your plan to life:
- Hire an animator or graphic designer to create cartoons for your Focus Areas (one of our African clients did a great job of this using safari animals to represent their Focus Areas – The Lion
(Financial Growth), The Giraffe (Innovation), etc.)
- Arrange a fun launch party that is solely dedicated to the launch of the strategy (don’t tack it on to some other event, that sends a BAD signal about its importance!)
- Invest in some of those cheesy but surprisingly effective desk toys, branded with your new vision/focus areas
I’m sure there are plenty of other great examples that people have seen of bringing life to strategy!
Step 3: Follow up with people
It’s important to launch and communicate your strategy to your people, but it’s even more important to make sure they take action. One of the most common criticisms of strategy launches is that they have all this fanfare, and then everyone just goes back to their desks again and carries on with business-as-usual. There are a few things you can do that we’ll cover here. In Cascade, we encourage clients to use our built-in survey tool to send out a quick follow up survey, right after the launch event, to capture people’s feedback about how it all went. With the best will in the world, there will always be aspects of the plan that people didn’t quite understand, or that they felt were unrealistic. The sooner you can capture and respond to this feedback, the more credibility you give to the entire process.
Surveys aren’t the only way to get this kind of information. Ask one of your most trusted colleagues to keep a close watch on the people you’re launching too (it’s hard to do this yourself when you’re in full flow). Try to read their faces, and gauge their levels of excitement and engagement. Whatever feedback method you use, you absolutely must follow up your launch event with a material change that weaves the new strategy into people’s day jobs. This could be monthly strategy forums appearing in people’s diaries or a bi-monthly strategy communication (by email or even better in person). We’d love to hear your thoughts on our 3 step process to launch and communicate your strategy, and in particular if you have any hot tips for making strategy fun and exciting!
You've got huge dreams. You've made an awesome strategic plan. Everyone is getting excited as you take your first steps to making those dreams a reality. Then......it all fizzles out. Sound familiar?
You're not alone - over 70% of all strategic plans fail. The problem is many people assume that the hardest thing about 'Strategy' is the planning. 'Knowing what to do'.
Organizations fill their strategy roles with 'ideas' people. Logical enough, but the simple reality is that 'knowing what to do' is the easy bit. To successfully execute a strategy is hard - it's what sets good strategy people apart from the crowd. We will go through the different steps you need to address to ensure the success of your strategy.
Once you've created your plan and launched it to your organization- you need to start the process of engaging your organization. In reality, the communication process should have been taking place in parallel to the strategic planning process as mentioned earlier. Communication needs to be two-way – i.e. you need to establish a mechanism for people to feedback their views about the strategy both at the start and as it rolls out. Some ideas for ways that you can facilitate this kind of constructive communication include:
• An online strategy platform such as Cascade
• Regular ‘all staff’ forums specifically about the strategic plan
• A structured one-to-one meeting framework that includes dedicated discussion time on the strategy is meetings between managers and subordinates.
• An open and collaborative culture (this is a whole big topic in itself of course!)
• Regular formal and informal surveys and questionnaires about the progress of the strategy.
Don’t fall into the trap of doing a great job of communicating at the start, only to see efforts fall away as people go back to business-as-usual! This is why planning your communications out ahead of time is so important – to ensure that you keep your momentum up!
OK so you've done your strategic planning - the next step is to start creating tangible goals. Goals that are owned by individuals that will actually move your plan towards fruition. This is really the first step of the Cascading process - linking back all of the activities of your senior team to the strategic plan. It may be seem obvious, but often organizations create a plan, communicate it, and almost expect the rest to happen by magic. Creating goals with/for your people will help bring structure around execution of the plan. It will also flush out any areas that might have been overlooked. It’s also the time when an additional element of pragmatism can be applied. Goal setting can help tease out things like:
• Whether or not the plan is realistic given resource constraints
• Whether you have the right people and skills to execute every aspect of the plan
• How well people have understood your overarching objectives
• Goals will also become the bedrock for your ongoing tracking, reporting and performance management – each of which is a key element in a successful execution programme.
Tracking and Reporting
There are really two key components to effective tracking and reporting. Firstly, you need to ensure that everyone in your organization is regularly updating the progress of their own goals. This doesn't have to be arduous or time-consuming – just a few minutes per month is usually enough. It could take place just prior to a team meeting or the regular strategy sessions you've booked into people’s diaries.
Updates should always include a quantitative measure of progress. They should also include a line or two of commentary to add flavor and give a rounded picture of progress.
Goals should never be seen as static. Sometimes you’ll need to edit the deadline of a goal, or even rewrite it entirely as your organization evolves. That’s fine, and indeed should be encouraged – so long as visibility of those changes exists.
Effective tracking lays the groundwork for effective reporting. Reporting differs from tracking, in that reporting should be at a strategic level rather than a goal by goal level. We built reporting in Cascade so strategy reports are automatically generated as a result of tracking for all contributing goals. Even if you’re not using a cloud-based execution suite to execute your plan, you should ensure there is a deep understanding within your organization of the importance of tracking in relation to the reports that are fed to the board, investors and other key stakeholders.
This is where things start to become a little more progressive. In our opinion, it's also where the vast majority of strategy execution approaches start to unravel. To successfully execute a strategy you need your entire business process to reflect the importance of that strategy. Performance management (and appraisals in general) are often viewed as the sole domain of Human Resources. Worse still, they’re viewed as a process for the sake of a process – or for the sake of management alone. You’d be hard pressed to find actual users of the most common performance management systems with positive things to say. Let alone espouse on how it helps them to better execute strategy.
In our view, performance management should be a natural extension of goal setting. Which in turn is a natural extension of your strategic planning. It is therefore a critical part of the execution journey. As you go through the process of appraising your people, you need to be able to draw clear connections. Understanding how well they've executed on their component of the strategic plan, and their ultimate assessment / score is important. But in so many cases, it’s just implemented so very, very badly!
The only way a performance management process can help you execute your plan is if it meets the following checks:
- Goals must relate directly back to the organization’s strategic plan
- It must explicitly measure and reward people for their contribution to the overall strategy
- The performance management process must be simple to use and as close to ‘fun’ as possible
- It must celebrate achievement of people and teams above all else
- The process must be social, transparent, fair and well understood
Very few off-the-shelf performance management systems you buy can tick those boxes (naturally we think ours is an exception!).
The natural evolution of performance management is remuneration. You've put so much effort into planning, communicating and goal setting. Yet, so many people fail to follow through with strategy into the thing we all (almost all) work for - money. The importance of connecting remuneration back to strategy cannot be understated. If you got tracking and reporting right, and did a good job of linking performance management > goals > strategy - then this should be easy enough.
As you go through your thoughts on pay rises and bonuses for your people - make sure to sense check yourself. Did the person receiving the highest pay rise / bonus make the single biggest contribution to executing your strategic plan??
Don't forget that remuneration or more broadly 'reward', doesn't just have to be monetary. It could be travel perks, sending people to conferences, additional leadership opportunities - anything that you're doing on a merit basis.
It's important to establish firm links between the rewards you give out and the execution of (elements) of your strategy. This needs to be deeply embedded in the culture of the organization.
There are plenty of software tools on the market that address elements of the above. But one of the reasons we created Cascade was because until now, there hasn't been a single technology platform that integrates strategy into every aspect of an organization's processes. If strategic planning really is important to you, you need to make a tangible commitment to linking these elements together. This holistic approach to executing strategy becomes increasingly critical as your organization grows. One of the reasons why larger organizations find it harder to execute than startups, is because their business processes become so disjointed that strategy only permeates the top few layers.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to strategic planning, and that you’re on your way to making your vision happen. As always, we’d love to hear your questions and feedback! Let us know if this free strategic planning guide was helpful to you. If you have any strategy tips to add feel free to write them in the comments below (or get in touch either via social media or email)!
If you’d like to try our strategic planning solution Cascade for free, you can start your 14 day trial below.