How strategic planning can shake loose your big goals
Take a step back to find your focus
Imagine that you and your team are starting a new quarter – or maybe an entirely new year. You’re eager to roll up your sleeves and get something big accomplished together.
First, you have to decide what you should actually get started on.
The opportunity seems fun in theory, but it isn’t long before things take a turn for the worse. Everybody has a different idea for what you should focus on, and they’re all arguing their cases for why their big rock should be bumped to the top of the list. Deciding is taking up so much time that the team is held up from actually doing.
This is what happens when your company doesn’t have a strategic plan.
What is strategic planning?
Strategic planning is the process a company goes through to define its direction, typically undertaken by the leaders of the company. It involves setting priorities and deciding how resources will be allocated to support that overall vision.
It’s easy to confuse strategic planning with project planning, but the two are quite different. Project planning is important for singular tasks or assignments that your team is completing (how you will move that project from inception to completion).
Strategic planning is broader. It pulls all individual projects into a cohesive strategy that supports the company’s overarching goal.
So, if your strategic plan included a vision statement that said your company aims to "be known as the most trusted experts in human resource management,” then every single project that your company completes should somehow relate to that vision.
Basically, think of strategic planning as the compass for all decisions the business and its leaders make. It sets the overall context, so you don’t get lost in the day-to-day details.
Why strategic planning is worth your time?
1. Focus your efforts (and reduce your stress)
Does making decisions for your team often feel like you’re throwing a dart at a board? You aren’t alone. A survey from McKinsey found that only 20% of respondents say their organizations excel at decision making.
A strategic plan will help. Understanding where your entire company is headed helps you make more thoughtful decisions that support your end goal.
Strategic planning also ensures that every project has a clear, measurable outcome which allows you to demonstrate how specific projects contribute to the overall plan.
2. Improve your communication
Imagine all of the wires that would be crossed and the confusion that would happen in this scenario: you provided directions to help a coworker pull the quarterly financial statements. However, they thought they were learning how to log that month’s check numbers.
Well, that was a confusing waste of time. Sadly, this happens more often than not in the workplace. More than 80% of employees say that miscommunication happens at work very frequently, frequently, or occasionally.
Fortunately, when people have a greater understanding of the bigger picture (cough, cough, which they get when they review your strategic plan), the message gets clearer. They’re already equipped with the context and background information they need to understand directions, provide instructions, and confidently move projects forward.
Understanding where your entire company is headed helps you make more thoughtful decisions that support your end goal.
3. Boost alignment
Here’s a scary statistic: up to 95% of a company’s workers admit that they are unaware of or don’t understand the company’s strategy. Yikes.
Employees don't appreciate being in the dark or having zero clue about how their day-to-day influences the company’s growth. With a strategic plan, everyone on your team – from the C-suite to your brand new employees – knows what they’re working toward. Be sure to document your strategic plan and make it easily accessible so that anyone can refer back to it for clarification.
Another winning reason for strategic planning: it’s typically a collaborative process. The open discussion means that all parties can be on the same page from the get-go.
Ace strategic planning with these three activities
If you’re already a whiz at project planning, take comfort in the fact that strategic planning has a lot of similarities – just on a larger, company-focused scale.
However, there are a few activities that are unique to strategic planning that will help your leadership team pull together a plan that really supports your vision.
1. SWOT analysis
A SWOT analysis involves identifying your company’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, as well as any threats to the business. The simplest way to approach this is by using a two-by-two matrix to plot these different elements (grab a helpful template right here!).
List your product or company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in the table above.
For example, maybe one of your strengths is that you have technology that none of your competitors are using, and you have an opportunity to reach an even broader market. But, one of your weaknesses is your lack of financial resources and a threat is that more and more similar companies are entering the market.
That’s all important information to have as you’re pulling together your plan, so that you can craft a strategy that considers each of them.
A SWOT analysis can be performed at any time – not just for your strategic plan, but also for new projects, features, and more. It’s a flexible framework.
Who needs to be involved in a SWOT analysis? Well, that depends on what you’re planning. But, when using it for a strategic plan specifically, your leadership team should definitely have a seat at the table.
2. Start, stop, continue
History is a great teacher. You can learn a lot from your past wins and disappointments.
Start, stop, continue is a retrospective technique during which your company will look back on recent experience and decide what needs to be changed in the future. You’ll gather a team to brainstorm activities in the following three categories:
- Start: Activities that haven’t been implemented yet but would have a positive impact on the organization.
- Stop: Activities that you’re currently doing but have a negative impact on the organization.
- Continue: Activities that have been tried and were successful but haven’t become routine yet.
Give everybody some time to generate as many ideas as possible for each bucket. Then, discuss as a team, group similar ideas together, and decide which ones are the most pressing.
This framework gives you valuable insight you can use to shape your strategic plan, rather than moving forward with blind optimism or limited information about how things have been working up to this point.
Strategic planning pulls all of individual projects into a cohesive strategy that supports the company’s overarching goal.
3. Update your plan
Your strategic plan is a resource that will guide your company through its entire lifespan. However, that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone once you finish it; it should evolve as your company does.
So, don’t set it and forget it. Set time aside regularly (ideally, quarterly) to review your progress on your plan and make any necessary changes and updates. By keeping it fresh, your strategic plan will remain a helpful resource – rather than an outdated and irrelevant document that just collects digital dust.
How software can help
Thinking about opening a static document and jotting the initial notes for your company’s strategic plan? Not so fast.
Using collaborative document software will make the entire strategic planning process easier by helping you:
- Create specific roadmaps
- Assign tasks to people
- Gather and track information in one place
- Involve other team members in the process
- Seamlessly make updates
So, ditch the inflexible docs and let technology take some stress out of your strategic planning. Check out Confluence now.
Pull your strategic plan together
Strategic plans run the gamut from straightforward to complex. Some are a single page, while others are lengthy documents. That means you have the flexibility to put together something that works for your company.
When getting started, your strategic plan should include:
- Brief description of your company: A quick rundown of your history and highlights of your major products and/or services.
- Mission statement: Describes the purpose behind why your company exists
- Vision statement: Describes your vision for the future. Rather than where you are now, where do you aim to be?
The rest of your strategic plan will be dedicated to your (you guessed it) strategy. To make this more manageable, we suggest breaking this down into three buckets:
- Objectives: These are the large, measurable goals your company wants to achieve.
- Strategies: These are the more bite-sized steps you’ll take to build toward that goal.
- Tactics: These are the individual action items that will fall under the strategies you determine.
Let’s look at an example for some clarity. Here’s what this could look like within your strategic plan:
Objective 1: Increase our total sales from $850,000 to $1 million by the end of the first quarter.
Strategy 1.1: Create an email campaign to convert free trial users into paid users.
Tactic 1.1.1: Segment our email list into paid subscribers and free users.
Tactic 1.1.2: Generate a special offer for users who convert to paid tiers.
Tactic 1.1.3: Write a three-email series to inspire them to convert.
See how that funnels from a large goal into more actionable pieces? You’ll continue to repeat that for each strategic plan. Each objective should have several strategies supporting it, and then each strategy will include numerous tactics.
Now, rather than having a vague idea of your company’s strategy, you have a detailed roadmap to lean on.
Start winning with a strategic plan
Without a strategic plan, it’s easy for your team and your entire company to feel directionless. Confusion will spread, frustrations will fester, and you’ll be spinning your wheels rather than getting important work accomplished.
This is where strategic planning can save the day. By investing the elbow grease into a strategic plan, you can better focus your efforts, make more informed choices, streamline communication, and make progress on the things that matter most.
Sound like it’s well worth your time and energy? We thought so. All that’s left to do now is get started. We promise, especially when you put these strategies to work, it’s not nearly as tough as it seems.
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