Many business leaders will say that of course they have a strategic plan: They plan to make more money in the coming year than they did the previous year. Certainly, making more money is the goal of all for-profit businesses, but it is not a strategy. How much money do you realistically plan to make and how will you accomplish that goal? Answering these and other questions and devising a plan to get to your goal — a plan that everyone in the company will follow — is the purpose of strategic planning.
Understand the Purpose of Strategy
Before you embark upon designing your strategic plan, it is important to make sure everyone involved understands why you are doing it. Sure, it sounds like it is important, like it is something a business should have, but why? What can a strategic plan do for your business that weekly status meetings and frequent updates will not?
The purpose of strategic planning is to pull everything together — every method and business strategy model that people in the company may be using — and evaluate and revise it into one strategic plan. You know your sales manager has a plan for increasing sales and has probably assigned quotas to each salesperson. But is his plan aligned with the plan you have for the business? Is he focusing on the products or services that are most likely to get you to your larger goals?
Furthermore, do the sales representatives know and understand how their efforts affect the company's plan? How about the hard-working employees in customer service? Are they focusing on the right points when they talk with customers? Getting everyone involved at the beginning and making sure all department heads understand why you are devising or revising a strategic plan makes the process exciting and shows you value their input.
Unite All Departments and Teams
People are more likely to follow a new plan if they understand the purpose of business strategy and feel a part of it. One advantage of being a small- to medium-sized business is that you can reach out to every single employee when you want to. You might develop a simple survey asking each employee what they believe the current focus of the company is, what they think it should be going forward and what, if any, changes they believe should be made to help the business prosper.
Asking for opinions and ideas serves several purposes:
- It shows employees you value their opinions, regardless of what position they hold.
- It lets you know what your employees are thinking and may give you clues to problem areas.
- Good ideas can come from any corner, but sometimes you need to ask for them.
Form a Central Strategy Committee
You have heard the disparaging remarks and stereotypes about committees spending a lot of time to accomplish very little, but it does not have to be that way. Appoint a committee that will get the important work done. The alternative is no committee, which is what resulted in the fractured focus to begin with, or a committee of one, which is autocratic.
If appointing every manager to the committee will result in too many big egos, do not set it up that way. Ask for nominations and volunteers who want to serve on the committee, then choose people whose skills and personalities make them:
- Active listeners.
- Focused on the good of the company rather than their own agenda.
- Able to analyze data and evidence to form conclusions.
- Capable of adjusting their viewpoints and making unbiased decisions.
Choose a committee chair or ask committee members to elect one. Someone needs to have the task of keeping discussions and work moving.
Make the Committee Accountable
Make sure the committee is action-oriented by giving them a reporting mandate and target dates. For example, set a date for completing the strategic plan and work backward. Set the calendar to finish the strategic plan in four months, but make six months the final deadline for completing a written strategic plan that everyone can read and understand. That way, extra time is built in to work on problem areas or snags that come up.
The calendar might look like this:
Meet weekly for two hours, with committee chair forming the agenda for what to accomplish at each meeting.
Report (in writing) monthly to the CEO on the committee's progress and get signed approval on each. Make sure the CEO's comments and direction are clearly understood by all members.
First month: Review input from employees and note plausible ideas. Revise mission and vision statements and goals and determine the focus of the company's direction for the next year. Give all managers two weeks to deliver to the committee a plan for redirecting their department or area on the new focus and goals.
Second month: Complete a review of managers' reports, work with managers on the feasibility of their plans and review their revised plans. Make sure all plans are aligned with the company's new focus.
Third month: Compose a rough outline for the written plan, and all committee members but one to write a portion of it before the next meeting. Share and comment on each written portion. Assign the remaining member to put all portions together, make the document sound as if written by one voice and write transitions between sections as needed. Have the document edited by the marketing department or hire an outside editor.
Fourth month: Review document together and make final changes. Present strategic plan to all employees.
Explain Strategic Plan to All
It is important to roll out your new strategic plan with fanfare to showcase its importance and make it exciting. For example:
Establish an enthusiastic tone that gets everyone on board. Instead of, "It has come to my attention that many people are focusing their efforts in the wrong places," begin with, "We are embarking on an exciting new plan of focus that will involve every single person in the company, and that includes YOU."
State briefly what the new plan is. Your explanation should include comparisons between the old ways of operating and the new ones. For example: "After carefully reviewing the answers to our recent company survey, we realize that redirecting our focus will make sure your valuable daily efforts will most benefit the areas that will help us to grow and prosper. Please join us at 2 p.m. today in the conference room to hear all about it." If you have multiple offices, you could do a video conference instead.
Look ahead with positivity. Instead of dwelling on what has been done "wrong" in the past, ramp up excitement for what the new focus and methods will be. Your goal should be that, at the end of the meeting/conference/video chat, people will leave energized for what is to come.
Use moments of levity to your advantage. Do not try to be off-the-wall hilarious and risk looking silly or trivializing a serious subject. But do lighten up the topic with anecdotes here and there. Perhaps you might open with two cartoons: one shows very busy employees running in all directions, but not toward the center goal, while the second shows busy but happier employees all focused toward the common goal.
Check in Periodically
Be sure to evaluate throughout the year how your strategic plan is working. Of course, give it some time to be put to use first, but understand that strategic plans are fluid and by nature will change. By assessing its use and value regularly, you will be ready to revise the plan as you need to for the next year so it is always current and workable.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She has written on business topics for afkinsider.com, smallbusiness.chron.com, Harbor Style Magazine, the Charlotte Sun and more, as well as advertising copy and materials. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards in B2B and B2C marketing.