Strategic focus is a business imperative but not something that all businesses fully understand. Thinking strategically requires identifying a desired end state, considering all of the impacts (positive and negative) that might affect the achievement of that end-state and coming up with strategies (general plans for leveraging strengths and opportunities, or overcoming weaknesses and threats) to achieve results.

Identifying a Desired End State

Strategic focus begins with the identification of a desired end-state. A common analogy is taking a vacation. The destination--Hawaii for instance--would represent the desired end state. The statement: "Take a trip to Hawaii" represents the goal, which is a broad, general statement of the desired end state. An objective statement would support the goal and provide more specificity. In this case: "Take a trip to Hawaii for five days in June 2012, with a budget of $5,000 for the family." Businesses come up with similar statements to clarify their desired end states. For instance: "Increase market share," might represent a goal. "Increase market share by 25 percent among customers living in the XYZ geographic area, by the end of the year," would be a related and measurable objective.

Considering Internal and External Impacts

Once a desired end state has been established, companies need to consider the various impacts that could either help or hinder its chances of success. In doing this, companies often conduct a SWOT analysis--a review of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that it faces. Strengths and weaknesses are internal; opportunities and threats are external. A list is brainstormed for each area, based on data gathered to support the items listed. The list is then prioritized to identify the top items in each area which will serve as inputs to the development of specific strategies.

Developing and Implementing Strategies

Strategies represent the "how" elements of strategic focus. Based on the identified end point and the various impacts that could affect the success of achieving that end point, the organization will identify how it will achieve success. The SWOT analysis provides an important input. Strategies are designed to leverage or take advantage of the identified strengths and opportunities and to minimize or overcome the identified weaknesses and threats.

Measuring Results

Strategic focus shifts over time and is affected by measures of success. An important part of the strategic planning process is the identification of metrics that will be monitored on a regular basis to determine whether the plan is working. Additionally, specific individuals should be assigned accountability for each of the measures and should report regularly on their progress. Positive results may involve increased emphasis on various strategies; undesirable results may suggest a shift in focus.