A business road map is a planning tool that outlines a company's goals and its strategy for achieving them. It has a less formalized structure than a business plan, and might take the form of a graphic, a website, a flowchart or a traditional document. Its emphasis is on activities and decision-making, rather than on financial projections. When used effectively the road map not only helps with planning for the future, but also becomes a tool used to measure progress and to train employees on making decisions that are in line with company strategy.

Creating the Road Map

A road map is a visual representation of the CEO's vision for how the company will attain its goals. The process of creating it begins with information gathering, both from the CEO and from the managers who understand the company's competitive landscape, financial health, strategy and operational competencies. Questions to ask include: What are our short-, medium- and long-term goals? What is our financial health? Where have we been reinvesting our earnings in the past? What opportunities do we see on the horizon? Where do we need to do better? How do we want to grow?

While a road map will be as unique as the business it describes, it should contain at least a few standard sections: strategic goals, reinvestment strategy, growth strategy, financial targets and operational targets. Each section will include the company's goals for that area and the specific types of activities and decisions the company will make in order to reach the goal. For example, a company's growth strategy might include expanding into a related market through acquisition. The road map sets this as a goal and then includes a few high-level activities and deadlines along the path, such as identifying three possible acquisition targets by year's end.

Using the Road Map

Employee buy-in is crucial to the success of any planning venture. A well-designed road map can be conveyed in a concise format to employees during training meetings, and provides them with specific reasons for the tasks you ask them to do. Graphical road maps can be posted visibly as a constant reminder of the kinds of activities that are valuable to the company. All employees should understand the road map and exactly what they can do in their daily tasks to help the business achieve its goals.

Management should review the road map periodically--perhaps monthly or quarterly--in order to assess the company's progress against its goals. If the competitive situation has changed, the map should be revised and the changes communicated to the employees. Road maps should be living documents.