Successfully Build an Effective Strategic Plan

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Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning

The longevity of any business can be traced back to one essential element, a strategic plan. Without one, your company is doomed to struggle and ultimately fail before it ever truly gets off the ground. 30% of businesses pointed to communication failures as the greatest challenge to being successful with their strategy.  There are a variety of common tools at a business's disposal to aid them in their planning process, but they can often be unnecessarily complex and simply aren't as engaging as they need to be in order to be successful. More on those later.

A successful strategic planning framework will allow you and your team to fill in the critical elements of your overall plan and act as a blueprint for the process. 

Before diving in too far, there is an important clarification that needs to be made. The terms business plan and strategic plan can be viewed as two separate processes depending on where you look online. For our sake, and a majority of companies' sake, these two terms can be used interchangeably. The differences you can find between them are minuscule. 

In essence, the business plan explains how the day-to-day tactical execution will work, and the strategic plan identifies how you will achieve key initiatives to move the business in a positive direction. 

If some of this sounds a bit "in the clouds," don't worry. We have put together this comprehensive guide to deconstruct strategic planning and show you available tools to make the entire process easier. 

What is Strategic Planning?

While we could spend all day discussing what strategic planning could mean, we can save time by looking at the fundamentals. As we briefly mentioned above, a strategic plan is a management practice used to establish high-level priorities and strengthen operational practices. Your strategic plan will also guide your organization on what it is, provides, and why it does the work they do. It should also feature a heavy focus on the future. A successful plan will unify all departments under a common goal that pushes the business forward. All operational decisions should be able to link back to the strategic plan

While a basic strategic planning model or plan focuses on newer organizations and helps with their purpose, different types of strategic planning can help with a company's direction. Here are a few common strategies or tools that any successful business will likely conduct at some point.

  • SWOT Analysis: A SWOT analysis analyzes the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of an organization. Identifying each of these elements as they relate to your operations exposes what is and isn't working, as well as what you need to keep an eye out for internally and externally. It is helpful to create a table for this analysis and identify the most significant three factors in each category. A SWOT analysis can be performed on an entire business or singular department. 
  • Five-Forces: While a SWOT analysis can be shifted to focus internally or externally, a five-forces model identifies five external competitive threats to your industry. It is often used in conjunction with a SWOT analysis. This model shows the number and power of your rivals, possible new market entrants, suppliers, and customers. Thus, presenting you with actionable information and ultimately increasing your competitive advantage.
  • VRIO Framework: This strategy identifies the competitive advantages of your service or product through four elements: Value, Rarity, Imitability, and Organization. Essentially, does your product or service provide value, does it do something or use something no one else is, can it be copied, and can your organization capitalize on its available resources? 

These strategic planning tools fall under three major strategy levels: 

  • Corporate: Corporate-level strategy focuses on expanding the reach of the business. The decisions involved with mergers and acquisitions take place at this level. This level is typically for companies that operate in more than one business area. 
  • Business: The level that most people are familiar with. The main focus here is to understand how they can compete and beat the competition. This level is where you will see the implementation of frameworks like VRIO.
  • Functional: The primary objective of this level is to support the business-level strategy. Departments such as marketing, HR, and R&D operate here. They work to align with the greater business strategy.

While all of these tools are at your disposal, it is not always easy to perform them without some help. An organization like Elate can assist with what metrics to track, when to automate them, and how to structure them to drive outcomes. 

What is the Importance of Strategic Planning?

Take a step to honestly answer, "How much time do you spend on your strategy each month?" If your answer is not that much, you aren't alone. A Harvard Business Review study found that 85% of leadership teams spend less than one hour each month discussing strategy. This is a leading factor in why so many businesses fail to hit the targets outlined in their initial strategy. Those numbers are helpful to study, but are there documented benefits of strategic planning? Plenty! Here are a few to get you started. 

  • A Central Vision: The moving parts of a business often function without daily communication between departments. How, then, can you be assured that every unit is moving towards the same goal? You guessed it, a comprehensive strategic plan. Making everyone aware of the company's goal(s), from employees to stakeholders, creates a strengthened sense of responsibility from all parties. Furthermore, if a manager cannot identify company goals clearly, they may make a decision that goes directly against them. You want to enable everyone in the company to work with the bigger picture in mind. 
  • Long-Term Thinking: A strategic plan communicates to everyone involved in the business that the company has a direction for years to come. Short-term solutions are fantastic for specific problems, but your business will end up with a short-term lifespan if that is all you have. At Elate, our strategic planning tools and techniques are geared for long-term success but still allow for adaptation on the fly.
  • Evaluation: Any successful business is not just reviewed once a year, but once a financial quarter, sometimes even more if necessary. The idea is that there will always be ways to improve and squeeze more out of a process. Consistent evaluation with tools like a SWOT analysis will set your business up for success as you and the rest of your team understand the necessary changes that need to be made. Your strategic plan can even begin to lay the foundation for what will become your most valuable KPIs.

How to Develop a Strategic Plan 

The elements of good strategy are developed out of a necessity for direction to move a business forward. Your strategic plan can look completely different from a direct competitor in the same industry—and that’s ok! A quick Google search or consultation meeting with various agencies will expose you to a variety of different plans that all claim to be the best fit for you. The good news is that there are basic steps that a successful strategic plan will align with. So what are the steps in strategic planning?

  1. Define the Future Now: Before you can get into the thick of a plan, you must think about where you want the business to be in five or ten years. In this stage, creating a mission statement can be helpful so you and the rest of your team can look back at what all the work started from. Define the "why" of your organization's creation. 
  2. Assessment Time: The next natural step is to analyze yourself, your competition, and the industry as a whole to see where you stand. This is when you typically use the SWOT, five-forces, and other tools to get a clear understanding of your operation's successes and failures. Are there any major changes coming to your industry in the near future? Questions like these should be asked at this stage to ensure your company can adapt to any landscape.
  3. Adjust: After the analysis of your business is complete, you will need to set new goals for the organization based on the discoveries. There should be distinct goals for individual departments (sales, marketing, finance, etc.) and the company as a whole. The new goals set for departments should funnel back to overall goals for the company. Everything needs to be aligned. 
  4. Develop the Plan: This is where the actual creation of the plan takes place once you have determined your strategic position and prioritized new objectives. One way to make this process easier is by utilizing strategy mapping. It is a helpful tool used to visualize the entire project. This map will give you a top-down view of possible decisions to be made.
  5. Execute the Plan: Communicate the plan clearly to all departments and answer all questions about the new direction moving forward. Change can often be intimidating, so make sure new goals for each department are defined so they have an achievable point to work towards. Keep an eye on your KPIs until the deadline before the first review. It could be worthwhile to invest time in setting up Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely (SMART) goals. 
  6. Review and Evaluate: After an adequate amount of time has passed under the new plan, it is time to see what changes have occurred and what adjustments need to be made. A safe schedule to adhere to would be to meet on a quarterly basis to discuss what KPIs have been completed and how that performance can continue. Once a year, the entire plan should be reviewed, to which this whole process may start over again if necessary.

Any successful strategic planning examples will be more in-depth than the abovementioned steps. Use them as a template to begin your own process and expand or retract where necessary. 

There is a lot to undertake when creating a strategic business plan, and even for larger organizations with hundreds of employees, it can be challenging to perform on your own. Fear not, you are not alone in this process, and there are still more tools you can utilize. 

Planning for the Future

The use of cutting-edge software can aid the strategic planning process to add longevity to your business. When you search for software to assist in this process, you can get bogged down in the research and not realize that many of these agencies offer services that only solve one singular pain point. These can feel like band-aids that are solving one small issue today, without helping you get to the root of a problem. 

Instead, strategic planning software should assist your team in getting into a rhythm with their work while providing a solution that supports the operating framework you've chosen to implement at your company. Software can help you plan for milestones down the road. 

Whether it is your first or 50th strategic planning session, software should aid in revisiting a 3, 5, or 10-year plan. To help get a better understanding of what reviewing these plans can do, let's look at a 5-year strategic plan example. 

To start, you should identify anywhere from three to five milestones that you want to achieve five years from now. These themes or focus areas will help measure future success. First, to clarify, these themes can be anything related to sales, a new product launch, or even company culture. For our example, let's use customer success. The theme could be to help 100 new businesses experience 5% revenue growth after partnering with your company. 

Regardless of what you end up choosing as your milestones for your 3, 5, or 10-year plan, a major factor that can help set up any plan for success is timing. Take time to research your main competitors and where a gap in your industry exists that you can fill. Rushing into creating a business strategy will result in shortcomings that could have been avoided if more time had been put in before creating the plan. 

What is the Best Strategic Planning Software?

Some may call us biased, but you can't deny what works. Our team at Elate has been helping teams execute on their plans at the highest level, and you could even say that we wrote the playbook on strategic planning. Don't just take our word for it; shop around and see what is available to you. When looking for the best software, you should keep a few things in mind. Any service that you end up choosing should, at the bare minimum, do the following:

  • Data integration to ensure your team is not posting to several different places, making communication more efficient.
  • Seamlessly align your company's vision with the execution of the plan.
  • Provides clear direction for the company and how it will get there.
  • Provides a space where you can set, plan, review, and take action on the priorities that matter to your business. 

Your business could have seen a fraction of its potential success using Objectives and Key Results (OKR) warehouses, generic performance management tools, and status quo, but were you aware of the flaws they present to your operation?

OKR Warehouses

An OKR warehouse is a business framework where an organization can establish and measure goals. On paper, OKRs can help drive alignment within your company. The problem is that OKRs are just one piece of strategic planning and execution. OKRs are great for driving the execution component of the plan, but just focusing on OKRs may limit your ability to create a holistic strategic planning framework. Additionally, a few of the major faults in OKRs warehouses include;

  • Overly complex
  • Low adoption and engagement
  • Focus really on the goal tracking piece—not on the planning piece
  • Makes it difficult for employees to understand how their work ties into the goals you are trying to achieve

Today's business world is in non-stop motion, and implementing a system like OKR should help create a more simplified, dynamic approach to growing your business.

Status Quo

This strategy is used to maintain current operating procedures based on past success. It is inherently flawed as it does not naturally push progression within a company. Discovering something that works is fantastic, but there needs to be constant innovation as well. The status quo is also commonly the continued use of excel spreadsheets or powerpoint to track a company's strategic plan, which is highly outdated and less accurate than modern methods. Here are a handful of flaws we have identified with the status quo method.

  • Laborious and confusing
  • Overly complex for employees
  • Static way of thinking about planning
  • Not a data driver

Operating from the status quo lacks, in general, a clear sense of direction. As we have mentioned throughout this piece, a lack of direction can be detrimental to any business regardless of previous successes. 

Performance Management Tools

Performance management tools can provide a great avenue for HR leaders to keep a pulse on employee satisfaction and feedback to help improve the culture of your organization. However, when it comes to driving execution and action, performance management tools can create a  major roadblock for employees. 

Blending performance management with strategic planning and execution, will naturally lead to a culture where employees feel like any misstep or failure is being judged by their managers in a way that can impact their performance, job, or even salary. Employees working out of fear for their job security are never going to perform to the best of their ability.

Your company has big goals and an incredible vision. So let your strategic planning reflect that. Don't  force employees to feel as though they are being graded by performance, because you will lead them to lowering their goals or attainable targets to feel like they can meet expectations. 

Here are a few other complications you can run into with performance management tools.

  • These are HR tools, and performance shouldn't be tied to the initiatives 
  • Don't pull on the data from other platforms
  • Don't need to add another platform for employees to engage with

We are so confident because we've used these systems and understand their flaws at their core. That is why, if your company has found success with using OKRs, we can still help. We will meet with your team to understand your goals, assist in the rollout process and share best practices every step of the way to ensure you have lasting OKR success in no time.

Elate: Strategic Planning Made Easy

At Elate, we are here to help you through every stage of the planning process, as we don't feel we've succeeded until you do. OKR implementation, transferring your business objectives, operations strategy/recommendations, and a complete dashboard migration are our four focus areas. 

We bring a concise focus to your strategic planning, so while you embrace changes and focus on building the best team possible, alignment will never be a concern. We are able to provide this by enabling your team to easily share updates, measure performance, and streamline data for the whole organization to consume.

A strategic plan can drive alignment and make all the difference in the longevity of a business. Contact us today to take your strategy to the next level.

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