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strategic planning

Strategic Planning for Business: Actionable Steps & Examples

This is a comprehensive guide on strategic planning for small to midsize companies.

If you want to:

  • Move your organization in the direction you intend for long-term success,
  • Implement your plan smoothly for greater growth,
  • Use a better platform for developing a truly effective strategic plan,

… then you’ll love this guide. Let’s get started.

What’s Covered in This Guide

Click on each to jump to that section.

What is Strategic Planning?

Strategic planning is the process you use to:

  • Establish and document a clear direction for your organization.
  • Identify business goals and set priorities that create growth for your company.
  • Formulate a long-term plan of action designed to achieve these objectives.
  • Determine an internal system tracking and evaluating performance.

When organizations want to, they use a strategic plan to:

  • Strengthen their operation.
  • Focus on collective energy and resources.
  • Enable leaders, teams, and other stakeholders to work toward common goals.
  • Make agreements around desired results.
  • Refresh direction and prevail over a changing or challenging environment.

Thinking strategically helps companies take the right action for more success and better outcomes. Some even call it an art.

What Does Strategic Planning Mean?

Strategic planning is one of three essential ways to pursue important objectives for your company. When tackling challenges and determining action plans, you can think strategically, tactically, or operationally. These three thought processes often work in concert to help you create a framework that achieves your desired objectives.

  • Strategic plans are designed for multilevel involvement throughout the entire organization. Leaders will look ahead to where they want to be in three, five, and ten years and develop a mission.
  • Tactical plans support strategic plans. They outline the specific responsibilities and functionalities at the department level, so team members know how to do their part to make the strategic plan successful.
  • Operational plans focus on the highly detailed procedures, processes, and routine tasks that frontline team members must accomplish to achieve desired outcomes.

What is the Goal of Strategic Planning?

The goal of your strategic plan is to determine:

  • Where your company stands in relation to the current business environment. Understand how your business operates, how you create value, and how you differentiate from your competitors.
  • Where you want to take the business based on long-term objectives such as your company's vision, mission, culture, values, and goals. Envision how you see the company five or ten years from now.
  • What you need to do to get there. You come away from your planning sessions with a roadmap that helps deliver on your strategic objectives. Determine better ways to enable and implement change, schedule deadlines, and structure goals, so they're achievable.

The main purpose of your strategic plan is to create clearly defined goals for achieving the growth and success of your organization. These goals are connected to your organization's mission and long-term vision.

What is Strategic Leadership? 

Strategic leadership is how you create, implement, and sustain your strategic plan so your organization moves in the direction you intend for long-term success. This usually involves establishing ongoing practices and benchmarks, allocating resources, and providing leadership that supports your strategic mission and vision statement.

Strategic leadership, also known as strategy execution, can employ two different approaches:

  • A prescriptive approach is analytical and focuses on how strategies are created to account for risks and opportunities.
  • A descriptive approach is principle-driven and focuses on how strategies are implemented to account for risks and opportunities.

Most people agree that a strategic plan is only as good as the company's ability to research, create, implement, evaluate, and adjust when needed. The benefits can be great when:

  • Your entire organization supports the plan.
  • Your business is set up to succeed.
  • Your employees are more likely to stay on track without being distracted or derailed.
  • You make better decisions based on metrics that facilitate course correction.
  • Everyone in your company is involved and invested in better outcomes.
  • Departments and teams are aligned across your company.
  • People are committed to learning and training.
  • Productivity increases, and performance improves.
  • Creativity is encouraged and rewarded.

4 Strategic Planning Strategies

What are the four main points of strategic planning? You engage in strategic thinking, so you can create effective company goals that are:

  1. Purpose-driven

Align your strategic plan with the company's purpose and values as you understand them.

  1. Actionable

Actionable strategic goals are worth spending your time and resources on to reach organizational objectives.

  1. Measurable

It's critical for you to track your strategy's progress and success, enabling your teams to take action and meet the goals more effectively.

  1. Focused Long-term

A long-term focus distinguishes a strategic plan from operational goals, which involve daily activities and milestones required for success. When planning strategically, you're looking ahead to the company's future.

The Strategic Planning Process [11 Steps]

A strategic plan isn't written in a day. Critical thinking evolves over several months. Those involved in the strategic planning are usually a team of leaders and team members from your company and possibly other stakeholders.

When should strategic planning be done?

You should plan strategically for start-ups and newer organizations from the start. But even if your company is more established, it's not too late to start working on strategy.

Flexible timing that's tailored to the needs of your organization is smart. Although the frequency of strategy sessions is up to you, many leaders use these milestones as a guide:

  • When the economy, your market, and industry trends change, or a global event occurs (like the onset of a pandemic).
  • Following a change in senior leadership.
  • Before a product launch or when a new division is added to your business.
  • After your company merges with another organization.
  • During a convenient time frame, such as a quarterly and annual review.

Many organizations opt to schedule regular strategic reviews, such as quarterly or annually. Especially when crafting a plan, your strategic planning team should meet regularly. They will often follow predetermined steps in the development of your long-term plan.

What are the 11 steps of strategic planning?

  1. Identify your company’s strategic position in the marketplace. 

Gather market data and research information from both internal and external sources. You may want to conduct a comprehensive SWOT analysis to determine your company's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats against success. Your strengths and weaknesses are directly related to your current competitive advantage within your industry. They are what you use to balance challenges to your success. They also influence the likelihood of increased market share in the future.

  1. Define your unique vision and mission. 

What would success look like for you in three years? Five years? Ten years? Articulate that in a vision statement. How do you intend to realize your vision? That's articulated in your mission statement. Formulating purpose-driven strategic goals articulates why your company does what it does. Your organizational values inform your mission and vision and connect them to specific objectives.

  1. Determine your company’s value.

Many companies use financial forecasting for this purpose. A forecast can assign anticipated measurable results, return on investment (ROI), or profits and cost of investment.

  1. Set your organizational direction.

Defining the impact you want to have and the time frame for achieving helps focus a too-broad or over-ambitious first draft. This way, your plan will have objectives that will have the most impact. 

  1. Create specific strategic objectives.

Your strategic objectives identify the conditions for your success. For instance, they may cover:

  • Value: Increasing revenue and shareholder value, budgeting cost, allocating resources aligned with the strategic plan, forecasting profitability, and ensuring financial stability. 
  • Customer Experience: Identifying target audiences, solution-based products and services, value for the cost, better service, and increased market share.
  • Operational Efficiency: Streamlining internal processes, investing in research and development, total quality and performance priorities, reducing cost, and improving workplace safety.
  • Learning and Growth: Training leaders and teams to address change and sustain growth, improving employee productivity and retention, and building high-performing teams.
  1. Set specific strategic initiatives.

Strategic initiatives are your company's actions to reach your strategic objectives, such as raising brand awareness, a commitment to product development, purpose-driven employee training, and more.

  1. Develop cascading goals.

Cascading goals are like cascading messages: They filter your strategy throughout the company from top to bottom. The highest-level goals align with mid-level goals to individual goals employees must accomplish to achieve overall outcomes. This helps everyone see how their performance will influence overall success, which improves engagement and productivity.

  1. Create alignment across the entire company.

The success of your strategy is directly impacted by your commitment to inform and engage your entire workforce in strategy implementation. This involves ensuring everyone is connected and working together to achieve your goals. Overall decision-making becomes easier and more aligned.

  1. Consider strategy mapping.

A strategy map is an easy-to-understand diagram, graphic, or illustration that shows the logical cause-and-effect relationship among various strategic objectives. They are used to communicate how your organization creates value quickly. It will help you communicate the details of your strategic plan better to people by tapping into their visual learning abilities.

  1. Use metrics to measure performance.

When your strategy informs the creation of SMART organizational goals, benchmarks can be established, and metrics can be assigned to evaluate performance within time frames. Key performance indicators (KPIs) align performance and productivity with long-term strategic objectives. 

  1. Evaluate the performance of your plan regularly.

You write a strategic plan to improve your company’s overall performance. Evaluating your progress at regular intervals will tell you whether you're on your way to achieving your objectives or whether your plan needs an adjustment.

What Does Strategic Planning Involve?

Effective strategic planning involves creating a company culture of good communication and accountability. It involves creating and embracing the opportunity for positive change.

Consider these statistics:

  • In many companies, only 42% of leaders and 27% of employees have access to a strategic plan.
  • Even if they have access, 95% of employees do not understand their organization's strategy.
  • 5.2% of a strategy's potential is lost to poor communication.
  • What leaders care about makes up at least 80% of the content of their communications. But those messages do not tap into around 80% of their team members' primary motivators for putting extra energy into a change program.
  • 28% of leaders say one of the main reasons strategic initiatives succeed is the ability to attract skilled personnel; 25% say it's good communication; 25% say it's the ability to manage organizational change.

Here's what you can do to embrace a culture of good communication and accountability:

Make your strategic plan visible. Talk about what's working and what isn't. People want to know where and how they fit into the organization and why their contribution is valuable. Even if they don't understand every element of the plan.

Build accountability. If you've agreed on a plan with clear objectives and priorities, your leaders have to take responsibility for what's in it. They must own the objectives and activities in your plan.

Create an environment for change. It's much more difficult to implement a strategy if you think there will be no support or collaboration from your coworkers. Addressing their concerns will help build a culture that understands how to champion change.

Implementing Your Strategic Plan

  • 98% of leaders think strategy implementation takes more time than strategy formulation.
  • 61% of leaders acknowledge that their organizations often struggle to bridge the gap between strategy formulation and its day-to-day implementation.
  • 45% of leaders say ensuring team members take different actions or demonstrate different behaviors is the toughest implementation challenge; 37% of leaders say it's gaining support across the whole organization.
  • 39% of leaders say one of the main reasons strategic plans succeed is skilled implementation.

The reality for so many is that it's harder to implement a strategic plan than to craft one. Great strategic ideas and a clear direction are key to success, no matter what. But so is:

  • Turning strategic ideas into an easy-to-implement framework that enables meaningful managing, tracking, and adapting.  
  • Getting everyone in the organization on the same strategic page, from creation to execution.

When your plan is structured to support implementation, you're more likely to get it done.

Examples of Strategic Plans

What are examples of good strategic planning? There are lots of templates out there to help you create a plan document with pen and paper.

But Ninety has a better way.

The Vision tool is essentially a strategic planning template on Ninety's cloud-based platform that allows you to:

  • Set goals, establish how you will meet them, and share them with those who need to know.
  • Gain visibility around your company values.
  • Create core values, a niche, and long-term goals that are accessible to everyone in your company.
  • Create a vision of the future that lets you know what needs to happen now.
  • Streamline and organize your processes.
  • Easily update and track changes.
  • Bring alignment to your entire organization.

And you can do all this with only two digitized pages.

In your Vision tool inside Ninety, you can easily access all the things that make strategic plans effective:

  • Executive Summary
  • Elevator Pitch
  • Mission Statement
  • Vision Statement
  • Goals
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Industry Analysis
  • Marketing Plan
  • Operations Plan
  • Financial Projections

The Vision tool is also completely integrated with all other features on Ninety, such as Scorecards, Rocks, To-Dos, Issues, Roles and Responsibilities, Meetings, One-on-Ones, and more:

  • Create a clear vision for each team.
  • Determine one- and three-year goals.
  • Reference past versions in a Vision archive.
  • Share your Vision with all teams, or keep it private.

Get Your Strategic Planning Done in Ninety

Now that you've learned how to grow your company using strategic planning, it's time to put your knowledge into practice:

Build your strategic plan on Ninety now.

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