As you research ways to grow and optimize your business, you’ll come across the term “strategic planning” quite a bit. But what is strategic planning, exactly? Strategic planning refers to a carefully crafted and supervised process (or processes) that helps you make informed decisions to grow your business and overcome obstacles. Like any competent strategy, this planning involves many moving parts that must remain flexible enough to allow for changes when necessary. Let’s break down five crucial strategic planning process steps so you can safely steer your organization in the right direction.
What Are the Five Steps in the Strategic Planning Process?
1. Understand Where You Stand
The strategic planning process begins with a thorough analysis of your organization’s current situation. If you don’t know where you stand right now, you won’t know where to go next. Determining your strategic position requires collecting good data from multiple angles. Seek detailed insights from your leadership team, receive feedback from employees and customers, and compare key performance indicators (KPIs) with those of competitors in your market. Take a look at your company’s current vision and mission statements as well. Once you’ve gathered all of this information, break it all down into four categories of interest: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). This SWOT diagram (or similar visual aid) will help clarify your standing so you can better move forward with your strategic planning.
2. Form a Coherent Vision
Now that you’ve got an aerial view of your organization’s strategic position, it’s time to develop a new vision that addresses every weak point and bolsters your existing strengths. This vision should capture a broad, general, and concise picture of what your company wishes to achieve and become. Developing this vision can help you write a mission statement as well, which lays out your business’s reason for being. Having a clear, coherent vision and mission statement in place will provide a solid bedrock for your decisions moving forward.
3. Identify the Gaps
Strategic planning is all about getting to where you want to go efficiently. Your vision provides the general direction, like a compass – without a map, however, you’ll have a hard time avoiding the obstacles that stand in your way like rocks dotting the sea. The next step in this process, then, is to identify the barriers and gaps that separate your current position from the one you’re trying to achieve. Common gaps faced by companies of all sizes include public relations, financials, market share, internal systems, communication, and so on. Conduct a thorough gap analysis by breaking down specific gaps and asking key questions that dig to the heart of the matter. If, for instance, your business isn’t meeting a specific customer demand, you might ask why you’re not positioned to meet this need and realize you haven’t devoted the proper resources to that task.
4. Get Your Goals in Order
At this point, your organization should know where it stands, where it’s headed, and how to chart a course to get there. There’s still the matter of doing the work, however. This is where proper goal-setting comes into play. Every gap you identify should be met with a specific plan (i.e. goal) that addresses the problem with precise actions and indicators that relevant parties can keep track of. These goals should have a concrete date, specific figures, and list of individuals responsible for achieving them. Each goal, no matter how small, should be in service of the larger vision and focused by your latest mission statement.
5. Execute, Analyze, Revise
As you deploy your strategic plan, you’ll soon find that many variables are out of your control, such as market forces, personnel changes, destabilizing world events, and more. In some cases, you’ll simply fail to meet certain goals. If you cling too tightly to your plans or start from scratch, you’ll likely suffer setbacks. Rather than retrace all of your steps in strategic planning thus far, it’s better to adapt accordingly. Check in on your goals at intervals to track your progress and identify any unforeseen issues that have cropped up. If necessary, adjust your goals to account for these changes and repeat this cycle. Frequent monitoring is crucial for ensuring the success of any strategic plan, even if it means the details of said plan don’t look exactly the same over time.
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