It is easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day aspects of running a business that you never get around to planning for the future. But as the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. If you don’t know where you are going, you will never get there. If an organization doesn’t know where it is headed, its priorities will change constantly with little engagement or commitment from its employees. A strategic plan is a roadmap for success. It provides direction and focus for all employees and outlines specific goals and a course of action for achieving them. Some community members or employees in your organization may see the strategic planning process as a management fad or a waste of resources. But, if done correctly and with proper follow-up and action, strategic planning can ensure a more effective and efficient use of resources, help avoid crises and prepare your organization to handle any situation that arises. While it is beneficial for any business to have a strategic plan, it is especially beneficial as a way to help mid-to-large size organizations run more effectively while being ready to meet your client’s needs in the future.
Keys to creating a successful plan A business must include the priorities of its clients in its strategic plan. Therefore, it is very important to gather client input as part of the process. This can be done through surveys, committees and public meetings. Because each department has varying needs, it is also important to include objectives and plans tailored for each department in your organization. The process should include participation from all levels of employees. This not only ensures the plan will address various needs; it will also foster buy-in and a sense of ownership. With citizens increasingly demanding accountability, a solid strategic plan with specific targets and monitoring tools will help ensure this. If your budget allows, hire a trained professional who has no emotional investment in the plan to facilitate the process. To make it easier to be acted upon, clearly articulate your goals, specific steps, individual responsibilities and deadlines. Ensure everyone understands their role. At the end of each session, outline the next steps, who is responsible for what, upcoming deadlines and the date of the next meeting.
Elements of a strategic plan Strategic planning involves establishing the organization’s mission and vision, its values, objectives and key performance indicators. A vision allows your planning team to decide how you want your organization to be perceived in the future. The mission statement outlines the preferred future of your organization. It establishes what you plan to do and for whom. It reflects your values and philosophy. Objectives provide guidance on how the organization can fulfill its goals. They are specific and measurable. You should also identify positive or negative issues that must be addressed in order to avoid any barriers to achieving your mission. If you have a committed team, your organization will put many hours into the strategic planning process. Unfortunately, even after all of this work, many strategic plans gather dust on a shelf. Ray Gagnon, founder of Gagnon Associates, a management and organizational consulting firm in Massachusetts, says this is usually due to three common pitfalls.
The Plan Sometimes the plan itself lacks actionable items or the accountability necessary to be an effective tool. Plans composed of generalities and dreams without concrete steps to take do not inspire action. You can avoid this pitfall by making sure your plan contains concrete, measurable initiatives or projects that can be assigned to specific individuals and tagged with specific completion dates. Then, hold people accountable for their responsibilities. The Process Many plans are developed by external consultants who analyze the organization and prescribe their program for success. This cuts down on internal ownership by managers and employees. Avoid this pitfall by ensuring your executive team is involved in all aspects of the process, even if using outside consultants. Involve and get input from employees in all areas of the organization. Give them a chance not only to react to a first draft but also to have input with planning ideas. Plans that result from widespread involvement start out with more support. It makes it easier to “sell” the plan to the whole organization later on.
The People Organizations sometimes simply fail to follow through in keeping the plan a living, visible map for action. This can be due to changing priorities or the demands of running an organization day to day. Perhaps the most important aspect of strategic planning is implementation. This turns plans and discussion into action and success. To help increase your odds of success, OMAFRA recommends:
Starting the strategic planning process may seem daunting. It may take you away from your immediate tasks. But putting together an effective team and taking the time now will position your organization for a bright and successful future.