Tips to Improve Your Strategic Planning Process

Strategic planning is a process that you want to flow smoothly, but sometimes you have to face the facts: When you plan for a smooth ride, it never goes that way. Something always throws a wrench in the plan, making it an unpredictable process. Fresh ideas at an afternoon meeting may change decisions made earlier in the day.

The following tips to help your process move along with less uncertainty:

  • Think about execution before you start planning. A strategic plan that sits on the shelf is a colossal waste of time and energy (of which no one has extra to give away). Outline your ideas on how you see the plan being implemented. Even better, talk to your key employees and get everyone’s buy-in on executing the plan before you actually put the plan together. Consider reading Chapter 14, which focuses on execution.

  • Determine whether you want a top-down or bottom-up planning process.

    • A top-down approach involves the board and executive team setting the vision and long-term goals and the staff developing the short-term goals and actions.

    • A bottom-up approach works with the staff developing the whole plan and submitting it to the board and executives for approval.

    Normally, organizations end up somewhere between these two extremes. Deciding who takes the first pass at developing the vision and long-term goals is what’s important because these are the guidelines for the rest of the plan.

  • Commit to a schedule. Set a very specific deadline for when the plan needs to be completed. Additionally, set the schedule for ongoing strategy meetings and reporting.

    Use a large desk calendar to map out the whole year as you embark on the planning process.

  • Make everyone feel included. Not everyone will have a seat at your strategic table, so openly communicate who’s involved in what step of the process and why. Explain how everyone’s input is being solicited and used.

  • Celebrate success. No matter what you do or where you are in your strategic planning agenda, end your planning days on a high note. Do something fun, such as play a quick game, run through a fun exercise, or go out to dinner.

    It is very important to celebrate success, because there never seems to be enough time to have fun. Never let your strategic planning sessions end on a low note where everyone is feeling overworked and brain dead.

  • Don’t over plan. One of the biggest mistakes in strategic planning is becoming overly ambitious and overwhelming the company with the amount of work that needs to get done. When you’re done putting your plan together, put it away and come back to it a week later. Make sure that it still makes sense and you haven’t planned the company into oblivion.

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