Strategic Planning

Often, advice tells us to live in the moment. It keeps us from getting wrapped up in hypotheticals and denying the present reality. This method doesn’t mean renouncing control and letting life direct us instead of us directing our lives. The same concept applies not only to our personal lives but within our approach to strategic planning in business.

Taking control of your company strategy acknowledges your present situation while planning for the future. This strategic approach involves taking a detailed look at where your company stands and at the environment surrounding you. While it may be tempting to continue with a day-to-day routine that’s working “good enough,” this mindset leaves you vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of your industry. Instead of getting washed about in the tides, ride the wave of success by planning for the future.

In our previous article, we discussed some of the methods and models for strategic planning. Now, we’ll review the more significant implications of a sound business strategy. Let’s start by looking at some signs that you need to update your business’s approach.

When to update your business’s strategy

There should never be a time where you are not updating your business’s strategic plan. Change is a consistent factor in the corporate world. Current events will shape your industry, and new technology invites greater capabilities within and outside of your company. Avoid falling behind by setting regular meetings with your team to revise your strategy. Ideally, these should happen every month with the major stakeholders in your business.

Monthly meetings facilitate more minor changes. The frequency of these meetings invites slow, progressive change, as opposed to major periodic overhauls. Upending your staff’s routine with significant changes affects your company’s morale and reduces productivity. Instead, create a culture of learning by introducing slow changes early on. This gets them used to slow, constant shifts and makes it easier to adapt over time.

After you’ve sent your monthly strategy review meetings, choose a date for a yearly planning review. In this meeting, look over all the data from the smaller changes you’ve made and how they impacted your business. Then, you’ll use this data to structure our approaches and goals for the following year. These will likely change from the original plan to some degree, but you need to choose a logical direction for your business using all the information available.

The ingredients for a sound strategy

Strategic planning is a group effort. There are many elements that help you realize your success. When you meet for strategic reviews, you’ll want to include not only your high-level management staff but also members of other departments. These include people who work directly with your customers, the product, and other significant pieces of your product and its success. Have them come prepared with insights from their specific functions. For example, those that work directly with your customers should report any important trends that they found in their support tickets. A software development team could note the most common feature requests. Bring data on information that contributes insight to the conversation, including market reports and publications within your industry.

Dedicate a specific part of this meeting to reviewing your key performance indicators from the previous year. Each department should present its data and provide its insight into the results. If you majorly deviated from your expected goals, conduct additional research to find out why it happened. These can include surveys, focus groups, and comparisons between your company and the industry standards for that time.

After reviewing your performance, look at ways that you can take advantage of the following year. Based on the changes in your industry, you can find further opportunities. For example, you can adopt a new piece of software that helps you run your processes quicker or discuss acquiring another company. One benefit of having everybody in the same meeting is aligning your internal and external procedures from the planning phase on. For example, if you plan to take on more customers, you can simultaneously look at the software to help you handle them. Or, if you’d like to increase customer satisfaction, you can find what your team needs to improve their experience.

What to expect from your plans

How will you plot a path if you don’t know where you’re going? Much like a good map, a strategic plan aligns your business with its goals. Even more, solid planning helps you understand your business in more depth and see it in the context of its industry. Companies with a reliable plan should expect to see:

  • Increased efficiency
  • Happier teams
  • Higher profits
  • Resistance to challenges

Let’s take a closer look at how these manifest.

Increased efficiency

No company’s resources are infinite. Having a clear-cut plan sets priorities in line so you can dedicate resources to what’s needed the most. By keeping sight of your goals, you can increase your business’s revenue and then fund less urgent projects when the time is right. Teams that understand their overall direction work more efficiently and invest themselves more in the outcomes of their team. For more information on aligning your messaging with your goals, see more in this article about the importance of communication.

Happier teams

People thrive on consistency. Aligning your strategy with your business’s actions provides team members a clear sense of priority and direction. Rather than inadvertently working against each other’s interests, your communication plan will ensure that each stakeholder understands their common goal. Often, individuals work better with some restrictions rather than full, open creativity. Providing a framework for your company’s efforts and stability where you need it and allows flexibility where it benefits you the most.

Higher profits

A reliable plan will help your company work together, which makes operations more efficient. Increased efficiency leads to savings across the board and more opportunities for creative solutions. Freeing up your team’s energy with good planning results in faster project completion time, a higher return on investment, and a competitive edge. Teams that plan ahead consider their surroundings and stay in tune with new developments in their industries.

Tracking your strategy and results allows you to compare your performance with your expectations. This shows you what is and is not working so you can tailor your approach for better results. Then, you can allocate your resources to the areas that need them and plan more efficiently. Over time, you’ll see improvements to your overall return on investment and overall market share. Then, you can position yourself to improve consistently.

Resistance to challenges

Let’s clarify: being resistant to challenges does not mean that you’ll be immune to them. It does mean you’ll be prepared to deal with new developments and that your staff will have the tools to pivot when faced with change. Since you’ll frequently be reviewing your plan, you can look at it in the context of the overall industry and adjust it when you see change happening. Unlike businesses that rigidly stick to their plans despite new information, flexible businesses account for new developments and move with them. Often, there are new opportunities that many businesses will miss by ignoring them in favor of following their current plan. Think, for example, of the opportunities missed by Polaroid, Blockbuster, and Sears when their industries changed.

How to evaluate your business’s strategy

The goal of your corporate strategy is to make a specific impact. You can evaluate this by writing down exactly what you want to get done and then tracking your current efforts to see their results. Your strategy should point you in this direction, and your leadership staff guides the implementation. Meet with your team and identify the metrics you’ll use to determine your success.

Each one of the policies that your company implements should be tied to a specific goal. Rather than thinking about these goals in an individual context, incorporate them into your larger mission. How will each one of these contribute to your aim? Make these planning documents available to each stakeholder involved, so they understand the purpose behind these guidelines and generate accountability for adhering to the plans.

Setting achievable goals

Make sure that your goals are as specific as you can get them. Vague goals are hard to reach. Think, for example, of someone who claims they want to “grow their business.” What exactly does that mean? Is there a specific revenue goal that you’re trying to reach? Does it have to do with your market share? Be specific when planning your next steps.

How will it appear when you’re there? You should visualize the end result of this goal as a complete experience, as clear as an image or a movie scene. Revisit your goals often, preferably at the start of each strategy discussion. Habit and repetition solidify these ideas and keep them fresh in each person’s mind. It’s better to be overly specific than overly vague.

If you’re having trouble deciding on your goals, pick something, no matter what, and stick to it. Be decisive. It doesn’t matter if it’s the end goal of your company for now. It’s more important to choose a direction to go in and stick to it. If it’s not right later, you’ll find out when you better understand the path you should be on. If you choose a vague goal or none at all, you can expect your results to be aimless as well.

Making your goals public fosters accountability. Ideally, they should go on the same part of your website as your mission statement. Your team and your clients will understand what’s important to you and align themselves better with your mission. Transparency is your biggest asset.

After planning your goals and making them public, set both deadlines and rewards for their completion. The extra steps provide motivation to reach farther instead of only doing what’s required at the moment. Rewards for your team can include bonuses, recognition, time off, or any incentives that they value. Remember that your incentives must be important to the people receiving them, as they must build their personal motivation to work towards the goals.

Fine-tuning and troubleshooting your strategy

Once you set your goals, evaluate the progress and fine-tune your plan. Even when your strategy is perfect, other factors implement its effectiveness. When you evaluate your strategy, look at the following areas to find out where you can improve.

  1. How practical is the plan?
  2. Is your team consistent with its implementation?
  3. Does your plan’s environment support its requirements?
  4. Do you have all the available resources to carry out the plan?
  5. How much risk must you take?
  6. How restrictive are your deadlines?

The first deterrent to your plan’s success is a lack of practicality. This involves conflicting goals or values. For example, if your goals were to provide customers with more app features and also to streamline their experience, you would have to find a way to either consolidate or prioritize the conflicting aims. In this kind of scenario, it’s important to know the essence of what you’re trying to accomplish. Here, it would be an improved customer experience. Focus on the meaning behind your goals and align better steps to reach them.

Once you’re sure of the practicality, check how consistent your team is. They should have clear procedures that direct their efforts in complementary ways. If you find duplicated work or conflicting priorities, this is the first place to look. Also, check that their environment and resources complement the tasks at hand. If they’re missing key tools or support for the projects assigned, the results will not meet expectations. Projects with unrealistic or restrictive deadlines create additional stress and turn counterproductive in the long run. Make sure that you evaluate your deadlines and the overall risk of each project, so your team has the right resources to meet your goals.

Closing thoughts

Strategic planning helps your business in every aspect. It prepares you for the future and creates an environment conducive to growth. Companies with better strategic planning outperform their competitors and become leaders in their industries. Success means something different to everyone, so define what you value and then design the steps to get there.

There are resources in and outside of your company that can help you fine-tune your planning. For example, many companies choose to balance experience with availability and work with a fractional COO or CMO. Each has a distinct way of helping your company plan better for what’s ahead. Much like an in-house member, fractional CMOs and fractional COOs provide expert-level guidance for your business. How do you get started? Make sure you do your homework and evaluate all options. For help designing a specific plan for your business, see what a fractional COO can do to help.