Strategic Planning: A Crash Course
The goal of most growth company leaders is to get everyone in their company “on the same page.” To do that, you first have to have the “page:” a clear, concise strategic plan.
To create one, we recommend using our One-Page Strategic Plan, a simple tool that has helped many companies focus their efforts on their most important goals. In a large organization, you may want to have separate One-Page Strategic Plans for important departments and divisions that align with the strategic plan of the company as a whole.
Master the basics of strategic planning
- Make sure the company name fits
- Analyze your opportunities and threats
- List your core values
- List your core purpose and Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)
Strategic planning: Looking ahead for the longer term
- Focus on your three- to five-year goals/financial outcomes
- Name the “sandbox” you plan to dominate in three to five years
- List your company’s three brand promises
- Specify your “smart numbers:
- Highlight your capabilities/key thrusts
- Focus on the “Who, what, when and how?”
- Select your “themes”
- Establish accountability
Master the basics of strategic planning
Here are some key steps to cover in your strategic planning.
Make sure the company name fits. For your strategic plan to work, everyone in the company should be aligned around what your business is called. Sometimes, a nickname for a company or acronym starts becoming prevalent (like FedEx) or the “inc.” gets dropped in casual usage. Other times, the company’s name no longer reflects what it actually does. In those cases, it’s time to consider modifying the name of the firm before you move onto other steps in your strategic planning.
Analyze your opportunities and threats. While working on your annual strategic plan, ask yourself, “What are the top three to five opportunities to wildly exceed our goals for the company in the next 24 to 36 months?” Also ask: “What are the top three to five threats that could derail us?” If you’re doing quarterly strategic planning, change your time frame to the next 12 months. You’ll list these opportunities and threats in the upper right hand corner of the One-Page Strategic Plan.
Don’t rush through this part of your strategic planning. If you take sufficient time with them, most of your quarterly, annual and even three- to five-year priorities should fall into place. At a one-day quarterly strategic planning session, I suggest devoting 45 minutes to this part of your discussion. At a two-day annual session, I recommend spending 1.5 hours. Some teams opt to spend the evening before at a dinner having an informal discussion of opportunities and threats, so they have an additional night to sleep on the ideas under discussion.
Sometimes it is hard to decide, during your strategic planning, if something is an opportunity or a threat. That’s because some of the biggest opportunities can become threats – and vice versa. Use your best judgment to decide how to list each factor in your One-Page Strategic Plan.
List your core values. If you don’t have your company’s core values nailed down yet, read Jim Collins’s “Building a Company Vision,” article in Harvard Business Review .
It will help you identify your core values, core purpose and Big Hairy Audacious Goal in your strategic planning.
To bring your core values to life in your strategic planning session – and make them more memorable – have each executive write each down and have your leadership team make a one or two-word note next to each that remind them of a recent time when an individual or team “lived” that value. Then take 20 minutes and have them share stories for each core value, with someone taking notes. This will help to reinforce the core values; indicate where a core value might be weakening (if there is a lack of stories); and provide ongoing “legends” to add to your employee handbook, freshen-up your orientation, and provide stories for an internal or external newsletter. And it provides stories you will recall at the quarterly or annual all-hands meeting to reinforce the core values.
Pay particular attention to a core value for which the team couldn’t think of any recent stories. If you’re new to core values, a dearth of anecdotes might indicate that a value is not “core If you’re confident that a value is essential but no stories surface, then it may be a sign of bigger underlying problems. A weakening core value is an early, early warning sign of trouble so pay attention –and act.
List your core purpose and Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
Your core purpose and BHAG – discussed in the Jim Collins article I mentioned -- are the big WHY for getting up in the morning and slugging away. The core purpose is what you continue to strive to achieve, but never reach. The late Mother Theresa urged that we “love the poor,” for instance, but she didn’t reach them all. The BHAG is the measurable 10- to 30 -year goal that you intend to achieve.
Your core purpose and BHAG serve as the “heart” of the vision behind your strategic planning. Discuss what you’re doing to attain both of them during your strategic planning session. List specific 90-day actions in the “actions” boxes on the One-Page Strategic Plan.
Strategic planning: Looking ahead for the longer term
Focus on your three to five year goals/Financial outcomes. Pick a comfortable point 3 to 5 years from now (i.e. Future Date: Dec 31, 2015) and determine the revenues, profits, and market capitalization you hope to achieve by that date (or, if you’re not a public company, your market share, number of Fortune 500 clients, number of offices, etc. These are your desired financial outcomes. List them in the One-Page Strategic Plan.
Name the “sandbox” you plan to dominate within three to five years. What will be your primary geographical reach? What are your primary products and services? And what is your market/distribution channel/customer-type?
List your company’s three brand promises. These are the three ways you matter to your customers and differ from the competition. There is always one lead Brand Promise – the one that truly sets you apart from the competition and leads your marketing messaging. Either list it first, or circle it on your One-Page Strategic Plan.
Specify your “smart numbers”: List three key metrics (often called Key Performance Indicators)
that your team will look at daily and/or weekly to know that the company is progressing
toward your goals. The three key numbers to monitor daily should measure if you’re keeping your promises to customers. Quantify what matters, not what is easy to measure.
Highlight your capabilities/key thrusts. What are the handful of priorities for the next 3 – 5
years necessary to reach your targeted outcomes in revenues, profits and market share; dominate
your sandbox, and deliver on your Brand Promises?
Focus on the “Who, what, when and how?” From an annual perspective, select metrics that will indicate to you that you’re using your resources to the fullest extent. For some companies, it might be inventory. For a professional services firm, it might be utilization rate. There is a space for these metrics in the One-Page Strategic Plan.
Pick one or two critical numbers that you need to achieve to drive all of the other desired outcomes in your strategic planning. This is the single most important decision you will make in your strategic planning. If you are not sure what critical numbers to select, you’ll find some clues by asking yourself questions like: What is the key weakness in your business model that must be fixed? What is the major rock in your shoe? What is keeping you awake at night? What is causing you to lose customers?
It’s also important to commit to three to five initiatives for the next year to support the Critical Number and desired annual outcomes while making progress on your longer-term Capabilities/Key Thrusts.
On a quarterly basis, you’ll also want to select quarterly metrics, critical numbers and rocks you have to move to achieve your key goals during your strategic planning session.
Less is more. Many firms are finding three priorities are enough for the quarter and the year. Don’t list items that are part of your ongoing business, whether it’s raising money or launching upgrades, etc. The idea of priorities is to do something DIFFERENT so you’re getting different results.
Select your "themes." First, read the chapter “Mastering the Quarterly Theme” in my book. What’s the deadline for the theme? It doesn’t have to be the end of a quarter or year. One entrepreneur made it his birthday “If we hit 200 contracts a week by my birthday, then …”). What’s the measurable target? What’s the name of the Theme (Make it catchy. This is where you put your marketing cap on)? What’s the scoreboard going to look like? And what will the reward/celebration be when the goal is reached?
Establish accountability. LAST COLUMN (WHO/WHEN)
After the plan is completed, each executive should list a handful of his or her priorities for
the next quarter in the last column of the One-Page Strategic Plan (Who/When). It’s likely that some of these priorities come from having accountability for a critical number or a quarterly or annual priority.
Each box on the planning document should technically have an accountable person associated with it – and I mean every box. Who has accountability for revenue? Who has accountability for a particular threat? Who has accountability for a specific action that will be taken to re-enforce a weakened core value?
Good luck with your strategic planning!
Strategic Planning Tools
- Vook (video-book) Version of the Updated One-Page Strategic Plan and other One-Page Tools
- Strategy: One-Page Strategic Plan
- One-Page Strategy: Seven Strata Article
- One-Page Strategy: Seven Strata Tool
- One-Page Strategic Plan (Quarterly Version)
- One-Page Strategic Plan (Trimester Version)
- Sample One-Page Strategic Plans
- One-Page Strategic Plan (Latin American Spanish)
- One Page Strategic Plan – (European Spanish)
- One-Page Strategy: Seven Strata Article (Spanish version)
- One-Page Strategy: Seven Strata Tool (Spanish version)
- One-Page Plan (French)
- One-Page Strategic Plan & Instructions (German)
- One-Page Strategic Plan & Instructions (Hungarian)
- One-Page Strategic Plan (Dutch)
- Classic (older version) One-Page Strategic Plan (English, French, Spanish)
- Classic One-Page Plan Instructions