What Every Strategic Plan Should Include

A journalist asked me last week what I thought the key elements of a successful strategic plan should be. That’s not an easy question to answer and there are, in fact, a wide range of inputs and elements that go into ensuring strategic plan success. But it was a legitimate question and one that I know many strategic planning consultants–and their clients–are deeply concerned about.

I’ve written a number of business plans and have helped many organizations, departments and entrepreneurs create strategic plans. I have a strong bias toward “strategy before action” which is why I named my firm Strategic Communications.m And, as the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Strategic Planning (Penguin, 2011) I was able to do a great deal of research on strategic planning and what makes it effective–or not.

In working on various planning projects, a couple of the unique things that I’ve discovered that I believe business should include in their plans are:
  • An implementation plan. One of the key challenges that businesses face with planning is actually *implementing* the plan. I think that is because often, by the time the planning process is over, the team is exhausted and “burned out” and they have a tendency to just go back to doing things the way they’ve always done them. As I work with organizations I encourage them to develop their implementation process at the beginning of their planning effort to indicate, specifically, how they will ensure that the plan will be moved forward, how they will establish accountability, how they will track progress, how/when they will meet to review the plan, etc. Then, at the end of the planning process, we review and finalize that plan which becomes the basis of the roll out and provides a foundation for action.
  • Creative strategies. Too often strategies are little more than restated goals and reflect more of the status quo than a solid future vision. Good strategies should be based on the review of detailed and specific data (internal and external) that leads to the development of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis which provides an input to the development of strategies that are designed to leverage strengths and opportunities and overcome weaknesses and threats in creative ways. Sometimes conducting a Porter’s Five Forces analysis can help organizations think in more creative – and outward looking – ways, I’ve found.
  • Clear accountabilities – to individuals. As the plan evolves to include strategies and tactics I recommend assigning specific accountability, by name, to individuals –not to co-leaders, teams or departments. When many people are accountable, no one is accountable. Make it clear where the buck stops and who will be responsible for ensuring that the plan is implemented.
As I said, this is just scratching the surface of the many elements that need to go into a solid strategic plan. But, I do think that these key factors have a significant impact on how successful a planning initiative will ultimately be. For 70 additional tips on how to make your strategic planning efforts a success, see our white paper on the topic.

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