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   Strategic Planning

    Stated categorically, strategic planning is not an event. It is a process. By implication, this means that strategic thinking
    needs to occur throughout the process as discussed in the first of our strategy article series on Strategic Thinking.

The Long-Term vs. the Short-Term View

A process is a structured workflow that ensures progression and results. For a strategic planning process to be followed in an organization, consideration needs to be given to both the long-term view and the short-term requirements. For example, if an organization has one major client that it is servicing, focus needs to be on delivering the best service possible to that client, while at the same time seeing if cross-selling of other products or services into the client can be realized. However, there would also need to be effort made to increase the overall client base. This would entail multiple focus streams for the plan; more work for sure, but definitely a strategic necessity. Similarly, if a strategy is to transform the organization, then a shorter-term strategic transitioning plan may be necessary, as well as the long-term strategic plan.


Analyzing the Environment

As with any process, the systemic influences need to be addressed. When creating a strategic plan, this would involve analyzing the external environment and predicting what impact this environment could have on the organization over the next few years. Political, regulatory, economic, social, “green” environment and technological changes need to be assessed for their potential as opportunities for, or threats to, the organization. As with the macro-environment, the market environment that includes competitors, customers, consumers, the incumbent industry landscape, suppliers and vendors also needs to be analyzed to determine how changes in it could impact the organization.

In this arena it would not only entail viewing the potential impact, but also determining how the organization can strategically influence or manage the variables at this level. It could be by virtue of a new or revised product offering and marketing efforts, a new price point, or even new supplier contracts. The internal environment forms an important part of the system as well and needs to be focused on so as to ascertain the weaknesses and strengths that exist with regard systems, processes, expertise, leadership, culture, communications, structure, facilities and equipment, amongst others. Current operating challenges need to be highlighted to ensure that they are adequately addressed as the organization forges forward.

Because everything we do occurs within a larger system, stakeholders (anyone affected by what we do or who can affect what we do) need to be identified and their needs and expectations considered when devising a strategic plan. Through the plan, opportunities need to be harnessed, threats managed, strengths optimized and weaknesses eliminated.


Creating Direction


Analysis of the environment will help to inform all the choices made for the strategy. However, it is the common focus that will provide the direction. A short, simple, inspiring vision created by the leader establishes the stretch for the organization in the direction of where it wants to go. The mission statement defines the purpose of the organization and provides the reason for its existence. Once goals are established, it becomes clear what needs to be achieved in key focus areas in order to realize the vision. As goals are often large in scope, they need to be broken down into objectives. These specific targets or end-results form the basis for an action plan. This will ensure that the strategy is made into a working document; one that can inform sections of the organization on what needs to be done and against which progress can be measured.


Who Should Participate?


Participation in strategic planning is key to the plan being successfully translated into action. Everyone in the organization should, at some point, be involved in the strategic plan. People tend to own what they help create. It also allows for different perspectives and information to be utilized. Of course, not all the participants in the strategic planning process will be strategic thinkers. However, all the inputs could have value, even if it comes to working out the tactics. At the same time, it allows everyone to have exposure to the bigger picture, the strategic thinking process, and the vocabulary. This will, in turn, increase awareness and understanding, thereby hopefully empowering the participants to challenge and improve on what is being done whilst moving forward. It also works to create a common culture throughout the organization and reinforces the need to get behind the organization’s future direction.


Why Should You Embark on Strategic Planning?


As Joel Barker so aptly puts it in his video, The Power of Vision, “Having a vision without action is daydreaming. Having action without a vision is just passing time”. It truly requires a vision to know what you are aiming for, together with a plan of action to know what to do in order to achieve your vision. The best possibility thinking in the world will not ensure your success. It will ensure the opportunities can be in your reach if you figure out the means to capture them. Gone are the days when an organization can be a success despite itself. It takes concerted effort to establish the direction you need to go in, position it as a common focus for everyone in the organization, and have a structured plan of action that everyone can execute. The risk of not having a strategic plan could be
• not being prepared to deal with changes in the environment that the organization is confronted with
• sections or individuals in the organization following their own agendas
• incongruent communications transmitted to stakeholders
• inefficiencies and ineffectiveness throughout the operation.
You could choose to do business as usual, with the hope that the environment does not change around you. Alternatively, you can make a concerted effort to remain ahead of the curve by ensuring that the organization’s position in the marketplace is secure and that its processes and resources are optimized and agile enough to change as the need requires.


What Strategic Planning Skills are Required?


Adding on from the competencies delineated for strategic thinking, you will also need to be able to:
• identify patterns or trends in the environment
• extract relevant opportunities and threats present for the organization
• envision an organization’s future
• create a vision statement
• define an organization’s purpose
• set goals
• construct a practical strategic plan
• establish measures
• see what parts of the overall system will be impacted by the strategy and plan for it. 


What is the Strategic Planning Process?


Strategic Planning Process 


Throughout the lifespan of a strategic plan, its continued relevance should be assessed. Changes need to be made to it as, and when, required. The plan should be the driving force behind all the actions taken in the organization and the progress made and results achieved need to be constantly measured and communicated internally. 



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