Strategic Planning Best Practices

December 09, 2015

I attended the Innovation Engineering college several years ago. My instructor introduced one topic by saying it was a secret sauce, an amazing accelerator, easy to do, and free!  Then he added, “But I know you’re not going to do it.”

Strategic Planning is like that. I’m worried you’re not going to do it.


I talked to a friend over the holidays and she said her non-profit organization wasn’t going to do strategic planning.  As she said: “We don’t need to revisit the mission and vision.”

But you really do need to.

Before I tell you the best practices for how to create a strategic plan, you need to understand two reasons why.


1. You don’t even see what’s missing until you slow down your thinking

Did you ever see the National Geographic show “Brain Games?” One of the episodes illustrated how our brain is able to create a whole picture from just a few pieces. What we see looks whole but it isn’t what’s really there.  Psychologists call this the "law of closure." Our brains complete or "close" a partial thought or image to perceive a whole.  Both good things (from “continui” to “continuing”) and bad things (from 0 to 8) can result.  Often it’s not until we start trying to write things down step by step that we see that all the pieces aren’t really there. The dots don’t really connect. Sure, a plan is a great communication tool, but the most important thing is that it is a THINKING tool. chancechange.jpg

2. Change is the only constant

Something has changed since the last time you discussed your plan as an organization, either internally or externally or both.  Are you sure that the entire organization knows who your target customers are? What the problem is you’re trying to solve? What promise do you make to your customers? What is the proof that you can solve that problem? Are you sure that problem really exists anymore? Is a competitor doing better? By how much? What are they doing? Do you have the right processes to implement ideas or improvements? What are you good at and can you play to your strengths? 

All of those things change over time, with competitive products and employee turnover, with market shifts and product innovations.  If your mission and vision are so generic that none of those changes would change them, then they are too generic.

Ok, you’re convinced now; you’re definitely going to do strategic planning for 2016. How do you get started?

The most important steps for strategic planning boil down to these five:

  • Determine where you are
  • Identify what’s important
  • Define what success looks like
  • Determine who is accountable
  • Review, review, review

Here are some best practices for getting started with Strategic Planning:

Keep it simple

The best process is one that you’ll actually do. Remember that the strategic plan is a living thing that you should consult and alter all the time. It's a road map to keep you on track or to make changes to the plan mindfully.  Set aside time for both the initial planning meetings and the ongoing review meetings, at least once a quarter. Make sure it’s a priority. Keep the success metrics simple too; just track 3-5 of the most important things. During your reviews you can determine if they are the right things to track. A list of some of the most frequently used metrics for a balanced scorecard can be found here:

Be honest

It’s harder than it seems to figure out where you are as well as what’s important. You need to get feedback from your customers and your employees on your current state of your chosen metrics.  It needs to be safe to give honest feedback. You can’t improve if you don’t know where you’re starting.  This is where the SWOT analysis is frequently used. What are your organization’s Strengths and Weaknesses (internal) and Opportunities and Threats (external)? The SWOT matrix helps you be honest because there is some motivation to have something in every quadrant.

Everything is fair game

A strategic planning session provides a real and focused opportunity to re-examine the things “we’ve always done” to see if they still make sense.  What is the real mission? What is an inspiring vision?  What is the company culture? What do we do that works? How do we make money? Do we have opportunities to innovate?  The exercise of strategic planning is as much about approaching your business with intellectual honesty as it is about creating a plan to follow.  If a single person is going to be accountable for the success of a particular metric, that person needs to be confident that the “how” of achieving that metric makes sense.

Strategic Planning can be a secret sauce, an amazing accelerator, easy to do and free!  Are you going to do it?

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Topics: Strategic Planning

Selene Crosby

Six Sigma Expert

Ms. Crosby has 20 years of experience developing, implementing and improving successful business processes and projects in both technical and non-technical environments. Her areas of expertise include process improvement methodologies, process mapping, business process automation, analysis, project management, audit and internal controls processes, technical writing and training design. She is a Certified Analytics Professional (CAP), holds a Six Sigma black belt, Lean Bronze certification and an Innovation Engineering black belt. Ms. Crosby has been the Program Manager for Analytics Transformation at Andeavor Corporation (formerly Tesoro), worked in the Process Engineering Section at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) as part of the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (TMAC) program, assisting small to mid-sized manufacturers in becoming competitive in an increasingly global economy by becoming aware of and implementing process improvement and business strategies. Ms. Crosby held a variety of roles at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati OH from September 1998 to June 2012 and attained internal P&G certifications including Continuous Improvement, Business Process Transformation and High Impact Training. .
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