Why All Organizations Need a Strategic Plan
I recently had a conversation with a small business owner about work I’m doing with a client on developing their strategic plan. The owner said “that’s great, but I’m glad I don’t need a strategic plan.” Wrong. All organizations need a strategic plan – regardless of size.
A strategic plan is all about nurturing your business in a strategic and meaningful way. Hence the word strategic. Without this plan, your business will grow in a reactive way, and you’ll always be chasing the business versus leading the business.
Gone are the days of 50-page strategic plans, filled with verbose text written like a university thesis paper. Rather, the order of the day is short, sweet and visual.
I’ve seen great strategic plans that are 1 or 2 pages. A list of the company’s vision, mission, values (make sure they’re still relevant), followed by 3-5 strategic focus areas with a sentence or two explanations beneath each. It doesn’t need to be complicated.
However, the simpler the plan, the more work it takes to develop. But I promise you this work will save you valuable time and money. It will prevent you from saying yes when you should be saying no, chasing the dollar vs growing strategically, and ensuring your employees understand the purpose and vision of your organization so you’re all rowing in the same direction.
I explain a strategic plan like a road map. You wouldn’t jump in the car and drive to a new destination without checking Google maps to figure out your route. Without a map, you’d miss your exit, potentially add time to your trip, waste gas (which is $$) and have a lot of frustration.
Now imagine the same road trip when you plot your route in advance. You research stops along the way, find the quickest route, know what to expect and plan for your journey (where to get gas, charge your vehicle, grab food and hit the washroom). The end result – saving time, money and unnecessary frustration.
You’ll be confident along the route as you know where you’re going and have a rough idea of how long it will take. Sure, you might encounter some challenges along the way such as detours. But with your road map, you’ll be better prepared to navigate them.
When I’m developing strategic plans for clients, I spend a lot of time listening and finding ways to facilitate conversations. I start by sharing a questionnaire with a small group of staff and key stakeholders. This helps me determine what’s working, what’s not and identify any themes that emerge. It also lets me see if there’s a united vision or if people are rowing in different directions.
From there, I develop a workshop where we bring more people together. We review what I’ve heard, gather input then narrow down the key areas.
The idea is to hear from many voices in a structured and organized way. It not only allows people within the organization to have a voice, but more importantly, hear the voices of others.
I can’t tell you the number of times a client thinks a strategic plan is going to be pretty straightforward as they’re confident everyone is in alignment. Only to find out there’s no shared vision and conflicting priorities.
It can be an eye opener.
This isn’t a bad thing. Rather, it gives you the insight you need to redirect the ship. In these cases, it’s essential the strategic plan is short and sweet. Being clear and direct is the best way to bring about alignment.
Make it real
Writing the strategic plan is only the beginning. Sorry, the real work begins AFTER the plan is developed.
I’m a big fan of using visuals to bring the plan to life. Some tricks I use include creating a visual of the strategic focus areas (using a graphic designer) and making sure these are present at every board, committee or key staff meeting. This is essential to ensuring the strategic plan is front and centre in all decision making.
I also work with a graphic designer to create visuals that can be displayed in offices, on the website, social media and more. It’s about keeping the strategic plan on the front burner vs a long document that no one ever reads.
Finally, make sure your strategic plan has been updated since COVID. The pandemic changed the landscape for all businesses and organizations. What worked before the pandemic might need to be tweaked or completely redone.
Create your strategic plan with a post-pandemic lens, drawing upon lessons learned along the way. Don’t waste all the knowledge you’ve gained over the last few years.
Okay, it’s time for you to roll up your sleeves. Review your existing strategic plan or take the time to develop a new one. And don’t be afraid to bring in a consultant. Afterall, it’s hard to see the big picture when you’re stuck in the weeds.