Strategic Planning: A 10 Step Guide – Part 2 of 2

In my previous blog post, I gave you a 10 step guide, an introduction to strategic planning and what it’s all about. I will now go further and explain each of the 10 steps in strategic planning.

Step One — Selection and Communication

It all starts with communication. The very first piece of information should be the announcement to all employees that the company is embarking on a planning process for the future. This memo should be sent from the President asking for everyone’s support. (A sample memo is available from

The memo will likely announce who the strategy team members are and ask for everyone to congratulate them and provide input at every opportunity. CAUTION: Make sure that you have talked to any employee in advance that was not picked for the strategy team that may feel that they should have been. Once the team is announced and the process starts make sure you continue to keep employees aware of the progress and solicit their input. A minimum of a monthly memo should be issued. The strategic planning process can take from 6 weeks to 12 weeks so it is important to keep everyone informed without releasing too much detail.

The strategy team should include a senior accountant, and should consist of between seven and ten members. Team selection should be based on competence, integrity, work ethic, leadership skills, and future growth potential within the Company.

The team will formulate and present the strategic document to the President/CEO and the Board of Directors. It is critical that all employees are empowered and encouraged to communicate their ideas and issues with any member of the strategy team. This process ensures accountability and ownership of the strategy at every level in the organization.

Step Two — A Vision for the Future (The End Game)

The Vision for the Future (End Game) in business is simply defining what winning the game in your business is really about. What does winning mean. Just exactly what do you want your company to be when it grows up? Ask yourself the following questions from the perspective of looking five to seven years into the future.

  1. What markets should your company be serving five years from now?
  2. What products should you be distributing?
  3. Who are your primary competitors?
  4. What are your strengths?
  5. What are your competitors’ strengths?
  6. How has your marketing strategy changed?
  7. What are your core competencies?
  8. What is the size of your revenue stream?
  9. How is your revenue stream segmented?
  10. Do you have a Human Resource Development plan?
  11. The CEO/Owners should create the “Vision for the Future” (End Game) for presentation to the strategy team.

Step Three — Preparation

Running a strategic planning process is not just designing a template and having the team members fill in the gaps. On the contrary, it means carefully coaching the management team through a thinking process.

Often, the actual strategic plan is even less important than the development and growth of the team members participating in the process. The strategy team should be trained on the process you intend to follow in developing the strategic plan. Once that is competed the CEO/President should present the vision of the future with copies for everyone and then excuse himself from the meeting to allow the strategy team to tear the end game apart and put it back together.

The President will have explained that they have the right and the obligation to challenge the end game if they do not agree with any part of it. However, any challenge to any portion must be accompanied by alternative recommendations. The concept is to finalize a “Vision for the Future” that everyone owns.

Step Four—- The SWOT analysis

The team will conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis to identify critical constraints and potential opportunities for growth.

Step Five — Developing the Critical Core Initiatives from the Vision for the Future

Critical core initiatives are over arching initiatives that are found within the Vision for the Future. An example may be defined as a human resource initiative for becoming employer of choice. There are many independent action steps (Strategic Implementation Plans – SIPs) that will be required to accomplish the Critical Core Initiative (CCI). They may include training, education, leadership development, compensation and benefits etc.

Identifying the CCI’s first is necessary to move on to the next step which is creating SIPs for each CCI.

Step Six— Prioritize the CCI’s and identify individual SIPs for each CCI

A Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) is a set of tasks that supports a Critical Core Initiative and therefore creates fundamental change in the way you do things. SIP work deals with long-term improvement and change, balancing concern for today with concern for the future and is a fundamental task of managerial decision-making. Work against SIPs deals with improving things for tomorrow.

Each Critical Core Initiative is supported by a set of SIPs that contain a sequenced set of tasks, schedules, and named responsible individuals. The creation of SIPs indicates that the chosen area is one that provides a high payoff in terms of innovation and managed change.

Step Seven — Assign sections of the strategy template to be completed by different team members

Developing the strategy document from team homework assignments completed over the previous weeks is a matter of following the template that has been modified to meet your specific company needs.

Step Eight — The accountability process

The key managerial tool to ensure steady, consistent progress on SIP tasks is the formal Operational Review Meeting (ORM). This is the foundation to insure that the strategic plan is successful. The ORM is held monthly. The purpose of the ORM is to:

  • Clearly understand the status of your key initiatives.
  • Keep executive focus on strategic, rather than just urgent, issues.
  • Facilitate communication and support throughout the executive team and the company.
  • Formulate emergency responses to company-wide threats or opportunities.
  • Leverage all appropriate company resources while maintaining proper accountability for performance.

The ORM should be attended by members of the Strategy Team, executive management and other senior managers. It will follow a formal agenda and discussions will be driven by two objective measurements: performance of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and progress of SIP task completion. SIP and action item owners will be held accountable for achieving the desired results by the due date indicated on the plan. The entire team will be held accountable for meeting SIP goals.

Step Nine — Developing the presentation for approval

The strategy team will provide the strategy document to ownership at least one week in advance of the formal presentation. Representatives of the strategy team will present the plan and defend it from a considered corporate challenge. The purpose of the challenge is to ensure that the plan is well thought out and based on a realistic assessment of the company’s risks and constraints.

The presentation will also demonstrate the degree of commitment and ownership by the team. The objective of the meeting is to formally endorse the strategy for the company. If necessary, the team will revise and re-present the plan to obtain ownership approval.

Step Ten —- The Roll Out Process

After formal acceptance, the President and two to three strategy team members should schedule meetings to introduce the strategy to the entire management team and all other employees, thus formally launching the strategy. This should be a big deal and should be completed as quickly as possible. In person presentations by executive management and strategy team members is highly recommended. Strategy Development Overview Strategic planning is a management tool. It is used to help an organization clarify its future direction – to focus its energy, and to help members of the organization work toward the same goals. The planning process adjusts the organization’s direction in response to a changing environment. Strategic planning is a disciplined effort to support fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does and why it does it, with a focus on where it wants to go and how it is going to get there.

Discipline is a prerequisite to this process because it requires laser like persistence to result in a productive strategic planning initiative. The process raises a sequence of questions that helps planners examine current reality, test assumptions, gather and incorporate information about the present and perform trend analysis on the future industry environment. The prioritization of initiatives and SIPs is an essential step. Although your strategic plan will cover a five to seven year period prioritized SIPs are worked on during the first twelve to eighteen month period based on bandwidth and resources while other CCIs and SIPs are deferred. It is much more effective to completely finish three or four SIPs pertaining to one or two CCI’s than to work on ten or twelve SIPs and accomplish nothing.

Fundamental decisions, actions and choices must be made in order to develop a plan that provides the roadmap to the future. The plan is ultimately no more, and no less, than a set of decisions about what to do, why to do it, when and how to do it.