Whether your business is big, small, private, or public, clear and measurable goals are the path to true success. But too often business owners fall into the trap of outlining a detailed plan…then never referring to it again. Even with the best of intentions in place, many businesses slip back into old, inefficient ways—until the next push to revise the strategic plan rolls around and the process repeats itself.
In today’s lightning-fast corporate environment, you’re constantly juggling multiple demands placed on your business: economic fluctuation, stakeholder buy-in, limitations on your time, etc. All of these factors create a cacophony of background noise that muddles your message when trying to clearly articulate your organization’s goals and guide your plan through to completion.
Here are some suggestions to simplify your planning process so you don’t get stuck with a plan that “looks good on paper” but never lives to see the light of day.
Keep it brief.
Creating a concise working document is essential. One-page documents that clearly articulate your short- and long-term goals and benchmarks will be more effective than a thirty-page workbook, no matter how glossy the design. A brief, to-the-point strategy provides everyone in your organization with a succinct outline of your company’s key objectives and the plan to achieve them.
Briefly elaborate on each initiative by noting where the company is now, where you want to end up, and how you plan to accomplish your goal. Include the names and responsibilities of key staffers, along with realistic timelines, so everyone is clear on who is doing what—and each team member can be held accountable. Ask those who have a vested interest in the outcome to create the strategic plan. By pairing operational managers with strategic thinkers, you’ll end up with a plan that is both visionary and achievable.
Circulate the plan.
Once the written plan is complete, schedule time to personally share it with the organization. This will build support and buy-in, as well as allow all stakeholders to ask questions and clarify their own role in the process. A useful—and memorable—technique to quickly convey the company vision is to develop a short slogan or tagline (usually three to eight words) that can be used in emails, stationery, and brochures. You should share and seek input from your outside business advisors as well. They’ll need to know where you’re headed so they can do their part to support your goals.
Keep lines of communication open.
It’s vital that you let your team know that their feedback is important. One-way communication creates resistance that can cause your strategic plan to wither on the vine. Create a short, written survey for employees or host mini focus groups to encourage staff to speak freely and share their ideas. Or, if surveying is impossible, take the time to chat with employees in the hall or break areas to solicit their input. Their observations and suggestions can generate valuable insights that will help as you update and finalize your plan.
Demonstrate the connection between the plan and staff performance.
Translate your company vision and goals into specific outputs and objectives for individuals on staff. Spell out how each employee’s goals align with the overall strategic plan. Reinforce objectives by adjusting compensation levels or creating bonus incentives to further support staff achievement of the business’ new objectives.
Set reasonable deadlines.
Unachievable deadlines not only stifle progress, but they can also quickly become demoralizing. Establishing feasible timelines creates accountability among your staff and enables you to evaluate your success in real time. 30-, 60-, and 90-day review points give the team a chance to stop, take a breather, and reset must-do actions. During this process, it’s important to distinguish the “must-do” items from the “should-do” or “could-do.” Make sure that must-do items are being checked off the list. Prepare to hold accountable staffers who are not pulling their weight.
Adjust as necessary.
A strategic plan is a strong foundation—not a mandate etched in stone. Prepare, be flexible, and don’t hesitate to adjust a goal to match fluctuating circumstances or if the initial outcome is no longer desirable. Your strategic plan is a living, breathing organism that needs to evolve alongside changing economic trends, new business intelligence, or insights from your business advisors. Stay flexible…while keeping your eye trained on your overall vision.
Developing a strategic plan doesn’t have to be a nightmare. By keeping these suggestions in mind, you can begin to break down the task of developing and implementing your plan into a much more manageable task. During times of slow economic recovery, don’t count on simple momentum to carry your company forward. The only way to move your organization toward a fresh vision is by thinking—and acting—strategically.