Do it Yourself (DIY) Strategic Planning   

by Shane Busby

Contrary to what many pundits, management consultants, or professional advisors will tell you, it is not necessary to have an externally procured individual or team come in to facilitate and develop a sound, strategic plan for your organization. It is entirely possible, with a little bit of training and initiative, for you to develop a sound, robust, comprehensive strategic plan yourself without taking a Masters level course in Strategic Management. If, on the other hand, you see an externally facilitated strategic planning session as an opportunity for the management team to get together, to bond and swap "war-stories" in a team-building environment, then by all means spend your money. However, for the majority of businesses and business owners who indeed know what their business is, who their competitors are, and what the upside market potential is, outsourcing this imminently doable, in-house, job can be a waste of precious resources. On the other hand, where consultants are extremely useful are: (1) where business parameters are vague, (2) when little to no expertise exists internally to facilitate or accomplish strategic planning, 3) where "turfism" reins supreme amongst senior management, or (4) where the business or organization is so complex that throwing a net over the entire operation or Strategic Business Unit (SBU) is next to impossible. In these and other similar instances, it is money well spent to have your strategic planning outsourced with your input and involvement. This last point, i.e. your input and involvement, is critical to successful strategic planning. Whomever you bring in to facilitate the process will have an idea of what your organization is about, but will not know the whole picture. Consultants will often convey that they know much more than they actually do about your business. Many are so smooth and polished that you will find it difficult not to defer to them - after all, they are the experts, or are they? Regardless of what you have been told and by whom, you know more about your business than the person you are contracting with - "university degrees and professional certification do not an expert make". On the other hand, before I receive hate mail from qualified strategic planners, often individuals with advanced degrees, certifications, and business training are able to structure how you think about your challenges. Sometimes you are so close to the problem that it is not possible for you to step back and take an objective look. This is the advantage of external involvement. Ok, now, back to DIY strategic planning. Assuming you know your business, your market and other aspects of your business environment, strategic planning in-house is imminently doable. The list below numbered one through eight is common to nearly every strategic plan (or should be). You can name the phases differently if you like, i.e., vision = strategic direction, for instance. Strategic planning is a fairly linear process. It is designed that way to ascertain whether a given set of actions will yield measurable, traceable results. Without some linearity, tracing results to actions and on up would be difficult. When you are in your planning process, do not make the mistake of being rigidly linear or unbendingly inflexible. Yes, it is important to maintain your focus on your vision and mission, but if your objectives or strategies are not resulting in movement toward your vision or mission over a period of time, then you will need to at least think about re-thinking your approach.

First, begin by assembling key individuals who will contribute to the plan. Write up an agenda using the following headings. Use brainstorming techniques and discussions to elicit ideas from all contributors. Write down everything without pre-judging contributions in order to demonstrate valuation of input. As a group, choose the best, clear statements which describe how your business relates to the heading. Keep the statements as short and poignant as possible. Move onto the next heading. Do not allow individuals who have "been there done that" to short circuit or derail your process. Strategic planning is a critical business activity. Organizations who do not do this business process well run the risk of under-performing, or in extreme cases, failing.

In the main, the following list of strategic headings will assist as a guide for you throughout your planning process.

1. Vision - organizationally, a simple statement of where you want to be and what you will look like when you arrive in three to five years. 2. Mission - a simple statement of what it is you do (make it specific and yet flexible enough to capture your core competencies and reach your stretch targets) 3. Objectives - simple, short statements (a few) that are specific; measurable; aggressive yet attainable; realistic and reachable, and time-limited (usually beginning with the word "to") that will have direct correlative impacts on your vision. 4. Strategies - macro-approaches to achieving your objectives. For instance, a non-profit society may have the following strategies aligned with a single objective: Objective: To house 10% more pregnant teen mothers over the next five years Strategy 1: Fund-raise by developing five more events this year than last Strategy 2: Begin planning and designing phases this year Strategy 3: Lobby government agencies to cost-share staffing for three more houses Strategy 4: Add a Board member with significant project development experience Strategy 5: Lobby the United Way and other macro-agencies for contributions 5. Tactics (action planning) - Strategy 1: Fund-raise by developing five more charity events this year Tactic 1: Meet with existing society managers and volunteers to brainstorm Tactic 2: Develop telephone soliciting campaign Tactic 3: Mail out flyers and brochures to targeted contributors Tactic 4: Organize a celebrity dinner at $200 per plate Tactic 5: Involve the business community, meet with Chamber of Commerce 6. Implementation (execution) - take deliberate action on each item identified on your tactics list. Keep on coordinating, managing, and taking action until you begin to see desired results. This is the most difficult phase and often the one that organizations fall short on. Do not give up too early as success is quite often just a little further down the road than most people are willing to travel. Also, if you see you are not getting anywhere with your actions-tactics, you may wish to add, augment, or change approaches. Give it time though and do not shift gears too soon. Always make sure you continuously scan your business environment and monitor whether your tactics are achieving your desired results. 7. Performance assessment - assessing if your actions are getting the results you want. In addition to continuously monitoring your actions, you will want to devise performance measures (commonly called metrics) to ascertain if your strategies are yielding successes. Your performance measures will need to correspond and be at least strongly correlated (r =.5 to 1.0) so there is a strong linkage between actions and outcomes. Clearly, the efficacy of performance measures will be directly related to your organization's success. 8. Refinements, updates, adjustments - this process should be done on both a discontinuous and continuous basis (e.g., frequently monitored and at least once per year thorough review). You may need to adjust your overall strategies or even objectives if your organization is not achieving its goals. One of the largest potential reasons of strategic failure is to arrogantly or dismissively neglect to revisit your vision and mission. If any or all of your objectives, strategies or tactics are not contributing to the achievement of your overall vision and/or mission, then you need to rethink either your vision or your strategic objectives or process. So there you have it. Not so difficult, is it. If you follow these simple steps and rules, you will be well on your way to creating your own strategic plan. Remember, strategic planning can be much simpler than it is made out to be. Some of the most profitable companies and most highly effective organizations have strategic plans that state simply what business they are in and how they plan on going after and creating success, i.e. shareholder or stakeholder value. One last word -whether you are small, medium, or large organization make sure you develop a strategic plan that is right for your organization. Do not create a generic, meaningless document that no one ever reads. Use it, refer to it often, and above all measure your success with and adjust your course in accordance to it. Finally, remember; if you fail to plan you have effectively planned to fail. Good luck!

About the Author

Shane Busby, MBA, is the owner of a consulting practice in Vancouver, BC, Canada. He has 16 years experience in consulting and management; specializing in strategic planning, business planning, change management, and organizational development. Shane is a life-long learner with a passion for teaching and writing (and golfing).