The Eight Building Blocks of Strategic Planning

Colleagues collaborating and planning strategies

This story was originally published on LinkedIn.

The following eight-step guide will help you navigate the challenges and complexities of strategic planning in today’s business landscape.

1. Establish a compelling, fact-based analysis of your comparative market position.

When you have a room full of “Type A” personalities ready to make strategic decisions, nothing focuses attention and provides direction like the facts. But finding the facts is not easy. Our most thorough fact-finding follows a five step formula:

Step One: Review existing research and seek out trends, knowing that individual snapshots in time can sometimes be misleading. Use this secondary research to create the basis of a quantitative survey.

Step Two: When large databases of stakeholders exist, they offer an ideal opportunity to develop “statistically valid” information—a quantitative sampling that can provide a picture of what larger population segments think within a relatively small margin of error.

Step Three: Usually quantitative survey results uncover interesting findings that lead to other questions along the lines of “why are we seeing this?” and “what is motivating people to say this?” Such questions can only be explored usefully in one-on-one conversations with people who are widely regarded as well-informed. These “opinion leader” interviews are usually done by phone and are designed to flesh out our understanding of the statistically valid findings from our survey.

Step Four: By now you should have a fairly good understanding of the key opportunities and challenges that you face, and you may even have a glimmer of various ways forward. Given that different stakeholder groups may have different responses to all of this, now is the time to use focus groups to flesh out what those differences might be. This step allows you to predict which ideas and approaches will work and which will not work among different stakeholders.

Step Five: By the time you have reached this step, you will have a fairly good idea of the various directions the organization is likely to want to consider, so use this step to examine benchmarks or best practices of other organizations that have undertaken similar programs or projects to see if there are relevant lessons to be learned.

Not all clients have the budget to undertake all five steps, but those that do find themselves with a treasure trove of data that can be turned into actionable insights.

2. Develop a consensus on what should be your vision—that end-state objective or accomplishment you hope to achieve, which outsiders also may view as critical to their interests.

A “vision” is what you would like to see accomplished in the distant future. Your vision points the way to a worthy and inspiring outcome that can be supported by many.

The broad, inspiring nature of a good vision statement serves also to identify potential strategic partners, sponsors, merger or acquisition candidates, government and foundation grants, or it can be used as the theme of your next fundraising drive. It is what defines the potential links your organization has with others.

3. Define your mission—the concise, unique, and memorable definition of what you are and do that demonstrates how you expect to contribute to the accomplishment of your vision.

Your “mission” is how you define yourself now, in a way that describes how you will achieve your vision. The most common weakness of mission statements is too much detail—explaining not only what the organization is and does but also how it intends to do it.When descriptions go on for paragraphs at a time, the core strengths of mission statements often get buried.The best mission statements are those that can fit on the back of a business card and are easy for insiders and outsiders alike to understand and remember.

4. Identify the strategic values or principles inherent in your mission that should be reflected in everything you do.

Strategic values are sometimes defined as the “glue” that holds an organization together. Ineffect, values act as a sort of constitution that clearly defines what an organization stands for—both for internal and external audiences.

For example, we all instinctively know what McDonald's values are. If we walk into a McDonald's and order a hamburger that costs $20, we know immediately that one of its key values—affordability—has been violated.

Values are not goals but, like goals, they key off an organization's vision and mission and are in many ways special to that organization.

So, as planning groups focus on strategic issues, they eventually need to ask themselves, “what does our organization stand for?” and “what are the values or principles that should be incorporated into everything we do?”

5. Identify the fewest number of goals you need to achieve in order to fulfill your mission; along with this, identify measurable ways to track your progress against each goal.

Goals mark the transition point between the theoretical and the practical.From this point forward in the strategic planning process, your efforts will focus on how to allocate resources in the most efficient and effective ways in order to achieve your organization’s vision and mission.Common mistakes at this step arise when planners identify too many goals and end up diluting their resources and focus to such an extent that nothing can be practically accomplished.Another common mistake occurs with the confusion of “ends” and “means.”Goals are, by definition, the ends that you seek, while other considerations (such as fundraising, for example) represent the means by which these ends will be achieved.

Once you have identified your strategic goals, you then need to identify the metrics by which you will measure progress against these goals.In addition to measuring whether a goal has been successfully accomplished or not, there are usually at least three other metrics worth considering.Typically there is a financial aspect to a goal—how much revenue and profit it is expected to generate.There may also be market share considerations—has it allowed you to increase your market penetration in any discernible way?And there may be organizational learning or improvement aspects to a goal—has it helped identify new markets or new product or service opportunities?

There is truth to the saying that you achieve what you measure—so be careful in identifying and setting the metrics by which you will measure your goals.

6. Under each goal, identify the areas of activity that need to be fleshed out and accomplished to achieve each goal.

Strategic objectives are the areas of activity under each goal that must be achieved for the goal to be accomplished.This is the level where you may insert fundraising, lobbying, grant making, partnering, staffing, marketing, and the application of technological tools.Additionally, this is the level where you’ll identify your staffing, budgeting, and technology needs—which will form the basis for your business plan.

7. Using this strategic outline, develop a three- to five-year business plan that identifies tasks, the people responsible for achieving each task, the time frame for completing each task, and the resources required for each task.

Under each of your strategic objectives, complete the following framework:

  • Task—what needs to be done
  • Person responsible
  • Beginning and ending time frame
  • What supporting resources (human and financial) will be required?
  • How will the work be evaluated?
  • Is there revenue-generating potential for this activity?

8. Evaluate whether you have the staffing, governance, and operational structures you need to achieve this strategic plan.

This is a key step because often organizations were created to do something quite different than what you will have just defined.Do you, in fact, need new organizational, staffing, or governance structures to accomplish this new plan?Usually the honest answer to this question is “yes.” If so, then you must determine how you are going to get from where you are to where you need to be.

Learn more