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How to Craft a Strategic Plan for Your Business

Why do you need one? What are four sure ways to make yours successful? Read on.

By Cathy Hutchison   •  April 19, 2017 12:19 pm EDT

Tags: aec, business, collaboration, practices,

While we all know that strategic plans can be useful to create forward motion, there are some stumbling blocks to doing them:

• They commit leadership in a public way—which puts credibility on the line.

• They can be expensive depending on the process you take.

• They can require hard conversations to align teams to a common vision.

• They have a reputation for sitting on a shelf after the initial rollout.

The thing about strategic plans is that there is no “right way” to do them. You can craft a process -- and a way to document and implement that -- that works in your context. They don’t have to be complex or require a great deal of time, but it is helpful if the plan answers a few questions:

1. Where are we now?

2. Where do we want to go?

3. What would it take to get there?

4. What do we need to overcome that might stop us?

Four ways to set up a successful project:

I was recently in a think tank meeting where companies in the architecture, engineering and construction industry shared what they included in their strategic planning documents. The answers ranged from revenue and growth goals, to mission-vision-values, to specific targets in specific markets. While the things that were included varied wildly, the companies who had the most success with their documents followed a repeatable process. Here are some of the insights:

1. Include the right people in the process. Who participates in the strategic planning process will largely be based on the size of your firm. The key to creating buy-in is to get input from those outside of the C-Suite. While leadership will take the lead on developing the plan, there needs to be participation from operations, finance, marketing and human resources for the plan to be holistic and actionable. Large committees can rarely get to decisions efficiently, but following a process that solicits input from a multifaceted group can make the difference in how well a plan is adopted.

2. Appoint champions for your “must win” battles. It isn’t enough to set out what you are going to do. You need a point person who is responsible for meeting that goal to coordinate the effort. Tying professional success to personal success can be highly effective in maintaining focus on a goal. When individuals take ownership of various elements of implementation, there is a higher success rate than when the assignment stays general.

3. Figure out how and when you will measure success. People often complain that strategic plans just gather dust. But that only happens when there is no plan for measurement. Determine the most effective metrics to measure success and review progress on a regular basis. Optimal implementation is achieved when the metrics for the plan are reviewed as often as monthly, but no less than quarterly.

4. Align your budget to the plan. Making changes requires investment. If you have a goal to be awarded one of the “best places to work” in your city, then your HR department will require funding for initiatives to achieve that. By the same token, if you are a construction firm who wants to improve its safety record, then education and training will require investment. Strategic hires, targeting new markets and other items in your strategic plan will all need budget to be effective.

Strategic plans are high level by nature and can be a powerful catalyst in aligning your team to a mission.

Designing your own process:

There are consultants who are highly skilled in leading a strategic planning process, but you may also decide to do this on your own. Here are a few key books to inspire you as you develop your approach:

• Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage” makes the case that organizational health is the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage. The book outlines six critical questions to help you build a cohesive leadership team, establish clarity among those leaders, and communicate that clarity throughout your organization.

• Jim Collins’s classic, “Good to Great” describes how companies transition from being good companies to great companies, and why most companies fail to make the transition. Collins's book can focus your attention on things you might have missed that make companies successful and help you align your organization to those elements.

• “Think Big. Act Small” by Jason Jennings shares lessons from America’s best performing companies and breaks out the principles that have kept them growing regardless of the economy.

• “Good Strategy. Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt explains that good strategy is a specific and coherent response to—and approach for overcoming—the obstacles to progress. He highlights that it is the leader's job to both develop and implement strategy.

• “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries is a revelation for companies focused on innovation. For firms trying to pivot in an ever-changing marketplace, this book gives new vocabulary for what it takes to not only survive but thrive.

The strategic plan you set up doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the more simple and targeted it is the easier it will be for people to own and implement.

Also consider this: if taking on a five-year plan seems too ambitious, start with the next year and simply ask:

1.) Where are we now?

2.) Where do we want to go?

3.) What would it take to get there?

4.) What do we need to overcome that might stop us?

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