It’s easy to have lofty ideals and grand plans for the future – but it’s harder to articulate your vision, lay out the steps you need to get there, and figure out where to start. That’s why strategic planning is so important.
Although some business owners are put off by words like ‘vision’ and ‘values’, strategic planning is anything but wishy-washy. Done right, a strategic plan acts as a roadmap for your business, helping you understand where you are, where you’re going, and how to get there.
A well-written strategic plan helps you clarify your answers to key questions and makes your vision, goals, and core values clear. It’s a useful tool to help everyone in the business get on the same track, but more importantly, it helps you clarify and articulate what’s going on in your head, so you stay on the right path as you establish your business.
Here’s how strategic planning can help:
Answering the tough questions
The overall goal of a strategic plan is to help you find answers to four business questions. These are not simple yes/no queries, but wide-ranging, big-picture questions about the vision and direction of your business:
Where do I want to take my business?
Where is my business right now?
How will I achieve my goals?
How will I know I’m on the right track?
Of course, strategic planning doesn’t mean simply writing out your first-thought answers to these questions – that’s unlikely to get you much insight or clarity. Instead, by working through five key elements that make up your strategic plan, the answers will become clear.
1. Articulating your vision
A vision statement sums up the overall purpose of your business – what you’re trying to achieve in the long term. It’s not the place for specific sales goals or profit projections, it’s a short, memorable statement designed to inspire you, your employees, and anyone else involved in the business.
A good vision statement is clear, concise, and specific to your business. It acts as a launch point for your strategic plan, and everything else should be in line with it. By helping to rule out opportunities that don’t fit the vision, it also helps keep you focused on your overall goals.
2. Clarifying core values
Like a vision statement, core values are specific to your business. They sum up what your organisation believes is important. Your four or five core values should align with your vision and give you a guideline for decision-making along the way.
Examples of common core values include reliability, respect, open communication, inclusivity, improvement, and innovation. To be authentic and useful, they need to be developed from the ground up by you and your team.
Once you’ve set your core values, they will inform everything in your business – the way you treat your staff, the way you expect them to treat each other, the suppliers you choose to work with, the clients you take on, even the office space or factory you use.
3. Defining your objectives
Visions and values give you a strong base for your business, but they don’t tell you where you’re going or how to get there. Clearly defined objectives guide you forward, keep you on track, and let others know where you’re going. Each objective should start with a broad statement and include a specific marker for success.
Like everything in your strategic plan, your key objectives should reflect your vision and values.
Most objectives fall into one of these areas:
Expansion/growth e.g. Open new locations in Asia
Revenue e.g. Increase sales
Customer service e.g. Improve customer return rate
Compliance e.g. Avoid regulatory issues
Innovation e.g. Develop and launch new products
Engagement e.g. Engage with the local community
Employee satisfaction e.g. Make staff happy and proud to work here
4. Keep track with KPIs
KPIs help clarify your objectives. Where objectives are broad, KPIs are specific and measurable, giving you a way to determine success in each area.
Each objective should have one or two KPIs attached. Make sure they’re specific, realistic, and time sensitive. For example, if your objective is ‘Expand into Asia’, a KPI could be ‘Open three new locations in Asia during 2019’.
Choosing the right KPIs isn’t always easy, but they’re an essential part of your strategic planning. Without them, there’s no accurate way to measure success or set new goals as you grow.
5. Accountability matters
A perfect vision, well-articulated values, clear goals and KPIs will come to nothing without accountability. If no one is responsible for moving your strategy forward, and nobody checks on progress, you’re not likely to see your planned objectives come to fruition.
A lack of accountability can lead to conflict within the business as well. If people don’t know who’s in charge, different interpretations of goals and values can cause problems, with finger-pointing and blame when things go wrong. Worse, a lack of leadership and accountability leads to a lack of motivation, so staff aren’t inspired to achieve.
Build accountability into your strategic plan by designating a person for each objective, and dedicating a regular time to check on progress.
6. Read, review, refine
The final step in strategic planning is sharing with stakeholders. Everyone in your organisation should have the chance to read and discuss the plan, so they understand how their role fits in and how they can contribute.
You and your staff should also be able to review the plan and make changes as needed. A strategic plan isn’t a static document, it should be a living, breathing part of your business, adapting to meet your needs as you grow. Review it regularly, make changes, and listen to feedback from your employees – they’re the ones affected by the plan, after all.
Clarify your path to success
When you’re a business owner, just keeping up with day-to-day tasks can be overwhelming – giving you no time to work on the business itself. While a strategic plan doesn’t guarantee success, it does help you clarify what you’re doing and what you hope to achieve. You might still feel overworked, but at least you’ll know that everything you do fits into your vision, and moves you toward your goals.
Ready to write your own strategic plan or need help with an aspect of your plan like setting your KPI’s? Talk to the team at Thrive for help.