Without a clear strategic plan, your every action simply becomes a tactic. Multiplied across your growing business and those actions – although well-intentioned – become increasingly random and lack cohesion, structure or direction. As a business leader it is your responsibility to set the direction, strategic intent and thrust of your company by defining your strategy and embedding it into the heart of your business.

What does it comprise?

Your strategic plan will be a written document that will present company objectives alongside market drivers. It takes a standard business plan forward by defining business goals and explaining how they will be pursued to meet emerging opportunities.

Key strategic plan methodologies

1. Balanced scorecard system

The balanced scorecard management system allows companies to:

a) Define their objectives and communicative them effectively
b) Rapidly align all organisational effort with the business strategy
c) Prioritise activity and market offers
d) Measure progress against strategic goals

Essentially, the system works to link together the different elements of a ‘big picture’ strategy, including:

a) The mission or purpose
b) The vision or aspiration
c) The core values of the company (also known as beliefs)
d) The strategic priorities – which are themes, goals/targets and/or results
e) The communication of the strategy – including continuous improvement plans to achieve objectives and the KPIs which will track progress.
f) Strategy rollout planning – including the definition of key projects
g) Responsibilities

2. Blue Ocean Strategy

Blue Ocean Strategy is predicated on data gathered from a 10 year study that spanned 30 industries, a century-long timeframe and 150 strategic business moves. It involves pursuing two strategies simultaneously: low cost and differentiation. This alone makes it stand out from other ‘either-or’ approaches. It aims to render competitors irrelevant by redefining the boundaries of an industry, rather than seeking superior performance. The idea is that its frameworks and tools allow an organisation to move so far ahead of competitors that it enjoys a ‘blue ocean’ of clear and available market space, which it can immediately own. As an integrated strategic business planning approach, it seeks to align people, profits and value with the company around the vision and strategy and create positive outcomes for all company stakeholders.

What should your strategic plan look like?

Regardless of the strategic business planning approach that you use, your resulting document will contain a number of key areas.

1. An executive summary which provides a rapid overview summary of the document’s contents
2. The elevator pitch, which explains your business and which needs to be understood by all of your employees
3. Your company mission statement, to define your intended achievements
4. The company SWOT analysis – assessing strengths, weaknesses and opportunities
5. Goals – with 1-5 year timeframes
6. Key Performance Indicators – KPIs that are meaningful to your business and which measure progress against the plan.

Keys to success

Your strategic business plan is just the start of your work. Remember:

1. A strategic plan must be exactly that, strategic. Tactics will follow, but the initial strategy must raise the company vision upwards and consider its market opportunities in a clear-sighted way.
2. No plan will succeed without employee engagement. Many companies will engage their senior team and direct reports to input into the strategy business planning process, to ensure buy-in and ownership.
3. Equally, internal communication is essential to ensure that the messages, objectives and goals of the strategic plan are understood and come alive within the company.
4. The plan must be reviewed and kept alive with regular progress meetings and reminders about its contents.
5. A cross-functional strategic planning steering group is a vital asset to the achievement of the plan. Ensure that it meets regularly, give the group prominence and communicate outputs.
6. Consider using a strategy consultancy for expert steering and advice. Business strategy planning must be robust, structured and objective. The skills of an external expert can be invaluable, giving you insights into the ways that other successful businesses approach their strategic planning work and assessing the best approach for your business. An external professional can also provide necessary supportive challenge to internal leaders; a challenge that internal peers might be less willing to deliver, but one that can check thinking and assumptions.

The role of leadership

Without good leadership it’s all too easy for businesses to get caught up in firefighting, responsive activities and tactics and to let their core strategy become a secondary concern. Not only must you be responsible for leading the strategic plan’s development and shape, but you must be responsible for embedding its activities, demonstrating its importance and taking a lead on the internal conversation about the plan. Make the business’s objectives clear, explain how your employees will be responsible for achieving success and ensure you have reward and recognition in place as part of your budding performance-driven culture. Above all, talk visibly about your strategic plan. Visit different internal teams and discuss it. Show your passion and enthusiasm and explain what your role will be in its achievement. Only then will the plan become central to the business and a living, breathing document that will translate into success.

Intrafocus provides a 3-day strategy workshop to help get to grips with strategic planning