Why Bother With Strategic Planning?

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Do you really need to do strategic planning? Only if you care about the future of your organization. As an old saying states, “If you don’t know where you’re going, then you’ll probably end up somewhere else.”

What Can You Learn through Planning?

The primary purpose of strategic planning is to identify critical priorities that must be addressed to insure a successful future. Here are some things that you can learn through the planning process:

  • What your customers like about your products or services and what they dislike
  • Why customers might decide to take their business elsewhere
  • How your future success could be derailed or enhanced by upcoming changes in the business environment
  • Where the quality of work may be suffering in your organization
  • Why employees may decide to leave your organization and pursue their careers elsewhere
  • Whether your current allocation of human and financial resources is in line with your goals
  • How you can do a better job of holding people accountable for results

At the strategic level, the planning process takes a “big picture” look at the organization, studying external trends and changes as well as internal strengths and weaknesses. At the end of a strategic planning process, you will have agreed on a limited number of Strategic Priorities & Goals that need to be addressed over the next three to five years.

What Questions Do You Need to Ask?

Essentially, strategic planning is about answering questions. The most important questions to ask depend upon your current circumstances. The relevant questions may therefore change from one planning cycle to the next. Here are some of the questions you may want to address.

1.  Establishing the Foundation
To plan effectively, you must know why your organization exists and what you hope to accomplish in the future.

Mission: What is our purpose? Why was this organization created and what are we here to do?
Vision: Considering our purpose, what results do we hope to have accomplished three to five years from now?
Stakeholders: Who are we here to serve? Whose interests must we consider as we work towards our purpose?
Values: What do we believe about the way we should do our work? What are our ethical principles?
Core Functions: To accomplish our purpose successfully, what must our organization be able to do well?

2.  Assessing the Current Situation
To be successful, organizations must have the internal capability to respond effectively to their external environment. Therefore, an important aspect of planning is identifying trends outside the organization and evaluating effectiveness inside the organization.

Environmental Scan: What changes or trends may affect us in the next three to five years?

Internal Assessment: Considering our purpose and our environment, what are our strengths and weaknesses?

3.  Defining Your Focus
Having identified your purpose, your hopes for the future, and the critical factors in your current situation, you will be better equipped to sharpen your focus on during the next three to five years.

Strategic Priorities: Given all available information, what things must you focus on in order to be successful?

Goals: For each priority area, what are the specific results that you hope to accomplish?

4.  Organizing for Success
Once you know what you need to be doing, then you must be sure that your structures and processes will help you accomplish desired results.

Organizational Structure: Are you organized correctly for the results you want to achieve?
Critical Processes: Do your critical work processes operate effectively and efficiently?
Outcome Measures: What indicators will let you know if you are successful in carrying out your purpose?

Once you have completed the strategic planning process, you are then ready to develop your Operating Plan for the first year. An Operating Plan contains the specific objectives and action steps needed to accomplish your strategic goals. While strategic planning is done every three to five years, operational planning is done at the beginning of each year. Goals and objectives for each department or unit should grow out of the annual Operating Plan. Both strategic and operational planning are necessary for long-term success.