A strategic plan should be a living document
In the US today, only about 10% of business owners develop a strategic plan. In fact, most owners tell us that they have lots of plans and goals for the company, but they tend to walk around with those in their head, rather than writing them down on paper. Why is this?
Well, many leaders are concerned that writing down their goals will mean that they are trapped into a course of action that really needs to be more nimble to adjust to a dynamic market. Some worry that others may judge their ideas or be critical or skeptical about the practicality of the plan.
A strategic plan should be a living document – with a solid foundation in the form of a clear vision for the future and short list of the core values that drive decision-making in the company.
In our experience, those who take the time to write out their ideas, share them with key managers and finally, cascade the plan down through the organization are far more likely to achieve their goals. In addition, a short, simple written plan helps everyone in the company to understand where the business is going, what the priorities are and how the company plans to achieve them. In this way, more people can pull together to work toward the agreed vision.
Unfortunately, even those companies who take the time to write a plan rarely use it. The reality is that most of these plans simply become ‘shelf documents’, gathering dust and creating guilt on the part of the developers. Or worse, the company has paid an expensive consultant to create a document that never sees the light of day.
A strategic plan should be a living document – with a solid foundation in the form of a clear vision for the future and short list of the core values that drive decision-making in the company. Then, leaders who wish to focus on results will identify a few broad goals. These are statements of desired direction – key areas in which you want to experience performance and change. They need not be measurable but should lend themselves easily to objective setting. Goals rarely change and may succeed from one planning era to the next.
To support those goals and move to action, develop specific, measurable objectives – these are action statements that tell the reader what you want to achieve. They should meet the SMART criteria:
- Specific – they are tangible outcomes and real activities, for example: To increase the number of first time customers who become repeat customers by 50% by 2016.
- Measurable – can we tell if it has been accomplished?
- Achievable – can we really do it?
- Realistic – should we really do it?
- Time bound – when could we either expect to see some results or finally measure the result?
Finally, break the objectives down into manageable steps or tasks and be clear about your priorities – what is urgent, where will you see the biggest return for your investment?
It is important to keep the plan alive in the eyes of your managers and supervisors, as well as the rest of the company. Sharing the plan widely can be a little daunting and yet it is important to let team members know what it is, how it drives behavior and what their role is in achieving the company’s goals. You might consider holding regular meetings in which the plan is the key topic of discussion. Once an objective is met, set a new one. A step-by-step process could include:
- Share a copy of the plan with small groups of employees and briefly explain the process that the senior management team went through to produce this document.
- Explain why the values are important to the organization and why the senior management team wants to make sure that the values become part of the organizational culture.
- Explain the difference between a goal and an objective – how goals are directional and big picture and may rarely change, while objectives are very specific and measureable and may change when they are accomplished.
- Stress the importance of making sure that this is a living document and that it will be updated regularly – to meet the needs of customers and the company as a whole.
- Explain how the senior management team is holding itself accountable against the plan.
- Offer to answer any questions that they might have about the plan and its contents. Be prepared to answer questions regarding ‘what’s this got to do with me?’ and let them know that as the senior management team becomes more comfortable with the planning process and issues of accountability, more team members will be involved in updating the document.
Finally, monitor, measure and motivate! Update and review the plan at least quarterly. Encourage the use of the plan in all areas of ‘business’. This plan has impacts for all areas of the business. Make sure that it is seen as important, influential and positive.