How to Start a Strategic Plan

A glass ball inverses the view of a pier.

Envision yourself driving in an unfamiliar area, sans GPS. You’re trying to get to somewhere new and exciting, but without clear directions (or even a solid grasp of where you currently are), you realize it is difficult, frustrating, and ultimately, a waste of time. Planning out the route before starting the trek would have made the journey (and arriving at the destination) not only easier but also much more valuable.

Similarly, in business, it is extremely hard to pursue meaningful change and reap the benefits without an effective map—otherwise known as a strategic plan—to get you there. Too many small and mid-sized companies operate this way, thinking they can’t afford strategic planning. The reality is, however, is just not true. With a plan in place, you can gain clarity on where you currently stand (and how you got there), where you want to be, and what steps you must take to move forward. 

Think of a strategic plan as the blueprint for how to build thoughtful business processes, helping you to fully understand how to efficiently reach your goals. While there are six strategic planning steps that I follow in my process, the first to accomplish is the gaining of perspective.

Business Perspective: The First Step of the Strategic Planning Process

Discovering where you are in your business and what decisions led you there is paramount to determining how to propel your company forward.

Why Start with Perspective?

Gaining an honest perspective is necessary before creating your strategic business plan. The truth is, if you gain the proper perspective, the plan almost writes itself. Reflecting on your past processes (and their level of effectiveness) with an unbiased point of view produces the understanding required to properly devise your next steps. 

If you try jumping into creating your plan without understanding the why behind certain parts of it, the plan won’t be of much use in the long term.

How to Gain Perspective for Your Business Plan

As an experienced StratOp facilitator, I help teams find clarity through providing an objective outlook on where your company currently stands. 

Review Company Progress

Start with asking yourself this: What happened over the past year? Did you reach your sales goals, or struggle to keep clients? Maybe you wanted to hire a certain number of people but found it difficult to locate the right people for the job. Perhaps the feedback you received from your customers wasn’t in alignment with the service you wanted to provide. 

Whatever progress was made (or lack of progress—hey, this is the time to be honest), take the time to discuss it with all the members of your leadership team. This way, you can work together to combine multiple perspectives and gain insight into problems or achievements you may have not previously considered.

If you’ve done strategic planning before, review last year’s plan. Use this to determine what procedures were helpful, what held you back, and what can be improved. Try your best to keep your emotions out of these decisions, and focus on the facts—your business will be all the better for it.

Assess Your Team

Take the time to clarify the personalities of who is on your team. Are there a lot of people who are visionary go-getters? Are there a lot of people who are risk averse? Assembling a group with a variety of perspectives, personalities, and strengths is incredibly important to your business. 

The Thinking Wavelength

Everyone approaches their tasks uniquely, from the day-to-day grind to the necessary work of envisioning the future. A combination of creative macro-thinkers, detailed and structured problem solvers, and natural delegators is key to a balanced, successful organization. 

In the strategic planning sessions I facilitate, I use a tool called The Thinking Wavelength to quickly plot where each leadership team member falls on a spectrum of concrete to abstract thinking:

  • Concrete thinkers are great at administrative and operational tasks, but they also tend to be more risk averse and resistant to change. 
  • Abstract tinkers are great at strategic and developmental tasks, but they leap too quickly without thinking through every step of a proposed process.

I love seeing leadership teams that have a fairly even spread across this spectrum. Both viewpoints (and those in between) are necessary to create a strategic plan that will actually work for your business.

Other Personality Assessments

Just as it is helpful to understand what areas your employees and colleagues excel in, it is equally insightful to have an awareness of where they struggle. This knowledge will help when it comes to assigning tasks, having a base expectation of their work style, and learning how to effectively support their growth. A few tools I employ to differentiate and dissect the strengths and weaknesses of teams are The Enneagram, DISC, and CliftonStrengths.

When it comes to the strategic planning process, utilizing your team of various personalities can be extremely illuminating, aiding in the creation of multi-dimensional solutions for multi-dimensional issues.

Conduct a SWOT Analysis

A SWOT analysis is a tool that allows you to simply identify and categorize both limiting and helpful internal and external factors, from your assets to your team to your operations to your customers demands. This grid will expand your perspective and help redefine your mission statement and company vision. A SWOT analysis breaks down the following:

  • Strengths: Where is your company and team excelling? 
  • Weaknesses: What is preventing your business from achieving more?
  • Opportunities: What processes can be improved upon?
  • Threats: What needs to be managed or eliminated? 

After working on your SWOT analysis, you will have a better grasp on your current standing, issues that require attention, and a shared perspective to better create goals for your business. 

Create Four Helpful Lists 

Another tool gifted to us by the Paterson Center is the Four Helpful Lists. Filling out this chart deepens the understanding of your business’s operations, services, finances, and structure. The four lists are as follows:

  1. What is right? What’s going well? Take time to celebrate your success and achievements. How can you optimize these strengths to flourish even more?
  2. What is wrong? What isn’t working? What’s holding you back? How can you go about changing it?
  3. What is confused? What aspect of your business or process lacks clarity? How can you (with the help of your team) make it clear and easy to understand?
  4. What is missing? What opportunities are you letting pass you by? What can be added to improve upon your business?

If you’re starting to break into a sweat, thinking, “How can I even start to change, clarify, or improve XYZ?”, no worries—that’s what I’m here for. The guidance of a passionate business coach and experienced strategic planner can be instrumental in leveling up your business. Schedule 30 minutes with me, and I’ll walk you through how to implement this framework for your company.

Analyze Patterns & Trends

Identify Patterns and Trends

Figuring out what external patterns or trends can and/or will affect the way your business operates will help you to be better prepared. Start by having everyone on your team share what they’ve observed happening in your market or industry.

Analyze Their Direction

Make a factually-supported hypothesis about what these patterns and trends mean if they continue to head in the same direction. How would it impact your industry? Would they cause other trends or patterns to arise? 

Determine Their Implication for the Company

Staying aware of how certain trends in markets are behaving, whether they’re related to customer demand or supply chain issues, can determine how your business can pivot and continue to thrive no matter what comes your way. Ask yourself, “If things keep going this way, what would it mean for the company?” This perspective can help you make a detailed plan that covers all outcomes, saving you stress and time down the road.

Resist the urge to laugh these predictions off and say, “That will never happen!” Big industry shifts and swings happen all the time. For every business owner, there’s a lot that’s outside of your control—the best thing you can do is simply plan for it.

Continue the Strategic Planning Process

Gaining perspective is just the first step of this business-altering process. There are six phases in the process of StratOp:

  1. Perspective: Where are we now? Before any planning can begin, perspective must be gained. With the tools mentioned above, you’ll be in a great place to continue to the next phase.  
  2. Core plan: Where are we headed? Now that you know how you arrived at your present point, you can begin plotting your future course of action.
  3. Action: What’s important now (W.I.N.)? Along with your leadership team, identify your W.I.N.s. Knowing what is currently most important to bettering your company helps to clarify your short- and long-term goals.
  4. Structure: What form best facilitates the plan? Ensuring the right people, processes and systems are in place for supporting the plan is crucial. Creating a structure that encourages decision-making and accountability is vital to building forward momentum. 
  5. Management: How are we doing? Keeping track of your progress through regular reviews and evaluations provides valuable feedback that allows the strategic plan to evolve over time.
  6. Renewal: What needs to change? On an annual basis, the strategic planning process will be re-completed and adjusted as necessary, ensuring it is making the intended positive impact on the culture and operations of your company. 

Start Your Strategic Plan Right with StratOp

Building a business that is repeatedly successful for many years is not an easy feat, but it is much more likely to occur when a thoughtful plan is enacted. If you’re ready to take your company to the next level with meaningful change, reach out today to learn more about my StratOp services, and get a free strategic assessment to understand how I can help your business get to where it can be.