How Often Should a Company Revise Its Strategic Plan?

Short answer: As often as it takes to win the game.

The year is 1928. The rivalry is epic. Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish are being shut out by Army’s unbeaten Black Knights. What does legendary coach Knute Rockne do at halftime?

He changes his strategic plan. 

As you may know, Rockne motivated his team to achieve one of football’s most dramatic turnarounds with a locker room exhortation ending in: “Win one for the Gipper.” Immortalized in the movie Knute Rockne, All-American, Rockne’s rallying charge quoted the last words of Notre Dames’s greatest player, George Gipp. Upon hearing Gipp’s final request, the players shouted, “What are we waiting for?” and rushed onto the field.

They quickly tied it up 6-6. But to win it required yet another change of strategy.

For three periods, a player named Johnny O’Brien sat on the sidelines, huddled under a blanket. As time ran out, O’Brien remained on the bench for most of the final quarter.

Then, in a surprising change of plans, Coach Rockne put him in the game. Johnny O’Brien only made one play that entire day, but it was the game-winning touchdown catch.

Much like a sports team, a business also needs to be flexible and responsive to win.

Let’s explore how often a company should revise its strategic plan, how to monitor and update it, and when to bring in a consultant to help with the process.

Why Should a Strategic Plan Be Continuously Monitored and Updated?

If you haven’t guessed, I’m a huge Notre Dame fan. And as a fan, I know that nothing in sports is guaranteed. 

Same for business. The COVID-19 crisis proved our vulnerabilities once and for all. Internal and external forces can impact your company’s strategic plan overnight. However, even without a global pandemic or other catastrophes contributing to how you look at your strategic plan, your business goals can change—and your organization should be ready for any disruption.

Continuously monitoring and adjusting your strategic plan allows you to stay nimble and keep your company developing on the right track quickly. It also allows you to set realistic goals that can help your team stay aligned through any situation.

How to Update a Strategic Plan

First of all, get everyone off the bench and into the game. Company leaders and board members should be actively involved in the strategic planning process—even if getting them all into a room feels like herding cats. If all the members of your leadership team aren’t at the table, you shouldn’t be moving forward with your strategic planning meeting. 

Once everyone is in the same room, consider using a basic three-part agenda.

1. Examine Your Past Successes—and Failures

When updating your company’s strategic plan, it’s important to look at what’s worked for you previously, and what fell short. Even if it involves an executive’s pet project, nothing should be off the table when looking at the ROI. Examine the metrics that contributed to “wins and losses” that occurred during the duration of your last strategic plan.

It’s important to look at whether your company lived up to its mission, vision and values—and if those criteria propelled its values. 

2. Look at Where You Are

It’s been said that a leader’s first job is to define reality. As an executive coach, I couldn’t agree more. Be as objective as possible: Has your target audience shifted at all in their needs? Has your organizational structure changed significantly since you last evaluated your strategic plan?

This might be an ideal time to conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis for your business. A SWOT analysis will help you understand what’s changed in your business within the last year. If you like, I can help institute this for you.

3. Review and Change Your Goals and Priorities

If you’re not changing, you’re not growing. That’s especially true if your sales have stagnated or your value chain is looking more like a value link.

Take a look at options that would allow your business to grow sustainably. For some companies, it might involve selling your existing products or services to new customers and expanding to new regions to do so. For others, it might mean introducing new products and services to existing customers. The possibilities are endless, but they should always include a timeline, KPIs to track, and team members who’ll carry out the initiative.

Strategic Planning Tools

When reviewing or updating your strategic plan, it can be helpful to use tools and templates to guide your leadership team through the process. Here are a few of my absolute favorite strategic planning resources from the StratOp strategic planning process that I personally use and recommend:

  • Plan on a Page: Your Company Plan on a Page lets you see your organization’s overall strategic plan from a bird’s eye view, including your core assumptions, mission, vision, core values, core strategies, and more. 
  • Strategic Planning Process & Agenda: Plans can easily get sidetracked or otherwise go completely sideways within a matter of months, so having a process and agenda for the plan is essential. 
  • Thinking Wavelength: Another strategic planning tool from StratOp, this is a talent assessment to identify your team’s strengths and areas of contribution, making it easier to develop a strategic plan around the human resources you have in place.
  • Patterns/Trends Analysis: Your business is always evolving and transitioning, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum—the outside world can influence its performance, too. Using a PTA analysis tool allows you to easily identify and plan for any helpful or harmful changes that may come along.

Using a Strategic Planning Model

A strategic planning model is like a navigator for your business: It tells your organization where to go and how to get there, while warning of potential obstacles on the road or faster routes to your destination. While you can theoretically develop this route for yourself, there are invaluable tools to help you plot the course more effectively.

I use a tried-and-true tool called StratOp to help my clients during the strategic planning process. It’s a customized master plan that helps continuously develop your strategic plan.

StratOp allows leaders like you to define the current reality of your company, create definable targets and goals, establish initiatives for those goals, and maintain accountability so your strategic plan doesn’t go off the rails.

The StratOp Strategic Planning Process Steps

StratOp divides the strategic planning process into phases. Some can be completed in the first few meetings; others need to be addressed over time. That’s why as a strategic planning facilitator, I like to regularly circle back with clients. 

Here’s a general overview of the steps involved:

  1. Perspective: Gaining accurate perspective on your company’s past KPIs and goals is essential to developing a successful strategic plan. In essence, we’re asking “Where do we stand?”
  2. Core Plan: Next step is to develop a core plan, or “master plan.” This will be a living concept that addresses where your company is headed. At this point, you’ll need to have a set of core assumptions—a life-generating cycle that helps you understand your primary customers, your overall vision and values, and the big idea core strategies that set your organization apart from others.
  3. Action: Once your whole group understands your master plan and how it works for the organization, team members can develop individual shorter-term department plans to contribute to it.
  4. Structure: Your leadership should make sure the right people, processes and systems are in place to lead you toward the goals in your strategic plan. Use this opportunity to build self-sufficient, high-performance teams.
  5. Management: This phase allows you to reflect on the question, “How are we doing?” The StratOp system uses a “red-yellow-green” system to keep a pulse on how the strategic planning process is going. 
  6. Renewal: This phase helps you understand when your old strategy has run its course. It reveals if you need to develop an entirely new plan, or if your most recent plan just requires adjustments so it can continually adapt to needs that arise.

A Strategic Plan Update Example

Remember driving to the video rental store? Netflix is a strong example of a company shifting its strategic plan. Back in the 90s and early 2000s when video rentals were still a big deal, Netflix allowed people to rent DVDs by mail. That was radical. 

Then, in 2007, Netflix executives shifted the company’s focus to streaming content that subscribers could access with the click of a button. Because of that decision, the entire landscape of how we consume media shifted in just a few years. As of today, Netflix is worth around $158 billion.

While not every update to your strategic plan involves completely changing your business model, the Netflix revamp shows just how pivotal updating your strategic plan can be. It allowed them to completely disrupt their market and enjoy surging profits. Perhaps Blockbuster should have taken a lesson. 

Working with a Strategic Planning Consultant

Every sports team has a coach. Now, many individual athletes also have personal coaches working with them one-on-one. So should you. 

In business, the best way to get targeted, unbiased advice is to bring in a third-party strategic planning consultant. They can provide objective input on whether your plan is sustainable and achievable, and help you with the nitty-gritty details involved in developing a detailed strategic plan.

If you’d like to discuss strategic planning or goal-setting ideas for your organization, feel free to contact me. I’ll be happy to set up a time to chat with you.