How does a ten-year-old with zero talent create beautiful works of art?
One Christmas, my parents gave me a Spirograph. If you’re a toy geek, you know it’s a mechanical drawing device that produces intricate geometric designs known as hypotrochoids and epitrochoids. Invented by a British engineer, it was introduced to America in 1966 by Kenner.
(Today, it’s available online from Target for $14.99)
Basically, a Spirograph is a template consisting of two differently-sized plastic rings with gear teeth on both the inside and outside of their circumferences. Simply insert your pen and crank away—the template ensures that you’re successful every time.
That concept of using a template for consistently great results is also at the heart of what I consider the best strategic planning process available.
The Basics of Strategic Planning
What Is Strategic Planning?
Simply put, strategic planning is the process of coming up with a clear pathway to make reaching shared objectives a reality.
Surprisingly, most small and midsize companies operate without a central plan. This lack of strategic planning results in lost revenue, inefficiency, and stagnant growth. With a cohesive business strategy in place, everybody is on the same page and focused on the same mission, values, and goals.
I’ve found the best way to accomplish this is to utilize what’s known as the StratOp Process.
What Is the StratOp Process?
Utilizing a unique strategic plan template, the StratOp Process is a powerful and proven system devised by the Paterson Center to help grow successful organizations. Founded by the preeminent business strategist and consultant Tom Paterson, The Paterson Center has been helping companies gain clarity, growth, and breakthroughs for over 50 years.
The word “StratOp” blends the two words most vital to a successful strategic planning process. “Strat” stands for strategic—the art of planning for tomorrow, today. “Op” stands for operational—the discipline of managing today, today. Weaved through both is the third component, the financial. Strategy and operations must be financed. The StratOp Process brings all three elements together.
I am trained and licensed by the Paterson Center to facilitate the StratOp Process and would be happy to introduce it to your group.
Is Strategic Planning Applicable to
You’re never too large or too small to have a strategic plan—even if you’re the only employee. The StratOp Process is completely scalable up or down to fit your precise needs.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, there are over 33 million small businesses in America, accounting for 99% of all U.S. businesses. In 2022, over 5 million small business applications were filed. It’s my belief that every single one of them would benefit from strategic planning.
How to Build a Small Business
Would you attempt to fix your own cell phone? No way. You’d head for the experts at Apple. Likewise, building a small business strategic plan is not a DIY project. With something this important, your business needs a professional to guide your efforts. This guarantees having a fun, productive interaction between a certified facilitator like myself and your staff.
The first (and most important step) is to connect with the most experienced guide, using the best process out there. Should you bring me on as a consultant, I will engage the leaders of your organization in a carefully crafted team discovery process called StratOp.
This process accomplishes four things:
- Gives perspective on all your strategic, financial, and operational parts
- Helps your organization know where it stands
- Clarifies where your organization should go
- Provides a customized plan on how to get there
The Six Phases of Strategic Planning
I personally lead my clients through the StratOp Process across six vital phases:
- Phase 1: Perspective – Where Are We Now? The StratOp Process begins with defining current realities. “Perspective before planning” is key to success. I’ve found that if you have the right perspective, the strategic plan almost writes itself.
- Phase 2: Core Plan – Where Are We Headed? Equipped with proper context, a team can now develop a living core strategic plan. At this point, they have a solid rationale and a set of shared fundamental beliefs upon which to develop this plan.
- Phase 3: Action – What’s Important Now? By identifying key issues, they’re ready to move forward as one cross-functional group. The team-developed core plan is the basis for creating a unified action plan aligned with the master plan.
- Phase 4: Structure – What Form Best Facilitates the Plan? With the action plan in place, the requirements needed to implement it are addressed. The facilitator ensures that organizational structure, culture, systems, processes, and staffing all support the plan.
- Phase 5: Management – How Are We Doing? The StratOp Process provides ongoing, systematic feedback to help manage strategic plan implementation. Regular weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews are instituted.
- Phase 6: Renewal – What Needs to Change? Team leadership meets annually to review and renew the core strategic plan. At this facilitated session, action items, opportunities, trends, objectives, and goals are all reset for the coming year.
To ensure success and sustainability, the StratOp Process is ongoing.
Using a Small Business Strategic Planning Template
Like my boyhood Spirograph, a template is simply a model, pattern, or guide for producing desired results.
For instance, a template can be physical—like the paper patterns a seamstress uses to cut fabric. I grew up watching my mother use these. My siblings and I attended a religious school that required students to wear uniforms. Because of the strict guidelines, Mom actually sewed my sister’s dorky outfits from scratch. To do that, she bought the approved patterns—the templates—from Joann Fabric and set the fashion world on fire.
(We’re still recovering from the dress code; therapy has eased the pain.)
A template can also be intellectual—like the rules or tools that guide certain activities. In the case of the StratOp Process that I facilitate, our template is a sort of “roadmap” that guides organizations through key discoveries that lead them to key initiatives.
Introducing an organization to the StratOp Process is really where the excitement kicks in and the “Aha!” moments begin. To see why it’s so effective, check out this abbreviated overview of the template used in the StratOp Process.
Strategic Planning Template: StratOp
These first four tools gain perspective on the current reality:
- The Thinking Wavelength: Understanding the team. What are our strengths? Our quirks? Who are the concrete and abstract thinkers? The goal is to build camaraderie.
- Defining Our Organization: Understanding the company. Who are we? What do we do? Who do we do it for? The goal is to capture the full here-and-now profile.
- The Four Helpful Lists: Drilling down to essentials. What’s right? What’s wrong? What’s confused? What’s missing? The goal is to find core issues that require attention, leadership, and resources.
- Patterns and Trends: Identifying external trends. What’s changing in the market? In the culture at large? What are the implications for us? The goal is to evaluate and adapt to the world around us.
Working through the first four tools of the StratOp Template helps us gain perspective by answering, “Where are we now?”
Then, building on what we’ve learned, the StratOp Template shifts us into planning mode by asking, “Where are we headed?”
These next five tools help us build out a detailed plan of action:
- Our Vision: Defining the mission. Where do we stand? Where are we going? How will we get there?
- Opportunity Mapping: Identifying options and assessing risks. Where’s the revenue coming from? What ideas should be pursued? Which should be paused?
- Primary Customer & Value Building Cycle: Determining our target audience. Who’s our customer? What’s most important to them?
- W.I.N. Wheel: Creating a list of What’s Important Now. What do we focus on to get us to the next stage of growth? What’s our most important goal for the next 90 days?
- Action Initiative Profiles: Creating parameters of clarity. Who does how much of what by when? If it doesn’t get done, who’s the throat to choke?
That’s the StratOp view from 30,000 feet.
Working with a Small Business Strategic Planning Consultant
Why not just wing it on your own? Why utilize a consultant?
Planning sessions can unleash creativity—for better or worse. After engaging your team in a brainstorming free-for-all, ideas are literally flying around the room. As team members are encouraged to begin dreaming and innovating, they often overreach.
For instance, your group’s W.I.N. list might include aggressive goals like:
- “Institute innovative processes with new products and services”
- “Streamline our recruiting and hiring process”
- “Launch company-wide rebranding and market expansion”
Good ideas, right? I guarantee every head in the room was nodding in agreement. But without a specific project plan for their implementation, any initiative can (and often does) fail. At this point, having a trained, experienced facilitator to keep the team on track can be invaluable.
Utilizing the foundational content revealed and reviewed by using this strategic plan template, a leadership team can determine action steps, delegation, and accountability. Plus, quarterly follow-ups allow the team to evaluate and adjust where necessary.
Tips for Small Businesses Developing a Strategic Plan
Remember, the definition of a template is “a guide, pattern or form.”
As such, a strategic plan template is an ideal framework for developing a targeted, tailor-made strategic plan—regardless of the size, scope, or age of your organization. Using the proprietary StratOp template is exceptionally beneficial because it helps us create catalytic mechanisms quickly and efficiently, from a proven pattern that’s been highly successful in the past.
I’ve used this StratOp strategic plan template hundreds of times with companies of all sizes, from fledgling start-ups to established corporations with complex infrastructures. It works every time it’s tried.
Let’s Get Started
If you agree that my experience and objectivity may help you move to the next level, let’s have an informal conversation.