One of the most common reasons strategic plans collect more dust than a 20th century set of encyclopedias is complexity. Longwinded business plans; along with buzzwords and irrelevant nomenclature better serve the consultants, rather than your organization. Your organization is better served with a strategic plan with simple solutions, even in this complex world.
One of the most important roles of a Strategic Business Plan is communication. Each and every stakeholder in your organization (from the boardroom to the front desk, management, staff, vendors, and consumers) deserves a clear understanding of your purpose, mission, and vision.
I believe a well written strategic plan should read like a short essay, telling the reader a story about who you are, where you are going, and how you will get there. Imagine an easy to read, easy to support, and easy understand document you can hand to a new employee, board member, or new vendor or strategic partner. A document they can peruse in a matter of twenty or thirty minutes, while clarifying your vision, mission, top goals, stakeholders’ roles, and just enough about the operation to allow the reader to understand how and believe that you will achieve your vision.
Many times a strategic plan begins to take on the role of a project-planning document, with activities documented down to the micro level. Leave those activities to the individuals in charge of various projects and processes, but keep it out of your plan.
Here are the elements of a simple, yet powerful, strategic plan to help your organization achieve success:
Start with a quick synopsis or history of the organization. This is especially useful for the newcomer.
There are three elements of a plan that, once well established, should rarely change. We refer to these as the foundation of your plan. They are the vision, mission, and our core values.
A well-written vision should be a simple, single sentence (two at most) statement that clarifies your desired future. For example, a local burger joint may have a vision of “Becoming a national franchise by the year 2030”.
Next is your mission. Your mission is also better served in a single sentence, and should articulate what and how you do what you do. Our same burger restaurant might have a mission of “We serve freshly prepared foods to our customers in a fast and friendly manner”.
Notice the difference? Your vision is about the future, and your mission focuses on today. A common mistake in strategic planning is mixing up the two statements, or having them say the same thing in a slightly different manner. Your plan might also provide some clarifying statements about your vision and mission to create focus and reduce ambiguity. This is helpful for new employees.
Finalize the foundation of your plan with your core values. Core values help ensure your activities don’t stray beyond your ethical boundaries for short-term gain. Core values should never be compromised by anyone at any level.
Now is a good time to briefly describe the various stakeholders in your organization, and their roles. This is not a stack of job descriptions. It is a brief overview of each group and their role. For nonprofit agencies with board of directors, this helps to clarify the role of the board, management, and staff – helping to eliminate a common enemy of a nonprofit agencies daily operation, which is micromanagement.
Next you should identify your core competencies. This is a list of the two or three things that make your organization special. Think of them as competitive differentiators or barriers to entry. What processes, patents, or strategic partnerships give you a competitive advantage? Document these and make sure you use them to your advantage when you set your strategic goals.
So, now, about your strategic goals. How many do you have today? If you have more than ten, and you have less than 2,000 employees, you may have a very difficult time achieving even half of those goals. Four to six goals is a good target. Less is better. With just a few goals, you maintain your focus, while still running your business. Remember, this is not the project management system, so keep the documentation about each strategic goal to a single page snapshot.
Think about your processes and procedures – and how focused and efficient they could be if they were tied directly to your mission? This is an element of the plan we refer to as business alignment.
A simple business alignment model, also in snapshot form, can help you align the daily operation to your vision and mission. Without good alignment, along with a commitment to some level of process improvement activities, your planning efforts will become frustrating at best.
Now, package it all up and tell your story. If you need any help identifying the elements of a simple strategic plan, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
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