It is our pleasure to share a guest post with you today from Judy Whalen,  President of the WHALEN Center for Strategic Change. Enjoy!

Strategic planning can be either a boon or a bust for an organization. Many people bring “baggage” to the process. Some people have had terrible experiences. They vehemently oppose committing time and other resources to it. Others yawn, glaze over and are completely skeptical that the process can produce any measurable results. Others enthusiastically embrace the process and produce extraordinary results.

What makes a strategic planning project successful? How can you get the most out of the time and money invested in the project?

The following points address key factors that will help you take action to plan and implement a successful strategic planning project.

1. Invest time in “planning to plan.”

  • Get commitment from the CEO and senior management. Make sure that the CEO and senior management will be active participants. This means clearing their schedules to ensure attendance in all face-to-face strategic thinking sessions. Be sure they understand that the commitment of resources extends beyond face-to-face strategic thinking sessions. Resources, including time as well as money, must be committed to the implementation and measurement stages in order for the strategic plan to be successful.
  • Appoint a Project Planning Team. This team will usually consist of two to four people who are responsible for making decisions about the structure of the project and communicating with the others who will be involved.
  • Determine whether to use an internal or external facilitator. An external trainer enables all those involved to actively participate in the strategic thinking activities. It is extremely difficult for an internal person to facilitate and also express their personal insights as questions are raised. An external facilitator also offers “the third person” perspective, can bring information from other sources and challenge “entrenched in-house thinking” or “corporate taboos.” An external facilitator can manage the group’s participation without concern of the hierarchy, political consequences or personal repercussions.
  • Develop a clear statement of what you want to achieve. By clearly articulating what you want to accomplish, you improve your chances for success. Utilize the facilitator to help you. Communicate this statement to participants and other members of your organization.
  • Explore the benefits, drawbacks of a variety of formats with the facilitator. Work with the facilitator to select the format that best meets the unique needs of the organization and individuals involved. (Do you want to utilize pre-session activities conducted by electronic media/fax/mail to get participants thinking before the face-to-face sessions? Is there a need for market research? If so, what type and to what extent? What existing information is pertinent for the group to review? Should strategic thinking sessions be half-day, full-day, spread out over several months or condensed into several days back-to-back? Should the strategic thinking sessions be held onsite or offsite? What atmosphere is most conducive for the participants to leave behind the day-to-day pressures so they can fully concentrate on strategic thinking?)

2. Gain an understanding of the key elements of the process and the facilitator’s style. A comprehensive strategic planning project should include:

  • Conducting an Environmental Scan – This helps you understand the current environment that your organization operates within. It often includes market research in the form of surveys, focus groups or industries studies. It should include an analysis of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT.) It should identify the organization’s core competencies.
  • Developing or reaffirming of the organization’s Core Values, Mission and Vision.
  • Identifying and prioritizing the Key Strategic Issues/Directions.
  • Developing anAction Plan that includes goals, objectives, action steps, time lines and outcome measurement strategies.
  • Implementing the Action Plan.
  • Evaluating progress by how effectively you have met the outcome measurements.
  • Communicating the benefits of the strategic planning process to those who will be participating.

3. Conduct the strategic planning activities.

  • Work with the facilitator to determine the logistics of any pre-session activities. Determine how those activities will be conducted — by phone, email, fax or mail? Who will disburse the information? Who will gather the responses, compile and distribute summaries? Determine who is to be contacted?
  • Work with the facilitator to develop an agendafor any face-to face strategic thinking sessions.
  • Give the facilitator freedom to implement the process in the manner that works for him/her. Each facilitator has his/her own style. Allow them to utilize their style to maximize the results.
  • During the strategic thinking activities, allow the process to work the participants. Be on your guard for an individual or group of individuals who try to control or manipulate the process to achieve (or avoid) preconceived results. A good facilitator will minimize the chances of this happening, but support from the Project Planning Team can be very helpful.

4. Implement the action plan.

  • Implementing the action plan is essential to your overall success. Strategic planning is much more than merely the strategic thinking and strategy development. The essence of strategic planning is implementing the strategy, measuring the outcomes and adjusting your organization’s performance based upon the outcome measurements.
  • Use the strategic plan to guide day-to-day activity, budget development, research and development, etc.
  • Measure, measure, measure. Measure your progress by utilizing the outcome measurement strategies that are part of the action plan.

5. Review, re-evaluate and revise

  • Review the strategic plan at least annually. Better yet, record progress quarterly. Then review the progress on an annual basis.
  • Re-evaluate the environment, core values, mission, vision and key strategic issues/directions. If these need to be revised, do so.
  • Revise as needed and develop a new action plan.
  • Make strategic planning an ongoing activity rather than one that is conducted every three or five years.

Strategic planning provides your organization with the foundation for sustainable growth. It helps you know where you want the organization to go and when you have achieved your goals. Strategic planning not only helps you manage change, but profit from change. It increases your control over those forces that affect you and helps you to respond more effectively to those forces that you cannot control. During these uncertain times, a successfully implemented strategic planning process can be the “guiding light” that helps employees and management manage and prosper from change

About Judy Whalen

Judy Whalen is president of the WHALEN Center for Strategic Change, (www.whalen.com) a consulting firm that challenges leaders to think and act strategically. Since 1992, she has been advising CEOs, Boards of Directors and Senior Leadership Teams in the areas of strategy, market research and communications. You can reach Judy at judy@whalen.com or by calling 608-455-2090. You can follow her on Twitter at JudyWhalen and on Facebook.