“Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” ~Michael Porter

At more than one large organization, I’ve heard an employee  say, “Yeah, we have a strategic plan but it is gathering dust on a shelf.” Or, “By the time our strategic plan was finished, it was out of date.”

With perceptions and results like that, it’s no wonder that many planning efforts fail.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, the most successful organizations use strategic planning to bring employees together. They work toward a common goal. They take the organization to a new level.

So what’s the secret? Essentially, it comes down to clarity, coherence, and communication. I’ve broken these concepts into eight pieces of advice, which are listed below. This isn’t a step-by-step roadmap, but it should get you thinking about how strategic planning can work in your organization.

Here are 8 Ways to Make Your Strategic Plan Successful

1. Have a Clear Vision:Your organization’s vision tells people where you are going. The vision for your organization should be crystal clear and well communicated. Your team may not know where they’re supposed to be heading. They may have different interpretations of the vision, from each other or from the intended direction. If so, it can be nearly impossible to get everyone to pull together. Ideally, you also want to recruit employees who will share your vision.

“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” ~Steve Jobs

2. Have a Clear Mission and Goals that Fall Within Your Mission:Your organization’s mission is “why you do what you do.”  Your mission should be short, concise, inspiring, and substantial. One example that I especially like is from Starbucks whose mission is “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” While Starbucks makes coffee, their mission is far broader and much more inspiring. It encompasses caring, community, and supporting others without even mentioning their core product.

Once you have a clear mission statement, make sure the goals for your strategic plan fit into that mission. If you have goals that pull you away from your core mission, buy-in for either the mission or the goals will be difficult to obtain, and your organization may head off track.

3. Gather Research and Data Before Planning:If a strategic plan isn’t based on data or research, it’s essentially guesswork. Effective strategic plans are data-driven. So, the more relevant information you can gather ahead of time, the better. Data gathered and shared with planning participants may include:

  • Key stakeholder interviews
  • Market research and analysis
  • Customer or patient satisfaction surveys
  • Employee satisfaction surveys
  • Legislative overviews that affect your business or industry
  • Competitive analysis
  • Financial indicators
  • Sales or donor history and forecasts
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Industry trends
  • Organizational trends

4. Make Your Goals SMART: Smart goals are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, specify a Responsible party, and are Time-bound. They should be written in the active tense.

  • Specific: Goals should be clear and easily communicated.
  • Measurable: Goals should be tracked throughout the year and progress should be monitored. Accordingly, as goals are being created, you should consider how success will be measured and how progress will be tracked.
  • Achievable: Goals should have a clear “to-do” and be achievable, or realistic.
  • Relevant: Goals should be relevant, meaning there needs to be a reason for action that is significant to the organization.
  • Time-Bound: Goals need to have a specific time period for completion such as “by the end of the year” or “by the end of the second quarter.” Goals for strategic plans are generally from one to three years with established benchmarks along the way.

I recommend having only three to five major goals per year for an organization. Too many goals can create confusion and make it difficult to allocate resources. As Michael Porter states, “The essence of strategy is choosing what NOT to do.”

5. Communicate:Communicate with your team, your entire staff, and everyone affected by the process. Communicate beforehand about how the planning process will work. Communicate progress during the process, and be as transparent as possible. Communicate afterward about what goals were selected. In a recent survey I completed with rural hospitals, 100% of the respondents said their organization had no communication plan for internal and external customers regarding the strategic plan and its goals. You must create a communication plan to ensure the goals of your organization, and the communication plan should be completed as part of the strategic planning process.

“A strategy is something you can touch; you can motivate people with; be number one and number two in every business. You can energize people around the message.” ~ Jack Welch

6. Tie Individual & Department Goals to the Strategic Plan:Once the strategic plan and goals are finalized, managers and supervisors can help connect their departmental goals to the overall goals of the organization. Creating this connection allows individuals to understand how their work affects overall success. Some companies include “working to help achieve the annual goals of the organization” as part of each job description, or may ask employees to create individual goals that tie into department and strategic plan goals. You may have heard of this referred to as “cascading” the goals throughout the organization.

7. Establish Clear a Clear Follow Up Process and Schedule:It’s easy to forget to follow up on a plan. Other things, other priorities get in the way. Which is why it’s important create a clear follow up process and schedule before leaving a strategic planning meeting.

A follow up plan may include:

  • Monthly updates from departments on their progress
  • A monthly memo from the CEO that includes updates
  • Updates at employee staff meetings or all-company meetings
  • Reminders or updates in the newsletter or on the intranet

When done correctly, a strategic plan can not only take an organization to the next level, but also help develop strategic thinkers within the organization. The process itself can be incredibly insightful and transformative.

8. Provide Accountability: Assign specific goals to individuals or departments within your organization. Accountability helps create ownership of the goals and ensures someone will steward the goal to completion.

Now it’s your turn: What does your organization do to help ensure the success of its strategic plan? Share your thoughts below.