Do you sometimes feel that you are winning most of the battles but that you are losing the war? Although you are able to solve the problems, does the list of problems seem endless? Battles are won with tactics. Wars are won with strategy. Good tactics will never be sufficient to overcome the pursuit of a flawed strategy.
People achieve positions of responsibility because they have demonstrated an ability to do certain things well. As a result, most of us are comfortable “doing things” in an operating environment. “Doing things”, however, is the business equivalent of fighting battles. To be successful, thought must be given to the strategies that will determine what battles should be fought and what resources should be expended for the fight.
If strategy is the key to success, how do you go about developing a good strategic plan for your business? Can strategic planning be made relevant and practical for the closely held and growing business?
The developing of sound strategies is vitally important for every enterprise at each stage of development. In the beginning, entrepreneurs plan by themselves, perhaps unconsciously, but there is a sound strategy behind every success. There comes a time however, when the planning required for an organization to maximize its potential becomes more than the founder can handle alone.
Employee involvement in the development of strategic plans is essential. It leads to the adoption of better strategies and builds better teams that can successfully implement those strategies. As wasteful as it is to have a proficient operational team pursuing a flawed strategy, it is equally wasteful to have a winning strategy that does not have the commitment of those that must implement it.
Employees of every business have information, experience, and ideas that can make a significant contribution to the development of a good strategic plan. It is the commitment of these employees that will be required to successfully implement the plan. That level of commitment will be directly proportional to their degree of involvement in the development of the plan.
Developing a good strategic plan involves answering three simple questions. Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How are we going to get there? Whether your sales are one million or one billion, the questions remain the same. The answers to the first question, “Where are we now?”, are found in a historical analysis. Determine what the facts are concerning the critical result areas for your business. What are the trends as they relate to sales, profits, prices, competition etc.?
Both the internal and external environment should be considered. External analysis will maintain a real world orientation for your strategic planning. Internal analysis should yield an objective listing of your strengths and weaknesses. One of the overall objectives of strategic planning is to position yourself to take advantage of your strengths while making your weaknesses irrelevant.
Once you have the answer to “Where are we now?”, you are ready to begin setting some objectives. This requires addressing the second question, “Where do we want to go?”. Good objectives meet four criterion. They must be realistic, challenging, measurable, and attainable. The answer to this second question, “Where do we want to go?”, often becomes apparent during the assessment of the current situation. That answer now must be carefully defined in objective terms that are understood and accepted by everyone involved.
The distinction between “Where do we want to go?” and “How are we going to get there?” is difficult to make. The answer to the first is one of direction. The answer to the second is one of implementation.
“Action plan” is a term that is often used in conjunction with business planning. The answers to “Where do we want to go?” can be classified as strategic action plans. Although specific, they are broadly defined directions that are to be pursued over a long period of time.
Operational action plans answer the question “How are we going to get there?”. Operational action plans are detailed as to what needs to be done, when it will be done, and who is responsible. Each operational action plan must relate and support the accomplishment of a strategic action plan. There may be multiple operational plans in support of a single strategic objective.
Addressing and answering these three key questions in the planning process is vital to formulating a sound business strategy. However, faced with the everyday operating pressures involved with running a business, a plan alone is not a panacea. While it may require divine intervention to reach your maximum potential without a plan, plans don’t work miracles by themselves. It takes time and effort for an organization to become proficient at planning. Too often the tendency is to attempt too much too soon. The resulting frustration can set the process back for several years.