Tips for Effective Strategic Business Planning

By Andy Sio
February 14, 2018

Strategy is a word that seems to appear frequently within business environments, though a lot of companies take it for granted.

A “business plan” is the step-by-step guide that your company puts together to figure out where they want to go in the next year, month, or quarter. Your business plan can be as in-depth, or as simple as you like, depending on the degree of support you think your organization needs.

A business plan can help a company to move closer towards their overall vision, achieve their goals, and simplify the path to success by boosting efficiency and productivity. However, there’s more to strategic business planning than simply putting a goal down on paper and brainstorming a few ideas that might help you to get there.

The truth is that few great companies arise without careful thought, and effective business objectives. If you want to accomplish amazing things, then you need to have the right goals, the right resources, and the right tools in place to take you across the finish line.

Step 1: Don’t Just Make Assumptions

The issue that a lot of companies have when it comes to “business planning” in today’s marketplace, is that they overlook the power of things like SWOT analyses, and affinity diagrams when it comes to setting priorities, making investment decisions, and laying out viable plans for growth. For these businesses, it’s easier to just lay down a few basic assumptions and hope for the best.

However, the best strategic business planning comes from plans that involve hypotheses that lead to certain outcomes. For instance, you might think that since one of your products is currently bringing in the most profits, increasing production of that product will lead to a better cash flow.

Of course, you don’t want to balance the future of your business on basic guesswork. Instead, you want some useful research and information that supports your idea and puts your mind at ease that you’re making the right decision for the future of your company. If you’re not sure whether the objectives in your strategic business plan are right for you at this time, do some homework. Look at the visual reports you’ve gathered about your product, conduct some experiments that tell you more about customer wants and needs.

Don’t just guess, make sure you know what you’re going to do next.

Step 2: Stop Being So Vague

One of the worst things you can do with a business plan, is use it as a platform for sharing vague expectations, or general goals that could apply to a million companies just like yours. The key to running a successful business is making sure that you stand out from the crowd. That means that if you don’t want to end up with results that are difficult to measure, and hard to understand, you’re going to need to get more specific.

Whether you’re coming up with a marketing plan, getting involved with product prioritization activities, or simply updating your business strategy, make sure that your goals are as clear as possible. That means avoiding language like:

Use long term vision to guide your strategic planning

While phrases like these give you an insight into what you need to do “in general”, they don’t give you a roadmap for success. Don’t just say that you’re going to focus on building a more effective product next year, outline how you’re going to adjust your strategy with agile product prioritization and careful marketing campaigns.

Step 3: Get Everyone Involved

Who did you have around the table at your last strategic planning session? The chances are there were plenty of C-level executives present, but did you also remember to include other segments from around your business too? While the C-Suite of employees in your network might be the ones responsible for setting the tone on a strategic business planning session, it’s the employees in an organisation that make the plan happen.

If you want to make sure that you’ve got everyone working together on the same page, towards the same outcomes, then you’re better off having a representative from every corner of your company involved in the planning experience. By putting top-down and bottom-up communication strategies in place, you can enjoy stronger, more significant results, because everyone feels more devoted and passionate about the goals that you’ve established for yourself.

Remember to reach out to people from sales, marketing, and communication, as well as the CEO, the CIO, and the CMO for your company. This will help to create transparency throughout your brand, and it could also help you to look at the future from a perspective that gets everyone involved.

Step 4: Don’t be Restricted by Templates

For years now, templates have been a staple of many strategic business planning sessions. These solutions can help teams to start thinking more seriously about important topics, like competitive analysis, and product development, or whether there are any problems with performance that need to be addressed in the months ahead.

Unfortunately, if you rely too much on templates, then they can sometimes start to become a crutch. Your team might end up more focused on simply trying to fill out the right boxes in the template you’ve given them, than making sure they come up with creative solutions to organizational problems.

While there’s a lot to be gained from using templates in your planning and meetings, it might be a better idea for your company to move on and start using alternative methods or tools. In today’s high-tech world, there are countless solutions out there that will help you to simplify things like process modeling, and roadmapping, while keeping all you’re your employees in the loop.

If you’ve been using the same template for a few years now, try bringing something new to the mix to see if you can uncover some new ideas and perspectives.

Step 5: Ask the Right Questions

Finally, strategic business planning is all about making sure that you ask the right questions. Whether you’re starting a new year, a new quarter, or you’re simply looking to do something different with your business, it’s important to make the most of your opportunity. Don’t just tell yourself that you’re going to be looking at pushing growth again this year.

A lot of companies treat growth as the only way to survive in business. While an increased number of sales, and more profits always looks good for your business, you can end up getting into sticky situations if you push for growth too quickly without asking the right questions first. After all, fast growth can lead to problems with pace when it comes to keeping on top of product line expansions and team management.

To make sure that your business plan can act as the perfect roadmap to success for your business, be prepared to ask plenty of provocative questions. After all, strategic planning is a process designed to encourage intense discussions and debates between people from all areas of your business. If the process you put in place is too rigidly structured, you might end up with a lot of vague words and phrases, but very little useful information.

Some examples of useful questions might include:

The deeper you dive into the heart of your strategic business planning process, the more effective your finished plan will be.

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