Fall is a great time of year to do strategic planning for two reasons. First, the new calendar year is looming just over the horizon, so our thoughts naturally turn toward the future. Second, it has historically been a time when we reap our crops and evaluate whether they will hold us through the winter. Strategic planning is simply a natural extension of the harvest and forecasting cycle.
If your company is in the mood to tackle some strategic planning this Fall, here are seven best practices that can help to ensure that your time is well spent.
1. Carefully choose your planning crew.
While it is important to solicit feedback on the past and wish lists for the future from as wide of a cross-section of your company’s stakeholders as possible when you start your planning process, not all of those people need to have a representative at the planning table. Narrow your group or task force to key staff members who can make global decisions that reflect not just their own goals but also those of the staff or company they serve. And, of course, consider bringing in outside consultants if you think they’ll need support or a dash of perspective.
2. Throw everything on the table.
The best way to determine where you are starting from in the planning process is to review as much of your existing strategies, plans, reports and metrics as possible with a critical eye. Don’t forget to include research on your competition, too. Where are you strongest? Where are you weakest? Which staff members can help take you to the next level? Which staff members are holding back? Did you meet your financial goals last year? What helped/hindered your efforts?
3. Review, assess and analyze.
Next, review all of the information you’ve collected with an eye toward identifying goals, emerging trends and areas where things are working at cross purposes. Write down the common themes you see at play and the challenges that you think are going to be most difficult to overcome. If the big strategic ideas are not surfacing at this point, don’t be too concerned. That’s what the next step is for.
4. Go take a break.
Whether you’ve chosen to take a personal sabbatical or are on a corporate planning retreat, it is important at this stage in the process to take a break and let all the information you’ve reviewed percolate in your brain. The best way to do this is to engage in monotonous and even dull activities (such as organizing stacks of papers), activities that break you out of your routine (such as creating art instead of checking email), activities where your body is in motion (such as walking) or activities that take place near or in running water (such as taking a shower). All have been shown to be catalysts to stimulate creative thinking. What you shouldn’t do, is schedule a time for everyone to sit in front of a white board to do creative ideation on command.
5. Draft a plan.
After you have taken a break, revisit your research and analysis. Now you should have an easier time identifying strategic objectives that make sense to tackle in the future and organizing them into a game plan. While it should go without saying, it is important at this stage to write down your ideas, and flesh them out as fully as possible. This will make it easier both for you to implement and remain accountable to your plan as the year progresses, and to sell this plan to the rest of the company. Make sure that your plan includes both an implementation timeline and measurement benchmarks, too.
6. Sell it.
Once you have developed a plan, present it to the rest of your company. This presentation will serve two purposes. It will enable you to secure their buy-in and investment, and it will give you a chance to engage their help in implementing it. Avoid just telling them about the plan. Tell them the story behind the plan — how their ideas inspired it, how much you appreciate their hard work in getting the company to this point, and how important they are to ensuring that you meet these new goals and objectives. This step is critical and a lot of companies skip it. Don’t make that mistake.
Congratulations! Before you head off into the sunset to make all your personal or professional dreams come true, take a moment and pat yourself on the back.(Especially since no one else from your company might take the time to do that for you.) Most people do what they are told and prefer not to change. To take the time to reach farther, dream bigger and embrace change is something that makes you and your company unique and commendable. Without your bounty of fresh ideas, your company would not be able to flourish. So, step back and enjoy the harvest. You’ve earned it.