Strategic Strides to Finish Strong

Creating Your Track to Success through Strategic Planning

As most companies and organizations begin to close out their fiscal years, management teams begin making forward-thinking decisions on new budgets, resources, talent and business development activities. As part of this assessment, it’s time to take the necessary steps of setting goals and objectives, while creating new strategic plans for the coming year.

However, sometimes the sheer mention of “annual strategic planning meeting” can evoke a deep sense of dread in the hearts of even the most senior executives. Nonetheless, it is an important step in the success of any organization. Having worked with multiple organizations across various market sectors, we have pulled from that expertise to break down the phases of strategic planning to make the process easier to conceptualize and, hopefully, more enjoyable. After all, it’s not about the end, but the journey, and strategic planning is the right track to get you there.

1. Conduct an end-of-year review:

No later than third quarter, evaluate the accomplishments of the year and what must be done by the end of the current year. This extends to annual assessments of resources and staff. Complete annual reviews of the team: What are their strengths and weaknesses? Do you have all the resources you need to be successful and, if not, what resources do you need to invest in that will have the greatest impact?

2. Fine-tune your goals and objectives:

Review your company’s mission and vision. Identify why the company exists and where is it going. The forecast and planning should focus on both short- and long-term growth goals.

Perform a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis with your leadership team to better understand the full picture from the frontline. Use the SWOT analysis to create strategic priorities. This is where you can transform big-picture ideas into action items as part of the corporate strategic planning process.

3. Set your goals and theme for the year; write out your goals and keep them visible:

Once strategic objectives have been established by the leadership team, translate them into specific goals that can be measured and clearly communicated throughout the organization. These goals should be both short- and long-term. You want to set goals that convert the strategic objectives into specific performance targets.

It may sound a little quirky to set a theme for the year, but assigning a mantra early on helps everyone visualize the end goal. Conduct quarterly “State of the Union” meetings to share victories, identify issues and re-establish goals. Likewise, writing out goals and posting them where the entire team can see them helps ensure the team can focus on the end results.

Goals should be as “SMART” as possible: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based.

4. Identify the support needed to meet established goals:

Create a team to assess whether you have the proper resources needed to achieve the defined goals and if these goals are, in fact, attainable based on the company’s bandwidth and overall capability.

Extend the SWOT analysis by applying a TOWS Analysis. TOWS is an internal focus of the SWOT analysis designed to match external opportunities and threats with the company’s internal strengths and weaknesses. This effort is designed to help you evaluate the goals generated, identify those that offer the greatest benefit to shareholders and the bottom line, and those that best achieve the mission and vision of the organization.

5. Take action:

Fundamentally, at this stage, you move from planning a strategy to planning development and execution.

Unfortunately, implementation is where most organizations falter, so a strong action plan is needed. Big-picture thinking is the easy part of the strategic planning process. What’s a little harder is the implementation of the strategic plan in practice. The failure rate for most organizations’ implementation of their strategic plans is 71 percent.

Moving from big ideas to action happens when strategy is translated from the organizational level down to the individual level. By developing action plans and assigning responsibility to individuals or departments, the individual contributors can develop short-term goals and actions to support the overall organizational direction.

Since these action items support your previously established goals, it will be helpful to identify all the actions that need to occur in the next 90 days, and continue this same process every 90 days until the goal is achieved.

6. Progress updates – lather, rinse, repeat:

Monitor your progress and evaluate. Set quarterly strategy meetings to provide periodic reporting of how the team is executing individual tactics versus the progress of the comprehensive plan (budget and metrics).

Be sure to evaluate both the lessons learned from the goals in which the team fell short, and those where the team achieved success, in order to best capitalize on them and drive positive change. You will also need to include corrective actions to address negative variances.

It’s important that you never lose sight of the fact that strategic plans are living documents, in that every quarter, the leadership team should evaluate tactical execution and plan implementation to measure results. Consider whether the goals are still realistic or if there are additional resources needed to finish strong.

Finishing out the year, while looking ahead to the next, is important to the success of any organization. And while part of a successful planning process is defining a strategy, the other is execution – keeping pace and keeping the end goal in mind. Starting strong is smart. Finishing strong is essential.

As Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, says: “There are better starters than me, but I’m a strong finisher.”

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