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Why Strategic Planning? Because It’s Great to Know Where You’re Headed!

December 9, 2011

(By Rebecca Kraus, president of Rebecca Kraus & Associates LLC, Grosse Pointe Woods. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.)
As a business owner you’ve surely heard the term “strategic planning.” You might have been told that it is an important process to complete. But do you really know why?
Most business owners, particularly small business owners, tend to work deeply in the business rather than spending time managing, strategically guiding and growing it. This comes about because small businesses tend to be founded by someone who is really good at doing something so they create a business to share their idea or skill with others. They become so busy “doing” in the business, there is no time to really look at the business and where they are trying to get to.
At the same time, during the infancy of a company, the business owner is wearing multiple hats and working a gazillion hours a week. This “doing” takes all their energy. Life becomes “when I can get to that” and planning tends to be one of those things at the bottom of the list.
But wait – throw on the brakes here. Think about this for a second. Would you head off on a road trip without planning your route? Of course not. Don’t you need to know what the purpose of the trip is and where you are headed? I’m sure right now you are saying “well, of course- that only makes sense.” So, is launching and leading a business any different? Don’t you want to do whatever you can do to ensure that your sweat equity, financial investment and responsibility to your employees have the greatest degree of possible success? Then you must take time to plan that future and how you are going to get there. 
Where to Start
I am often asked if strategic planning varies depending on the size of the organization. In reality, the planning model is basically the same. Regardless of size, all organizations need to prepare for planning by completing the following:
 Determine who will be on the planning team;
 Identify those stakeholder groups (people impacted by your plan; employees; customers; Board, etc.) whom input should be sought from, and by what method;
 Conduct client interviews/surveys; Board and employee input sessions;
 Conduct current state data and feedback on organizational strengths; weaknesses;
 Identify the trends that have the greatest potential of impacting your organization within the next 12-36 months;
 Assess your market position and value proposition, and your competitors;
 Gather previous strategic plans, financial performance data, projections, etc.;
 Set a schedule for planning, leaving ample time to complete the process. Timing will vary depending on your organization. Just ensure that you and your planning team have time for thoughtful discussion and debate.
Steps in Planning
There is no “best” way to design a strategic planning process. Over the years I have modified my approach more often based on the planning history and culture of the organization. If the company has never planned before, it is essential to lay a solid groundwork by discussing and agreeing to terminology and definitions; meeting ground rules; and planning team member expectations. Regardless of size, the planning elements I believe are essential to consider in strategic planning are:
 The organizations’ core values – what do you believe in and stand for?
 Your mission – the reason for existence. What does your company do? Whom do you serve? How do you serve them? And the ultimate $64,000 question, why? What is the ultimate reason you do what you do?
 Current Situation Assessment, (Environmental Scan): Review of all gathered stakeholder data to ascertain your company’s internal strengths and weaknesses; review and consensus around those trends with the greatest potential of impact on your organization (positive and negative); marketing and competitive data; financial position and outlook.
 Articulating your Vision. Now, knowing the landscape, what you do and how you are, where do you want to head? What is your desired future? Where are opportunities to tap into trends/market direction/needs to grow or solidify your business? The clearer the vision, the easier planning for it becomes. A clear, compelling vision also benefits an organization by providing employees a real sense that their company knows where it is headed. Employees can then better understand not only how they can contribute to that result but they can feel a part of something –a valued asset helping to achieve the vision.
 If you know where you are headed, you can now revisit your strengths, trends and competition to determine what external opportunities warrant further study or actual pursuit. Wise companies also consider the external threats that may stand in the way of achieving their vision or opportunities.
 Summarizing your most critical organizational priorities and gaps to close to achieve the vision ultimately position your planning team to identify the strategic goals (objectives); strategies (how a goal will be achieved) and the supporting action steps. It is critical that goals be achievable and measurable.
 Implementing the plan is often the least considered part of the process and the area most fraught with challenges. It is the responsibility of the owner/senior leader(s) to “own” the plan and ensure that assignments, timeframes and necessary resources are made available and are completed as determined. The plan and its implementation need to be seen and acted on as an organizational priority, with accountability for completion.
It’s Great to Know Where You’re Headed!
Few activities can galvanize an organization like a clear, compelling vision, strategic roadmap and defined roles to achieve it. As in life, statistically, those who set goals and plan have a far greater degree of success in realizing their vision. Commit today to develop your strategic plan. Good luck! 
Rebecca Kraus is President of Rebecca Kraus & Associates LLC, Grosse Pointe Woods, MI. She specializes in strategic planning, change management consulting, professional development and executive coaching. Contact Rebecca at

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