As another year comes to a close, individuals, companies, and nonprofits alike are in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions. The inspiration? To try and make each year better than the ones that came before it.

For some businesses, this can mean expanding into new cities or earning a greater profit. For others, it can mean improving one’s environmental or social footprint or perhaps it’s about finally finding that ever elusive work-life-balance. However you define “better,” we encourage you to be intentional about the goals that you set, and to develop a plan that outlines how you will achieve them.

Most of us know from personal experience how easy it is to start off a new year with ambition, motivation, and excitement, only to slowly lose steam after a couple weeks, and ultimately abandon goals altogether. To avoid such deceleration, it’s important to formalize your goals and your methods; to involve other people in the process; and to widely share your plan amongst your team members, so as to increase collaborative action and accountability. 

Strategic planning is a creative and flexible process that can be implemented in a variety of settings, such as within a program, in a department, or across an entire company. But regardless of whether your plan is simple or complex, the following tips will ensure that your process is worthwhile:

Involve others

Your company depends on many people in order to be operational. So when you set out to develop and execute a strategic plan, you’ll want to involve a variety of them. Your group should include a diverse team of board members or trusted advisors, company executives, and employees across multiple departments, each of whom are sure to bring different experiences and perspectives to the table. By assembling such a diverse group of stakeholders, you will encourage and ensure more expansive brainstorm sessions, and are more likely to achieve clarity, cohesion, and buy-in across the board.

Create a plan that includes these key components

  • Executive Summary: A brief overview of the overall plan.
  • Organization Background: A brief history of the organization along with the vison and/or mission statement.
  • SWOT Analysis: An analysis of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that will be used to inform the development of goals. 
  • Goals and Strategies: A prioritized set of long-term and short-term goals and corresponding strategies for achievement.
  • Operations Plan: An outline of goals, strategies, tasks, deadlines, and person(s) responsible. 
  • Evaluation Plan: A plan of how to track progress and measure the success of individual goals and the strategic plan overall.
via Staticflickr

via Staticflickr

Set strong goals

Your goals should be:

  • SMART: Specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
  • Related to your mission: Your goals should not only be aimed at moving the company forward financially, but also geared toward advancing the overall vision, mission, and core values of the organization.
  • Informed by historical financial and performance data:
  • Consider which prior goals and strategies have worked well and which have not been as successful. 
  • Ask yourself if your data supports the claims that you have made in your SWOT.
  • Influenced by the findings in your SWOT analysis:
  • Where possible, capitalize on your strengths and take advantage of the identified opportunities.
  • Be mindful of threats and do not disregard your areas of weakness.

Find support

Many companies find it useful to seek the support of an external consultant to facilitate the strategic planning process. By asking guiding questions, keeping your team focused, and identifying gaps in logic or detail, a skilled facilitator can improve the organization and effectiveness of brainstorming sessions. They can also help to fill knowledge or skills gaps for specific sections of the strategic plan, such as the evaluation plan. For that piece, for example, an experienced evaluator can help to identify meaningful indicators for performance and success, appropriate sources of data, and proper methods of analysis.

Share your plan

Once your plan is completed, share it with everyone in your company. Your team members, who are most likely responsible for implementing many of your outlined strategies, are more likely to be motivated and successful if they understand what they are working toward, and how their contribution ultimately ladders up to the company’s success. You can also demonstrate transparency and encourage a climate of trust by sharing the strategic plan with board members, funders, and investors.  

Monitor progress

Another strategy for maintaining momentum is to hold quarterly meetings to review your progress. Routine check-ins will allow you to notice any potential barriers to success and make timely and proactive (instead of reactive) enhancements. The operations and evaluation sections of the overall strategic plan will serve as a guide for these meetings, and make it easy to spot areas in need of troubleshooting.

Do you have additional strategic planning tips to pass along? Or questions about how this process can help your business? If so, we encourage you to connect with us!