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How To Write A Strategic Plan + Example

by Tom Wright, on Jun 5, 2022

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Writing a strategic plan can be daunting, even for seasoned strategy professionals. After the chaos caused by the pandemic, businesses and organizations of all sizes have come to understand the importance of having a well-devised strategic plan. 

\Download our strategic planning template to help you write your strategic plan! 

Here at Cascade, we're often asked, "how do I write a strategic plan?" Overall, it seems there's a consensus that a strategic planning process should be complex and challenging.

However, if you have intimate knowledge of your business and a clear strategic model to follow, writing a strategic action plan is actually surprisingly easy.

This guide will teach you how to write a strategic plan using a simple model that will help you clearly define your organization's goals and how you're going to achieve them.

Download the strategic planning template.  This excel template is 100% free allowing you to build your strategic plan  with an auto-generated final plan output! Download Now

Strategic Plan Elements

Vision - where you want to get to.
Values - how you'll behave on the journey.
Focus Areas - what you'll be focusing on to help your progress.
Objectives - what you want to achieve.
Projects - how you'll achieve them.
KPIs - how you'll measure success.

This article is part one of our mini-series "How to Write a Strategic Plan" This first article will give you a solid strategy model for your plan and get the strategic thinking going.

Think of it as the foundation for your new strategy. Subsequent parts of the series will show you how to create the content for your strategic plan.

Articles in our How to Write a Strategy series

  1. How To Write A Strategic Plan: The Cascade Model (This article)
  2. How to Write a Good Vision Statement
  3. How To Create Company Values
  4. Creating Strategic Focus Areas
  5. How To Write Strategic Objective
  6. How To Create Effective Projects
  7. How To Write KPIs
    + Ultimate Guide To Strategic Planning

Before creating your strategic plan, you need to decide which structure you will use. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to structure a strategic plan. You’ve likely heard of famous strategic models such as OKRs.

But beyond the well-known ones, there's also a myriad of other methodologies ranging from the extremely simple to the bewilderingly complex.

The trouble with many strategic models out there is that they work reasonably well on paper, but in reality, they don't show you how to write a strategic plan — or at least one that is truly meaningful to your organization.

Here are some common weaknesses most popular strategic models have:

  • They're too complicated. People get lost in terminology rather than focus on execution.

  • They don’t scale. They work well for small organizations but fail when you try to extend them across multiple teams.

  • They're too rigid. They force people to add layers for the sake of layers.

  • They're neither tangible nor measurable. They’re great at stating outcomes but lousy at helping you measure success.

  • They're not adaptable. As we saw in the last years, circumstances can change quickly. Your model needs to be able to work in your current situation and adapt to changing economic landscapes.

In this article, we'll show you a simpler, more effective way to write a strategic plan. We call it the Cascade Strategy Model.

We found that this approach is simply more effective when it comes to the execution and implementation of the strategy than any other model we've tried.

That holds true for small organizations as well as multinationals trying to figure out how to write a strategic plan. It's easy to use, and it works.

The Cascade Model

To give you an idea of how a strategic plan following the Cascade Model will look when it's finished, we've created a simple diagram below. It's fairly self-explanatory, but we'll explore the individual components in a moment.

how to write a strategic plan structure graphic

Instead of a traditional roadmap, think of your strategy as a flowchart that reads from top to bottom. Each row is a mandatory step before going down to the next one.

There is a reason that we call our product 'Cascade' — and that is because strategy needs to not only cascade down throughout your organization, but it also needs to cascade from a vision statement to values, focus areas, objectives etc.

Most of all, the Cascade Model is designed to be execution-ready — in other words, it’s been tried and tested in delivering success far beyond the strategic planning phase. It adds to a successful strategic management process.

How to Write a Strategic Plan

Before we get into how to write a strategic plan, we first need to explore the different components of one.

Vision

Your vision statement defines where you want to get to. You can think of it as your mission statement or an executive summary or overview of your entire organization's purpose. Do not start your strategic plan without this.

Lots of articles have been written about the value of a good vision statement, but we'll summarize:

  • Your vision statement is the anchor that stops you from getting lost at sea (or by the madness caused by Covid, for example).

  • It will help tunnel your strategy towards the outcomes and long-term goals that matter the most to your organization.

  • Everything you write into your plan from this point onward will ultimately be helping you to get closer to your vision.

One of the biggest blocks to the successful execution of a strategic plan is trying to achieve too much in one go.

Creating a vision statement will help you to avoid that trap. A truly well-written vision statement will provide guidance and inspiration for your team. It might even help you to attract talent and investment into your organization.

A bike manufacturing company might have a vision statement like:

'To be the premier bike manufacturer in the Pacific Northwest.'

This vision statement clearly articulates where the organization would like to be and the value of the organization. 

Values

Think of values as the enablers to your vision statement. Unfortunately, the notion of corporate values has been abused to the point of ridicule over the past century. 

Remember, Volkswagen's corporate values include: "Integrity & Accountability." When it comes to writing a strategic plan, values represent how you'll behave as an organization as you work towards your vision.

Too often, organizations simply throw out words that they think will sound good in a glossy marketing brochure but have little relevance to the real world. Our take on values is subtly different and hopefully somewhat more pragmatic.

Don't be afraid to be honest about how you want your people to act and think. 2020 and 2021 provided a good opportunity to test a company's values.

The companies that kept to them demonstrated a true reflection of how they operate, whereas companies that struggled internally may have had poorly written values, which affected the overall success of their strategic plans.

However, it can be easy to become over-focused on strategic goals when realizing values. Outcomes matter, but if how you go about achieving them is wrong, the outcomes themselves risk becoming irrelevant.

Not only that, but organizations are ultimately nothing more than the sum of the people within them. The need for basic rules about how you want those people to work together is no different from the need for basic rules in soccer.

They exist to give your team a common purpose (scoring goals) and provide boundaries as to what people can do to achieve that purpose (no foul play).

Using the bike manufacturing example from earlier, some good core values would include:

  • Innovation
  • Excellence
  • Passion
  • Accountability
  • Compassion

These values reflect the organization's desire to become the leading bike manufacturer — but not at any cost. How they get there is also important. Staying accountable to employees, customers, and shareholders is crucial.

When you're ready to start creating some company values, check out our guide, How To Create Company Values.

Focus Areas

Your focus areas are the high-level things that you’ll focus on as you strive towards your vision and final destination.

Focus areas should be tighter in scope than your vision statement but not to the level of having any particular metric, time frame, or deadline. Following our manufacturing example above, some good focus areas might include:

  • Aggressive growth
  • Producing nation's best bikes
  • Becoming a modern manufacturer
  • Becoming a top place to work

We usually suggest creating between three and five focus areas. Any fewer, and they will probably be too vague. Any more, and well... I, for one, certainly can't focus on more than five things at once!

You want your people to feel empowered to come up with innovative and creative ways to be successful. But giving them a framework to work in can be hugely helpful.

Well-written focus areas can themselves be inspiring and motivational. They can help unite your organization behind a common purpose, ease tensions and encourage collaboration.

The third article in this mini-series walks through How to Write Effective Focus Areas in depth.

Download the strategic planning template.  This excel template is 100% free allowing you to build your strategic plan  with an auto-generated final plan output! Download Now

Strategic Objectives

Strategic objectives represent what you want to accomplish, they’re reasonably high level but should still have a deadline attached.

Your strategic objectives should align with one or more of your focus areas. Typically, you’ll have between three and six objectives for each focus area.

It's here that we need to start being a bit more specific for the first time in our journey. How specific? Let's take a look at an example of a well written strategic objective:

-Continue top-line growth that outpaces the industry by 31st Dec 2022

This is too specific to be a focus area. While it's still very high level, it indicates what they want to accomplish and includes a clear deadline. Both these aspects are critical to a good strategic objective.

Your strategic objectives are the heart and soul of your plan — without them, you have no plan!

The reason they're important and distinct from your projects (see below) is that jumping straight into actions is a sure-fire way to either (a) miss opportunities or (b) lose the connection between your actions and your vision statement.

If you're ready to start creating your strategic objectives, check out article 5 of this mini-series, 'How To Write Strategic Objectives'.

Projects

Projects are the actionable steps you will take to accomplish your objectives. They're about leveraging the assets you have.

They must be extremely specific, clearly articulate your actions, and contain a deadline. Your projects should align with at least one of your strategic objectives and describe how you will achieve them.

Typically, you will create multiple projects for each strategic objective.

Let's take a look at an example of a well-written project continuing with our bike manufacturing company using the strategic objective from above:

Continue top-line growth that outpaces the industry by 31st Dec 2022.

A good project to link to this could be:

'Expand into the fixed gear market by 31st December 2022.'

This is much more specific than the objective it links to, and it details what you will do to achieve the objective.

Projects are the layer of the strategic plan that outlines the tangible actions that people in the organization will take to achieve outcomes.

Another common problem area for strategic plans is that they never quite get down to the detail of what you're going to do.

It's easy to simply state "we need to grow our business," but without concrete projects, those plans will sit forever within their PowerPoint templates, never to see the light of day after their initial creation.

Projects are so important because they connect the organizational goals with the actual capabilities of your people and the resources at their disposal. Defining projects is a vital reality-check every strategic plan needs.

Learn more about writing effective projects here.

KPIs

KPIs are how you will measure progress towards your strategic objectives. They're measurable values that show your organization’s progress towards achieving key business objectives.

KPIs should be developed in relation to a specific goal or objective. If they're not developed with a specific objective in mind, they risk stealing attention, time, and money from KPIs that actually help achieve strategic objectives.

Ideally, you’ll want to include a mixture of both leading and lagging KPIs for each of your objectives.

Key performance indicators are a form of communication in an organization. They allow you to determine where you currently stand regarding your objectives.

They inform business leaders of their organization’s progress towards reaching key business objectives and are key for operational planning.

If you're ready to start creating KPIs, check out the 6th article in this mini-series, How to Write KPIs - 4 Step Approach.

Here’s a quick infographic to help you remember how everything connects and why each element is critical to creating an effective strategic plan:

strategic planning model

To summarize the steps in writing a strategic plan:

Vision - where you want to get to.
Values - how you'll behave on the journey.
Focus Areas - what you'll be focusing on to help your progress.
Objectives - what you want to achieve.
Projects - how you'll achieve them.
KPIs - how you'll measure success.

This simple approach for how to write a strategic plan avoids confusing jargon and has elements that the whole organization can both get behind and understand.

In our state of strategy report conducted in collaboration with Momentive, SurveyMonkey's business arm Pia Heidenmark Cook, Senior Advisor at Ikea added this in regard to strategic planning.

Things change so fast, now you need to write your strategy, agree on your strategy and almost execute it at the same time. 

Strategic Plan Example

The Ramsay Health Care expansion strategy

Ramsay Health Care is a multinational healthcare provider with a strong presence in Australia, Europe, and Asia.

Its growth happened almost organically and was very strategic. The company was founded in Sydney, Australia, but when the 21st century arrived, it decided to expand globally. And its primary strategy was brownfield investments and acquisitions in key places.

Ramsay’s strategy was simple but clever. The company focused on becoming the majority shareholder of the biggest local players and then leveraging and expanding on their expertise to grow organically in each area.

In two decades, Ramsay’s global network was present in 460 locations across 10 countries with annual revenue of over $13 billion.

Scaling the Cascade Strategic Framework - Business Strategic Planning

One of the issues we highlighted with other strategic models is that they often fail to effectively describe how to scale the model across multiple teams or through multiple layers of the organization.

In an ideal world, you want to have a maximum of two layers of detail underneath each of your focus areas. That means you’ll have a focus area, followed by a layer of objectives. Underneath the objectives, you'll have a layer of projects and KPIs.

strategic plan structure

This works well for a single team, but what do you do if you want to implement a strategic plan across multiple teams, like a recruitment team under an HR team?

Depending on how much time you want to invest in strategic planning, there are two approaches that you can take.

Option 1: Create aligned cascading objectives

This approach involves simply adding lower-level objectives that link to your higher-level objectives, like this:

creating a strategic plan

For each lower-level objective, you simply repeat the Objective - Project - KPI structure as follows:

kpi strategic plan

You can keep doing this as many times as you like, but do be aware that if you have a lot of layers, your strategic plan can get quite messy.

Furthermore, the owners of the objectives towards the ‘bottom’ of the plan are managing things that are very far ‘downstream’ from the focus areas they link to.

That could create an engagement problem with people struggling to really understand how they contribute to the top levels of the strategic plan.

Because of these challenges, this approach is best suited to smaller organizations that only need to add a couple of extra layers of objectives to their plan to get down to the level of detail they want.

Option 2: Created aligned/nested strategic plans

This approach involves creating a network of aligned strategic plans for each team within your organization. Each plan contains a set of focus areas, one single layer of objectives, each with its own set of projects and KPIs. Something like this:

strategic plan alignment

The key to making this model successful is to ensure that the objectives of each of your lower-level strategic plans link directly to the objectives in the plan above it.

Doing so ensures that you maintain alignment throughout your organization but still allows you to cascade your strategy as deep as you want across a near-infinite number of people.

The other major benefit of this approach is that you’ll typically see much higher engagement levels in the strategy throughout your organization, as objective owners will be able to clearly see the links between the objectives they own and the focus areas of their ‘nearest’ strategic plan.

How To Write a Strategic Plan in 2022- Summary

Let’s take a quick look at how adopting the Cascade Strategic Framework solves the most common issues that people encounter with writing a strategic plan:

  • Not too complicated. Terminology is simple to understand, and the linkages are clear, without ever deviating from the objectives - project - KPI 'triangle'.

  • Scales easily. By linking objectives (either in a single plan or across multiple nested strategic plans), the model scales infinitely without losing clarity or focus.

  • Extremely flexible. The model balances the flexibility of linked layers with the minimum requirement of always having an outcome (the objectives), an action (the projects), and a measure (the KPIs).

  • Tangible & measurable. By incorporating KPIs directly in the model, you’re forced to think clearly about what success looks like, and you’ll always have a relevant set of KPIs to track for your strategy.

Download the strategic planning template.  This excel template is 100% free allowing you to build your strategic plan  with an auto-generated final plan output! Download Now

Topics:Strategic Planning
Read the free Strategy Report.    We partnered with Momentive, Survey Monkey's business arm, to ask thousands of  organizations about their strategy and the results weren’t good... Learn how to  win strategy in 2022! Read Now <https://www.cascade.app/youre-doomed-or-you-adapt-strategy-report>