An introduction to strategic planning
Organizations often fail at strategy execution. Despite the best-laid plans, everyone is lost and organizational goals never become a reality.
Why? Because of a hard truth that many leaders hate to admit:
Strategy doesn’t belong in the boardroom. In 2022, you simply can’t be effective if your strategy isn’t a human-centric one that invites everyone on board.
This article will explore this truth and give you the strategic advice you need to make your company plan work this year.
Check out our strategic planning software product overview to see how Cascade can help your organization execute its strategy!
In this article we explore:
- What is strategic planning?
- What are the benefits of strategic planning?
- What’s the difference between strategic planning and strategic management?
- What are the steps involved in the strategic planning process?
- 3 critical principles for strategic planning success
Alternatively, if you’re ready to dive into strategic planning, download our free ready-to-go strategic planning template that will guide you from vision to results.
What is strategic planning?
Strategic planning is a management activity organizations use to align human resources, business operations, and budgets.
Aligning these resources empowers all employees and stakeholders to focus on meaningful work that moves them closer to their shared organizational goals and company vision.
This dynamic method of business planning goes far beyond setting short-term goals to consider the entire business environment, define the long-term direction of a company, and the best way to get there.
Think of the concept as planning a mountain climbing expedition. If your entire team runs up the mountain in a random direction before anybody puts their boots on, pretty soon, disaster will strike. With a strategic plan, there's less chance of an epic fall.
What is a strategic plan?
A strategic plan outlines an organization’s action steps to accomplish its vision.
Many traditional strategic plans gather dust in long-forgotten spreadsheets or PowerPoints.
Successful companies bring their strategy to life with an ever-evolving digital asset of their plan that connects their day-to-day activities to the bigger picture.
If your organization takes the right approach, your strategic plan will
- Define the organization's mission and long-term vision for a period of three to five years.
- Inform the company’s quarterly and annual goals.
- Include the planned course of action to achieve these goals.
- Specify key performance indicators (KPIs) in each project.
Sounds simple in theory, right?
Unfortunately, strategic thinking doesn’t come easy for everyone.
Let's see what you can gain when you get better at planning with strategic issues and your organization's mission in mind.
What are the benefits of strategic planning?
Most strategies fail due to a lack of clarity and transparency. If there is no clear sense of direction or trust, how can you instruct your team? How will you inspire them to follow you?
When you take the time to set your strategy up correctly, you give your organization a massive competitive edge. Here are four ways strategic planning can help your company:
1. Narrow your focus
Your team must consider a plethora of channels, platforms, mediums, tools, and tactics in 2022. Without a strategy, your team can lose time on irrelevant or inefficient activities. A strategic plan gives your team a blueprint to reach your goals.
When you make strategizing part of BAU (business as usual), you can focus on the activities that have the most impact (i.e., those that actually move you closer to your goals and vision).
2. Optimize your budget allocation
A well-defined strategy clarifies how to use your resources best. With careful planning, you can determine the crucial activities that will contribute to your strategic objectives. It’s good to tie your budget to your goals in this way, as it helps get more value from your resources and minimize wasted spending.
3. Foster stronger team culture
Without meaning, there is no motivation. Strategic planning gives people a shared “why” when it comes to their work. With improved communication from the top-down and bottom-up, a plan offers more context to help employees understand how their actions impact the company vision. This human-centric collaboration motivates people to be effective, keeping everyone engaged and focused on their role.
What’s the difference between strategic planning and strategic management?
These terms are intrinsically connected but encompass distinctly different aspects of the overarching mission: to accomplish your long-term goals.
Here’s the difference:
- Strategic planning is the process that defines the direction of an organization (e.g., its long-term vision, mission, goals, and priorities).
- Strategic management includes strategic planning and builds on it with activities, plans, and decisions the organization must undertake to achieve the defined goals.
In short: strategic planning is what a business wants to do, whereas strategic management includes how it will happen.
Strategic management is one step ahead of strategic planning. The concept includes planning for the unknown contingencies in business, like shifts in the external environment such as a surprise pandemic or change in consumer interests (those fickle creatures!).
When Lego faced bankruptcy in 2003, the CEO admitted he feared the company wouldn't survive. Over 70 years of market dominance had ingrained the Danish toy manufacturer in global culture.
Then, suddenly, the beloved brand was on the brink of ruin. Thankfully, some tremendous strategic management helped Lego pivot to AR/VR experiences. Today, the brand continues to soar with annual revenues close to $6 billion.
What are the steps involved in the strategic planning process?
There are hundreds of models for strategic planning. Many popular strategic planning processes are good in theory but useless in practice.
Let's look at a more straightforward, effective way to write a strategic plan. Our approach to strategic planning keeps the demands for flexibility and scalability in mind.
There are six core elements for your strategic plan:
- Vision: The ultimate goal and reason for your plan. This goal should be nearly unachievable.
- Values: The core beliefs that unite everyone to pursue your vision.
- Focus Areas: The key campaigns that everyone will focus on to drive progress.
- Objectives: The specific activities and targets within focus areas. These targets have deadlines.
- Projects: The action plans for how to achieve the objectives.
- KPIs: The means to measure your progress through metrics and timelines.
Imagine a plan where every individual knows their role — every team has a clear step-by-step playbook.
Every month you make your targets and every quarter you take leaps and bounds toward your shared goals. Everything is in sync and everyone is on board.
That scenario is what a great strategy plan can deliver. The Cascade Strategy Model is designed to be execution-ready.
We’ve based the design on a wealth of experience where we’ve tried and tested the model to deliver success for our clients far beyond the strategic planning phase.
💡Tip: If you feel ready to create your own strategic plan, pick your strategy plan template from our list of most used and free templates in our strategy library.
📚 Want to learn more about how to write a strategic plan in 2022? Check out our guide to learn more about the Cascade Strategy Model.
3 critical principles for strategic planning success
When you want to take that elusive next step and succeed with strategy execution, there are a few things you must never forget.
Strategy is for everyone
Your management committee might be tempted to close the doors and brainstorm a strategic plan in private — but this would be a mistake. Old strategies die in endless boardroom meetings.
Strategy is a team effort, not a C-suite game for the big wigs in the boardroom. Management must involve the entire organization in cross-department collaboration from top to bottom.
Giving your employees a voice in your strategy helps strengthen the company's internal relationships. As you build your company vision together, you empower your employees to be active contributors to the greater cause.
Provide easy access to the strategic plan
When you have your strategy plan ready for action, it's essential to store it somewhere everyone can access. After all, strategy is everybody’s business and shouldn’t be under lock and key, guarded by a three-headed dog.
Different teams have different roles and they'll need to regularly refer to the master plan to ensure they all row in the same direction. Cascade’s strategy execution platform provides dashboards for every team and displays all business performance together.
With ready-made reports, every employee has access to real-time data, getting the insights they need to make the right decisions at every stage.
Plan with strategy implementation in mind
Last but not least, this next point is arguably the most critical aspect of successful strategic planning.
You must create a strategic plan with execution in mind. After all, strategy without execution is just a hypothesis. A successful strategy is not just about the plan — it’s about the execution on the ground. Done right, your strategy will enable you to dream bigger and execute better so you can achieve the most ambitious goals.
For that vision to become a reality, you must think about what needs to happen at every stage. Think about who will be responsible, how you will track it, and how you measure success.
Here are five questions your team must consider when you create a strategic plan:
- Is it too complicated? You don't want to confuse people with complex terminology and excessive steps or actions. Make sure the plan is easy to understand, making it easy to turn ideas into implementation.
- Is it scalable? Many strategic planning models are a good fit for smaller businesses but don't work so well with larger organizations with multiple teams or rapid growth.
- Is it flexible? A rigid model will force people into unnecessary steps, which adds to their workload and frustration. A more flexible strategy will save time and drive meaningful work.
- Is it measurable? It’s crucial to be able to track metrics and determine whether your efforts are successful. Without a way to gauge success, your strategy will struggle to stay on course.
- Is it adaptable? If there's anything we've learned from the pandemic, it's that the landscape can shift rapidly. Design your strategy to be incredibly adaptable so you can move with the market changes.
Keep implementation in mind to devise a strategic plan that’s easier to carry out in the future. With strategy execution software, you can plan and measure efforts across your organization to ensure progress from every team.
Get your hands dirty: Start planning your strategy
Strategy is not what it once was — a top-down practice or Powerpoint presentation without a long-term plan of action. Most traditional strategy models fail because they don't consider the multiple layers in the organization or the need to bring everyone together.
Strategic planning is a powerful initiative to help everyone understand where your organization wants to go and precisely how to get there. However, it will only work when everyone is on board.
Whether it's a five-person startup or a 5,000-strong enterprise, executing a successful strategy relies on an inclusive, human-centric approach that involves your entire organization.
You must think about the needs of everyone in the company, consider external factors, plus focus on context and alignment between teams, goals, and everyday actions.
With collaboration at the heart of your strategy formulation, you can create a flexible, scalable, strategic framework that is easy to understand, implement, and measure.
Ultimately, this approach will help unite your employees under a single vision so everyone can help push the company to reach its goals.
Are you ready to fast-track your strategic planning process for the next year? Download our free ready-to-go strategic planning template that guides you from vision to results.