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The Ultimate Strategic Planning Guide

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Article by 
Tefi Alonso
  —  Published 
February 7, 2023
November 14, 2023

The most comprehensive strategic planning guide ever!

In this guide, you’ll find tips and secrets that you can apply right now and make sure that your strategy is unmatchable and executable. Download our strategic planning template to help you get started.

Read on to find out:

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What is strategic planning?

Strategic planning is the process of initiating the direction a business wants to take and defining how the plan will cascade through a business by the allocation of resources. 

Strategy is a set of choices. A set that comes from trying to make sense of that messy reality, figuring out where your organization fits in it and how you can make that the new reality.

And like everything worth sweating over, it’s easier said than done.

Why is business strategic planning important?

Strategic planning is the only tool at your disposal to harness the single, most powerful force in business: strategic competition.

In a world where every player commits to strategies and actions that inadvertently change the competitive landscape, mastery of strategic competition is how you survive and ultimately thrive.

What “mastery” means today is not the same as it did two decades ago. It was once meant to accurately map the current business environment and commit to a long-term strategy. Today, the game of mastering strategic competition is all about commitment to a well-structured and clear strategy and the ability to adapt early and decisively to unexpected change.

Take, for example, IKEA. Its stores play a critical role in maintaining its competitive advantage, one of which is the elimination of long waits for delivery (people can view, find and take their desired furniture in one trip). When the pandemic hit, the Swedish furniture company had to temporarily close 75% of its stores. That was a big hit, but the company adapted fast. It doubled down on its digital transformation and online presence with services like its revamped augmented reality application.

Speed is how you win in strategic competition.

Merging strategic planning with execution is how you achieve speed.

How does strategic planning fit into the strategic management process?

Strategic planning is part of the strategic management process.

Here is the overview of the entire process:

  1. Phase 1 - Strategic Planning
    This phase includes researching, setting high-level goals, determining the most important KPIs, cascading the strategy, and reallocating resources to support your initiatives. This is the phase where you develop the core principles of your strategy and populate most of its details.
  2. Phase 2 - Strategy Execution
    Your plan hits the ground. It gets distributed to the entire organization, and people set up projects and align their daily actions with top priorities. This is the toughest challenge a business faces which determines whether it survives in the long term.
  3. Phase 3 Measuring Performance
    This phase is more than metrics and tracking progress. It transforms execution into a learning process. Reviewing meetings, automated reporting, and balancing metrics with judgment calls educate your decisions and help you adapt your strategy.

It simplifies things to separate processes like that, but in practice, things get dirty.

In strategic management, the processes merge, and it’s hard to draw clear lines. That’s OK! It’s also the reason you can’t have different teams working in silo for each phase of your strategic management process. For example, many companies neglect to consider how they’ll execute their strategy during the planning phase and aren't integrating risk management and strategic planning. And surprise surprise their plan gets no traction at all. 

With the guide to strategic planning, we’ll reveal the practical secrets to a successful planning phase.

What is the difference between strategic and tactical planning?

Being able to tell the difference between strategic and tactical decisions helps leaders focus their team’s efforts on the things that really matter. It’s the quality that distinguishes costly distractions from priceless opportunities.

Let’s see what that means.

Tactical vs Strategic

When you want to take down a fort, you make tactical decisions. How will you attack the front gate, where will you place your troops to avoid enemy fire, what is the best time to attack, what will be the exact sequence of your moves? When you’re being tactical, these are what you’re concerned with.

A strategic decision is whether you’re going to take down the fort or go around it, so you don’t waste any resources. What does taking down this fort offer to our overall plan? That’s the kind of question you ask when you’re being strategic.

Most leaders don’t understand the difference.

In their strategy decisions, they discuss tactical stuff and forget about the initial vision of the plan. So, instead of building a strategy that distinguishes between unnecessary challenges and unavoidable obstacles, these leaders get dragged into the weeds and forget to look at the big picture.

The term strategic refers to a longer-term and broad, but focused, plan. The term tactical refers to the actions and decisions that will bring each step of the strategic plan into life.

Leaders who understand the difference bring the element of focus into their competitive advantage.

The 6-step strategic planning process

There is a lot that goes into strategic planning. The process we outline helps you look at your plan from a different angle and make sure you make it executable.

6 step strategic planning process

1. The Pre-planning stage

Planning helps you make sense of the chaotic reality by inserting some structure into it. And good preparation speeds up the strategic planning process.

How do you prepare?

Choose your preferred strategic planning model.

Developing and distributing a strategy for a company with 1.000 or more employees is no easy task. If there is no real structure in your plan, it will take forever to get the right information to the right people. And even then, nobody guarantees to follow through.

You need to take this into account when developing your strategy. Every good strategic planning model includes three things:

  1. Structure
  2. Frameworks
  3. Governance

Structure orders the various components of your strategic plan and tells you how they fit together. Frameworks help you populate your plan by categorizing and coming up with organizational goals that meet your needs. Governance describes how you’ll track and report your progress towards those goals.

Established organizations usually have some sort of a model in place. That’s a great place to start, but we suggest you challenge it and figure out where it has fallen short in the past, at least on these three fundamental elements. Organize the content of your plan with a strategic framework (or two), and don’t worry about applying it to the letter.

No business applies strategic frameworks as they are.

And with that, you’ll be a step closer to mastering strategic competition.

2. Analyze your external and internal environment

Strategic planning requires deep research. To formulate a great strategy, you need to go through an extensive strategic analysis which includes internal and external analysis.

Here’s where you need to focus.

Internal strategic analysis: study your organization

Analyze the capabilities of your organization by starting with these crucial questions:

  1. What are we particularly good at as a business that others struggle with?
  2. What drives performance?
  3. What are we particularly bad at as a business that others handle well?
  4. What hinders performance?
  5. Why?
  6. Why?
  7. Why? (now you’re getting useful answers)

Use external benchmarks to validate your hypothesis on your strengths and weaknesses. How good is the rest of the market on each particular trait? Is your 15% growth due to your strategy, or did the whole industry grow by 14%?

Begin by gathering internal data and information. To avoid paralysis by analysis, use these internal analysis tools such as the SWOT analysis and the Gap analysis guide.

External strategic analysis: study your environment

Determine the external challenge(s) your company has to overcome. Answer questions like:

  • What has the competition been doing?
  • Did a new competitor come in strong?
  • Has a competitor made an unexpected move?
  • Have technological advances rendered part of our services obsolete?
  • Did the behavior of the market change?
  • Etc.

The game of external analysis used to be about capturing customer data faster and more efficiently. Today the game has changed. Customer data is more available than ever, and the challenge is to extrapolate the most useful and actionable insights from that data.

Matt Ryan (strategist for Disney and Starbucks) said in his keynote speech “Strategy is the Voice of the Customer” at the first Strategy Festival:

“Having all that data in one place, organized, and importantly democratized so that everybody can use it makes the change management of bringing people along much more effective.”

The game evolved from capturing to leveraging customer data.

Strategic analysis: combine your findings

If you conduct a comprehensive internal analysis without external benchmarks, you’ll be vulnerable to competitors’ initiatives and your biased estimations. If you analyze your business environment without having a good grasp of your company’s capabilities, you’ll be incapable of executing your strategy. To form a complete picture and diagnose the most important challenges your organization faces, you need to study both your organization AND your environment.

Here is what that looks like during strategic planning:

  1. What is the main industry (category) we’re competing in?
  2. What are the core players in the industry? Are there any new ones?
  3. How many business segments do we compete in?
  4. What differentiates us from other players?
  5. What unique advantage comes from this differentiation?
  6. What are the (internal & external) challenges that our strategy needs to address?
  7. How do we manage our unique advantage in the long term?
  8. Which business tail can we cut that will make a stronger competitor?
  9. Etc.

In the end, your strategic analysis should give you the ability to foresee changes in the geopolitical sphere and in your competitors’ behavior.

A strategic analysis example

In 2005, Goodman Group decided to expand its operations in the global market.

Starting with the United Kingdom, China and Hong Kong, it made some strategic investments based on predictions of increases in transactions in Australia, Europe and the East. With the increase of online transactions and the rise of the e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba, Goodman Group foresaw the potential demand that these companies will have in properties and invested in the opportunity early on.

Today Goodman Group is the largest listed industrial property group serving customers like DHL, Amazon, Kellogg’s, Alibaba and many more.

The company grew by analyzing the market conditions and expanding with strategic moves and key acquisitions in target markets.

3. Build with the destination in mind

Populate the strategic plan backward.

The external and internal analysis is just the first step of strategic planning. Its purpose is to arm you with the necessary information and context to make educated decisions moving forward.

The next step is to set up long-term strategic goals.

Where do you want to be in 5 years? In 3 years? Start by articulating your mission statement in as much detail as possible. Then break it down into increments and set the milestones along the way.

Use 6-month increments and determine the milestones starting from the future and working your way back to the present. What do your long-term goals require you to achieve in the next 6 months? Is it possible? If not, ditch your plan and start again. If your proximate objectives are unattainable, then every other long-term ambition is just wishful thinking.

You need an achievable short-term goal.

How to approach corporate strategic planning

The strategic process changes depending on the level of strategy it occurs. There are three levels of strategic planning:

  • The Corporate level of strategic planning
  • The Business level of strategic planning
  • The Functional level of strategic planning

Corporate strategic planning is the highest level of strategy.

It’s the level that the board and the C-suite develop mostly on their own. They decide on the major focuses of the business and the destination in the longest possible horizon. At the corporate level, the strategic process distils the collected data into decision-guiding insights. The biggest enemies are complexity and vagueness. The biggest allies, simplicity and clarity.

As a rule of thumb, you should be able to explain your corporate strategy in plain English during an elevator ride.

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4. Aim for an inimitable strategy

If the competition can copy your strategy, then you have a bad strategy.

Good strategies are hard to emulate. Your competitors might be able to figure out your strategy, but they shouldn’t be able to copy it without paying a heavy price. The secret to developing an inimitable strategy is anticipation.

Anticipate how the competition and the market will react.

For those of us with no psychic powers, the game of anticipation is a game of scenario forecasting. 

  • What does the future of the market look like?
  • What is the competition currently doing, and we can count on them to keep on doing?
  • How is the competition going to react to predicted market changes?
  • What regulation changes do we expect?

Forecasting is at the base of risk management (more on this later). That’s why parallel to the execution of your strategic plan, you need to track the assumptions you made during the planning phase. You want to prevent an inversion of competitive relationships in case your predictions about the market or the competition are wrong.

Develop policies that are worth more than the sum of their parts.

It’s how you manage your differentiation in the long term. Each part of your strategic plan should fit with the others in such a way that they support and reinforce their effectiveness. The idea is that each policy has no real effect on its own, but they generate a competitive advantage when all are executed together.

Remember, good strategies are hard to emulate.

When building the policies of your strategy, ask yourself:

  • How easy is it for competitors to copy each policy?
  • What would that cost them?
  • What are the minimum policies they have to copy to emulate our strategy?
  • How can we make it harder for them?
  • etc

It shouldn’t be possible for your competitors to copy one or two of the policies, maybe improve them a little bit, and then reap the benefits of your strategy. The policies of a hard-to-emulate strategy are coherent and consistent with a principle of action that guides all decisions at all levels. 

It’s much simpler for a small store to build a coherent set of policies around a specific target audience like “students that are price sensitive” than to try and navigate through thousands of decisions without a clear frame for her strategy.

5. Build momentum: the first step of executable strategies

“It was a great plan, but it never got traction.”

A truth as common as failed diets that start on Mondays.

Great strategic plans that never got executed are embarrassingly prevalent. People hate change and resist it. To build executional momentum for your plan, you need to spark organizational energy and focus.

There are three ways you can achieve this:

elements of strategic planning

First, find your strategy’s proximate goal.

As we mentioned, if the first step of your strategy isn’t feasible, the rest of the plan is a dream. You can build perfect analyses, great slides, and foolproof financial models, but don’t expect people to go and do these things. In fact, that’s never the case.

Reality is messy. People can’t work without a specification. As a leader, you need to remove ambiguity and replace complexity with a solvable and achievable strategic objective that people can tackle. Strategic planning techniques are incomplete until a feasible first step is determined.

Force it, if you have to.

Second, adapt the reward system to reflect the changes.

If you ask people to change their behavior, but their performance goals remain tied to the old behavior, they simply never change. Because they won’t care. Especially in the beginning of a new strategy, you should focus on progress and not results. Reward progress towards the change. Make change the goal and adapt incentives to align goals, actions, and priorities. If two out of those three contradict, the plan will fail before it ever gets a chance.

When Disney decided to go direct-to-consumer by entering the streaming industry, Bob Iger decided that the production of original content for Disney+ would happen in-house by the existing studios. He didn’t want to outsource it with so much creative potential. That was a tough decision and meant that executives had to put aside politics and work together to disrupt their own business. To ensure success and impose a sense of urgency, Iger restructured the internal incentive system to reflect the company’s new priorities.

Now Disney Plus has reached almost 138 million subscribers and is ready to take the lead in streaming worldwide.

Third, free up resources. (where planning and execution are married)

Resource allocation impacts execution like no other activity. And it’s the biggest obstacle that businesses face. Why? Because they underestimate it. No strategic initiative is executed without the proper resources backing it up. It sounds obvious, but you’ll be surprised how little time strategists spend on freeing and reallocating resources according to their top priorities. This is how you transform your strategy into an action plan.

Here is one tip for resource allocation. Set the opportunity cost for your freed-up and easily disengaged resources. Thus, when prioritizing initiatives and projects, estimate whether the resources that each initiative demands are worth dedicating.

A successful strategic planning example

After the development of their strategic plan, one of our clients concluded that they had to hire 20% more people to support all of their strategic initiatives.

But when they put their plan into Cascade, they got a clear overview of their initiatives and the dedicated resources. And they were dumbstruck. The clear view of their plan had them realize that their resource allocation was terribly biased. In fact, most of their human resources were focused on 2-3 priorities. Once they reworked their plan, they decided there was no need to hire any new people.

They ended up saving millions in wasted time, energy, and an unnecessary increase in their workforce.

The lesson? The tools you use for strategic planning have a serious financial impact.

6. Govern the strategy with the intention of adapting it

As a defending player, you have a huge competitive advantage over any attacker.

If, and only if, you're strategically alert.

When it comes to strategic competition, the business purgatory is filled with companies that “launched” their strategies but failed to adapt to their changing environment. Think of Toys “R” Us. The giant children’s brand focused on a strategy that was historically successful but didn’t notice (or take seriously) the rise of eCommerce, failing to adapt its business model, arguably the only opportunity that could help it generate enough revenue to pay off its debt.

Here is how you make strategy an iterative process.

Accommodate execution during strategic planning and inform your plan by tracking its execution.

Automate reporting on key metrics.

One of the reasons that in most large companies, the execution process doesn’t inform their strategic planning is due to immense friction on the reporting side. If it takes you weeks to get an overview of your strategy’s performance (with lagging data), then you can’t review progress on a quarterly basis. Because by the time you gather all the data, review them and make decisions, you need to start all over again.

To save time, you need to drive meetings with KPI templates. If you’re not sure how to start, read our guide on how to write KPIs.

Lead progress discussions with the right context.

Numbers are useless on their own

Five new sales this week don’t tell you anything. A 50% increase in sales due to the higher loading speed of your homepage is a much more useful piece of information. When reviewing the performance of your strategy, discuss judgment calls and the context surrounding the numbers.

The secret is to have these discussions regularly. Touching base weekly or even just monthly goes a long way in making sure that your people are focused on the right things and that your strategy is grounded in reality.

Strategic planning examples

A supply chain strategic planning example

Having a great supply chain strategy planning process impacts a company’s competitive position.

Especially when the supply chain strategy complements the organization’s business model and overall strategy. In early 2000, Unilever executed one of the best supply chain strategies positioning it in an extremely advantageous position. They called it C.P.F.R. Strategy which stands for Collaborative Planning, Forecasting, and Replenishment.

It was a very deliberate collaboration with Unilever’s customers to dramatically increase responsiveness while respecting the retailer’s zero-inventory policy. It focused on close communication to increase forecast accuracy since predictions between Unilever and its customers didn’t always agree.

Unilever ended up saving more than $14 billion by identifying and addressing a challenge that, once solved, provided a powerful competitive advantage.

Example of strategic planning in healthcare

Pfizer’s focus on R&D

Pfizer is one of the world's top pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporations with sales of over $83 billion.

The company’s focus has always been the Research & Development of new drugs and improved treatments. However, with a strong devotion to improving global healthcare, the company innovates in packaging and delivery systems to ensure that its drugs reach the right hands at the right time.

Recently, Pfizer has invested heavily in oncology with many acquisitions and has increased its product range dramatically. In addition, the development of its own version of the COVID-19 vaccine has helped the company retain its competitive edge. That wouldn’t be possible without its heavy investment in R&D.

Today, Pfizer’s assets are estimated to be beyond $180 billion and its stock price is upwards of $50.

How to manage strategic risk

A strategy plan without a conversation around strategic risk is, at best… risky.

Most business leaders do a great job at managing risk in their respective business units. When they build their individual plans, they make sure to determine ambitious goals while mitigating potential risks. However, the way they do it sets the corporate-level strategy up for mediocrity. And the strategy plan will remain relatively stagnant, and the organization will be at the mercy of a competitor’s bold move.

But you can avoid stagnation with the following two strategic risk management strategies.

1. Separate the risk management discussion

During strategic planning, businesses have a brainstorming session about growth opportunities.

This isn’t the time to hold back.

Don’t allow ideas and opportunities to be shut down by “howevers,” fears or doubts. This is the time for ambition and boldness. When you list growth opportunities and ideas, kill any objection and leave the conversation of strategic risks for another day. That way, your team can focus its attention on spotting opportunities beyond their respective business units’ benefit and for the organization’s overall benefit.

Only once all the best ideas are at the table do you start a discussion around strategic risk management.

A separate discussion on strategic risk management forces your team to discuss strategic risks as a team. This is important. It means your people will feel a shared responsibility for managing the risks and won’t withhold any information in fear of assuming the full weight of mitigating the dangers. When people mix growth discussions with potential dangers, they hide strategic initiatives with high potential risk because they don’t want to put their necks on the line. 

At the same time, when risks are discussed so openly, you’re able to take a proactive stance by building a holistic plan. Everyone chimes in and gives their point of view to help develop a comprehensive risk management plan. The team tackles the dangers of high-risk strategic initiatives cooperatively, involving more than one leader, thus sharing the responsibility. Of course, such an approach requires you to maintain politics on a relatively low level.

Separating the risk management discussion helps you to apply the next strategy, as well.

2. Manage strategic risk at the corporate level first

Most organizations neglect to manage strategic risk at the corporate level.

They end up making trade-off decisions on the business-unit level, optimizing for individual performance. That leaves the organization’s efforts scattered. They end up adjusting the strategy’s long-term goals to the potential of each business unit’s individual plan. And they fail to acquire or maintain their competitive advantage. They stagnate.

Here’s how you can avoid that.

Since you’ve had separate conversations on growth opportunities and strategic risks, you can develop different scenarios and explore their risk profiles individually. Those scenarios optimize the performance of the organization as a whole and manage business units at a portfolio level. Why is that important? Because building a strategic plan around a big move to gain an “unfair” competitive advantage usually means that resource allocation is heavily biased. 

Some leaders will get significantly more resources than others. Risk management at a portfolio level entailσ resource allocation at a portfolio level, too.

There is an added benefit when you frame scenarios on that scale.

You get to explicitly consider environmental changes that usually are implied or go under the radar. We are talking about macroeconomic and geopolitical factors. In these discussions, you make your predictions and plan accordingly. Most importantly, you’ll be able to shift your approach much faster in case your predictions were way off.

Managing strategic risks is an art of its own.

Recommended reading: Risk Matrix: How To Use It In Strategic Planning

Strategic planning framework

If you want to develop a well-structured plan with no duplicate efforts and a predisposition for execution, then read our dedicated article series on how to write a strategic plan that comes with a strategic planning template.

strategic planning framework infographic

Here are the 6 most important elements of strategic planning:

  1. Long-term vision
  2. Culture’s values
  3. Focus Areas AKA your top strategic priorities
  4. Plan’s objectives
  5. Projects to achieve those objectives
  6. KPIs to measure progress

And remember, one crucial element of strategic planning is accountability. Every single part of your plan needs to have one or two people responsible for them. That’s how you make sure that people will follow through with the plan.

A modern strategic planning course

Strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. Or boring.

And in Cascade, we proved that by holding the biggest and most entertaining strategy event ever. Attendees of the Strategy Fest 2022 listened to more than seven strategists of companies like Amazon, FedEx, McDonald’s and Mastercard revealing their secrets for strategy execution.

Everybody enjoyed the event (it included a tango show and a magician) and learned how to make their strategies engaging, how to foolproof them, and even winning Monopoly tactics. 

The ambition was to make Strategy Fest 2022 a modern strategic planning course: fun and educational.

And it was.

What is the best employee engagement strategy plan?

Engagement, that’s the secret to strategy execution. If your people don’t read the information they’re presented with, it ultimately won’t matter. Nobody will execute the plan.

We see too often leaders send out the PowerPoint slides (they call it “launching their strategy) with no engagement plan. And when people’s engagement with strategy is only an afterthought, it’s extremely difficult to pull it through.

Identify key stakeholders

Inside and outside the organization, make a list of their invested interest and where exactly you need their input. Before you meet with each stakeholder group, distinguish between the different kinds of information you need to share. For example, shareholders care more about the high-level part of the plan and its business outcomes.

Cascade your strategy

People care for things they helped create, so co-create strategy.

In the words of Ilanna Rosen, innovation and strategy leader at IKEA:

When you involve people, when you ask them their opinions, they feel a lot more inclined to actually execute the thing later on. And when you co-create strategy, strategy itself can become a change management tool.

Of course, that’s not possible on all strategy levels. At the highest level (corporate), you can’t include people more than two reporting levels away from the top. When you cascade your strategy, you do it at the business and functional level.

But how do you distribute top priorities while ensuring company-wide alignment and minimizing contradictions in goals and measures?

You frame strategy as choices.

And communicate guidelines and the overall direction. 

When trying to simplify your strategic plan, don’t mistake business goals for strategy. It’s not enough to have ambitious goals to rally your company behind them. People don’t wake up excited to “double the company’s market share this year.” People engage with the strategy when they have a clear purpose, a clear context for decisions. Give them that.

Communicate your vision and the general direction of the business in a way that guides decision-making (and if you want to remove all friction from that process, use a digital platform like Cascade – hundreds of organizations use our strategic planning template to share their direction with their teams).

All the rest you can delegate and revise.

Expose your strategic plan

Presenting your strategy just ain’t gonna cut it.

If you want your employees to engage with the strategic plan, you need to give them access to its latest version. Remove the friction from the process. When people want to have a quick look at the strategy, don’t make them search for the latest version and lose time trying to navigate a 200+ slide deck.

Instead, use a digital platform where updating progress is easy, centralized, and available on-demand. Does your marketing team want to check campaign deadlines and goals? Does sales need to refresh its KPI targets? Whenever people need more context to make a decision, they can jump on the platform and get it.

And, trust me, in the end, people will learn to rely on the company’s priorities to make decisions.

Align culture with strategy

If your strategy isn’t compatible with your culture, no amount of hype, change management strategies, or transformational campaigns will ever get the gears moving.

Your plan will die as soon as it gets out of the board room.

Keep in mind that at the end of the day, your people will execute the strategy. So, make a cultural inventory and ask yourself, “what kind of culture do we need to have to achieve our ambitions?” Then take a good look at your current culture and locate the gap you need to cross. 

When doing a cultural inventory, only two things matter:

  1. The values of the organization.
  2. People’s behavior.

Make a list of all the behaviors people consistently do and avoid. Be honest, or else this exercise won’t help. 

Once you determine the values that your business’s current culture lacks (or need reinforcing), ensure the leadership team embodies them. You can’t dictate culture just like you can’t order a kid to “read more.” You have to “act” what you preach. If you read daily, then your kids will follow your steps. It’s the same with organizational values.

Exercise them and embody them, don’t dictate them. People’s behavior will adapt to the new standard once you start doing two things:

  1. Shut down quickly and decisively any bad behaviors.
    Where “bad” is that kind of behavior that doesn’t agree with your desired values.
  2. Reward behavior that is consistent with your desired values.
    That includes promotion. If you promote people solely because of their performance, you signal to people that “you can be a cultural misfit, but as long as you perform, you’ll do well here.” That’s no way to a cultural transformation. Your most rewarded performers must also be the strongest advocates of your organizational values.

Remember, when strategy opposes culture, strategy loses.

The inescapable necessity of strategic planning software

In the past couple decades, most business disciplines have evolved to fit in the digital age, except for strategy.

Strategy has remained in a pre-cloud era. Almost in a pre-internet era. And that’s reflected in today’s prevalent strategic planning tools. Most leaders use tools whose conception predates the internet and are unsuited to meet the modern business’s strategic needs. Specifically, the need to adapt their strategy when things change AND put it into action almost immediately.

Spreadsheets and slides are obsolete in strategic planning.

And utterly ineffective in strategic execution, because they’re static and hard to read. Nobody starts their work day by opening a 100+ pages long document to ensure today’s activities are linked to strategy. And, quite frankly, nobody should.

But it’s possible to link front-line activities directly to strategic initiatives while maintaining strategic flexibility. How?

By adopting a strategic planning software to accelerate strategy execution

People execute strategies. And to get your strategy plan out of the boardroom and into your people’s hands, you need to adapt and implement strategic planning software. Here’s what you can achieve with a digital platform that is impossible with static tools:

1. Link strategy to daily activities

Is it possible to connect the corporate-level strategy with the daily activities of your employees at the bottom of your organizational structure with a spreadsheet?

Maybe, if you have a team obsessed enough. Is it worth it, though? Absolutely not. By the time you create that strategic document, parts of your strategy plan will have changed, rendering some information obsolete. And you won’t even know which information is that.

Besides, nobody would read it - making it worthless. Do you think, for example, Nike’s CEO John Donahoe expects their salespeople to consult a spreadsheet with the company’s strategic priorities before their shift begins? Of course, not. But he expects them to know the strategic priorities and make decisions based on them.

Understanding the difference naturally takes you looking for effective ways to communicate your strategy.

2. Provide on-demand access to your strategy plan

And, in fact, to the latest version of your strategy plan.

When people engage with the strategy more often, strategy execution (and performance) goes up. By removing friction and opening access to the strategy plan, you invite people in. Playing hide-and-seek with your plan leaves people frustrated and mistrustful.

Having on-demand access to the company’s strategy empowers people to engage, understand their impact to the company’s growth and ultimately take ownership of their projects and actions.

3. Increase your strategic flexibility

The most unforgivable trait of static tools like spreadsheets and slides is their lack of effective updating.

When a sudden shift in the market or the competitor landscape forces your company to revisit its strategy and reevaluate its priorities, you can’t distribute the revised strategic plan on spreadsheets. Unless you don’t care about its execution. By their cloud-based nature, strategic planning software distributes changes and new priorities almost instantly.

Strategic flexibility isn’t just a sudden, even effective, change in the strategy plan. It’s the implementation of that change, as well.

Strategic planning software for higher education

Strategic planning in higher education institutions is highly disjointed.

Universities create an overall plan that ends up as a marketing brochure. Every department creates its own strategy plan that rarely - if ever - links back to the overall strategy. That means that faculties work in silos and they don’t share any information regarding strategy.

As Ball State University learned, this is easily solved with increased transparency and the right tools. By adopting strategic planning software to help them organize and execute their plan, they have increased trust with all of their stakeholders. Plus, they hit their strategic goals.

Static tools simply can’t compete with strategic planning software.

The fallacy of strategic planning and the cost of failed execution

The fallacy most companies make is they think that if their plan is perfect, people will execute it. That's one of the three myths of strategy that cripple execution.

As a result, they treat strategic planning as something separate from daily operations.

Ask any executive, and they’ll be confident that everyone inside the organization is aware of the strategic priorities. Ask two front-line employees about the strategic priorities, and you’ll get two different answers (if you get any at all). Ask more, and you’ll start a brainstorming session.

The leader’s assumption that people align their daily activities with the company’s strategy is prevalent in large organizations. And it prevents them from facing the truth.

That most employees ignore strategy. They don’t care about it.

Which comes at a cost. Companies lose opportunities and revenue by failing to execute their plans or adapt fast enough. Walmart almost lost hundreds of millions in online sales during the holiday season by leaving its site upgrades for the last minute. How much would it have made if it had adapted its approach earlier? Probably millions more.

Free strategic planning template

Fast-track your strategic planning process with a ready-to-go template that will guide you from vision right through to results. Download now! or read more about it here!

  • Simple and clean design
  • Step-by-step process
  • Totally customizable
  • Battle-tested by THOUSANDS!

Your template comes in Excel format to allow you to work through each stage, from your top-level vision, values and objectives, right through to your KPIs. Don't worry, even if you're not sure about some of these, we'll help you along the way!

Feeling sick and tired of endless spreadsheets that need regular updates to keep them accurate? Pick your Cascade strategy plan template from our list of the most popular templates in our library. 

Do you need help with the development of your strategy? Book a demo with one of our strategy experts and learn how to execute your plan with Cascade’s platform.

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