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Strategic planning.

The Importance of Strategic Planning

Across the globe, CEOs have a problem: lack of time. Contrary to the predictions of yesteryear, many of the technologies and gizmos that were supposed to improve productivity have had the opposite effect. Today, executives seem to have less available time than ever.

All too often, strategic planning falls victim to the modern CEO’s dilemma. With too few hours in the day and too many commitments, most executives struggle to keep up with their daily workloads. Somewhere, in the bloated to-do list, long-term action awaits.

It may sound like a cliche, but for many CEOs, it rings true: You can’t afford to neglect strategic planning. Having a workable strategic plan in place — and executing it — constitutes a vital pillar in the stability of your organization, both now and in the future.

Why is strategic planning so important? It provides a road map that allows you to stay on course rather than becoming sidetracked by everyday concerns. However, it also serves as a guide for daily decisions and a method for adopting a different approach when needed, and it helps maintain critical balance between long-term goals and available resources.

Created and executed properly, a strategic plan provides concrete goals and benchmarks for measuring results. What are some steps you can take to begin creating a new strategic plan — or revitalizing an existing one?

Find Time for Planning

One of the biggest challenges for getting started with strategic planning is simply finding the time. A schedule packed with daily commitments leaves few options, but it’s critical to carve out a regular block of time for planning.

Ideally, you’ll choose the same day and time each week — preferably an uninterrupted block of a couple hours. Once you commit to your planning time, view it as a regular obligation, and don’t let anything else interfere. If your planning will involve other team members, find a regular day and time that works for everyone.

Define Your Mission

Start your strategic planning by identifying your company mission. If you have an existing mission statement, determine if it needs a revamp based on changing market conditions or other factors.

If you don’t have a mission statement in place, create one before moving forward with further planning. An effective mission statement will be broad enough to serve as a general guide for both employees and company leadership, and it will be focused enough to encourage specific actions.

Assess Where You Stand

If you’ve already created a SWOT analysis that remains valid, use it as a tool in your strategic planning sessions. To create a SWOT from scratch, consider the following:

  • Strengths — Your competitive advantages within your industry and your market. You may have an advantage in marketing, distribution, financial management or another area.
  • Weaknesses — Areas in which you can improve. Once you identify weaknesses, you’ll need to decide whether they will act as obstacles in achieving your strategic plan and, if so, what steps you can take to minimize them.
  • Opportunities — Ways in which your company can grow and improve. Are there changes in the market that may work to your advantage in coming years?
  • Threats — Ways in which your company may become weaker. What changes in the market might negatively impact your business model in the future?

Set Specific Goals

Your strategic planning process may begin with somewhat lofty ideas in the form of a mission statement, but in the end, you’re looking for specific, measurable goals. Once you determine what you hope to achieve, think about how you can express those goals in quantifiable outcomes and timelines.

Measure Your Progress

Even when you set aside adequate time and start with a solid mission and goals, your strategic plan may fall short of your mark. You cannot anticipate every contingency, and you will likely need to adjust your plan in the future. By creating quantifiable expectations, you can periodically follow up, measure your success and change relevant components of your plan.

As you gain more experience with strategic planning, you’ll find that your plan becomes more accurate over time. You also likely will find that the process is at least as important as the end result.

Developing strategic objectives for your company gives you a shared purpose and language between employees and executive leadership. The process may have some bumps at first, but over time, it will help move your organization in the right direction.