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The Five “Must-Have” Elements of a Strategic Plan

Strategic planning methodologies are like shoes – one size does not fit all.

Some companies use a top-down, autocratic approach, where the plan gets created by a small group of senior managers and handed down to the rest of the organization. Some prefer a more democratic approach, with employees at all levels contributing their ideas and input to the plan. Most companies employ a hybrid of these two models.

The best approach for your company depends on several factors, such as size, industry, culture, type of workforce and management style. Regardless of which approach you choose, however, every strategic plan needs five key elements in order to achieve the intended results.

  1. Mission. This defines why you exist as an organization. Specifically, it tells others (not just those in the organization) why you exist. Ideally, it describes some noble purpose that is both inspirational and aspirational, so that it instills pride in all those connected with the organization.
  2. Guiding principles. Also called organizational attributes, these describe how you expect people to behave with each other and with other stakeholder groups. Guiding principles broadly define which types of behaviors are acceptable and which behaviors will not be tolerated. In particular, they describe how you will behave when faced with difficult situations or challenges.
  3. Value propositions. These explain the value you provide to your organization’s different stakeholder groups, both internal and external. For example, why do customers buy from you? Why do employees come to work for your organization? What kind of return can shareholders expect? How does your community benefit from the work you do?
  4. Destination points. These identify where your organization wants to go within a specified time frame. This is perhaps the most critical element in the whole process because the more clearly you define your desired end state, the greater your chances of getting there.
  5. Areas of focus/strategies. These define, in a broad sense, how the organization will get to where it wants to go. They are the three to five areas everyone should be focused on to get to the destination points. What cuts across several destination points; where should the majority of energy be focused; what must everyone keep in mind as they make investments in people and other resources; and, what guides you on what to do and not to do are the core questions answered.

These five elements form an essential foundation for the strategic planning process. If even one of these bedrock elements is missing, your chances for success become marginal at best.

Once these elements are in place, the next step involves action planning and breakthrough modeling to determine what it will take to get to where you want to go. Here is where you get down to the nitty-gritty to figure out what organizational capabilities (systems, tools, processes, people and technologies) are needed to reach your destination points. Effective strategic planning also requires that you set goals and define team and individual accountabilities, as these link the big picture to individual goals and competencies.

Ultimately, strategic planning is like a jigsaw puzzle – all the pieces must be in place in order to complete the picture. The mission and guiding principles inspire and energize employees, while creating pride and connection throughout the organization. The value propositions provide a touchstone for staying focused on what matters to stakeholders. The destination points provide clear goals and milestones that provide the big picture employees want and need. And the strategies/areas of focus create alignment and ensure that everyone in the organization is working toward the same goal.

Have you got your five must have’s in place? And is everyone clear on what they are?

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