7 steps to an awesome strategic plan
No matter what the size, every business needs a plan in order to succeed in the near and distant future.
"A strategic plan is a vision of where the company wants to be," said Frank Logan, chief executive at Chesapeake Advisory Partners, which provides startup assistance and strategic marketing for technology companies. "It is the owners' and the stakeholders' wishes and dreams."
Ron Verostek, president and CEO of Phoenix Group in Chesapeake, said his company has done five externally facilitated strategic planning sessions over the past three years, completing a two-day session in June.
A firm believer in the process, Verostek, a retired U.S. Navy captain, said he successfully used strategic planning during his military career.
"It gives strong direction toward achieving a healthy and successful business," Verostek said.
While Logan said there is no specific map to develop a strategic plan, there are some broad guidelines small companies can use:
Assemble a diverse team of company leaders. Phoenix Group included its four owners and six senior-level managers. David Spanka, senior vice president and director of strategy and growth, said connecting people from different departments allowed for productive discussions.
"They give ideas that have not yet been considered," Spanka said. "It also gives some insight to their daily operation and our daily operation.
"It makes sense to do this with everyone because it gives us good alignment as a company," he said. "It keeps us from going in different directions, and everyone understands the high-level goals and can align their decisions with these goals."
Hire an external referee. Phoenix Group used Myrna Associates, based in Silver Spring, Md. An outside facilitator is important, Logan said, because he or she is a non-biased person with no preconceived notions. Facilitators have been through the process with other companies. They provide a framework to make the process productive.
"They are a professional adviser just like an outside accountant is to a small business," he said.
Involving someone outside the company's day-to-day activities keeps the agenda on track and keeps the conversation from veering off course, as the facilitator also acts as a timekeeper.
"The facilitator ensured the sessions were productive and the results were good," Verostek said. "She was completely objective."
Get out of your element. Verostek and his group found it productive to abandon their regular conference room. Instead, they headed a few miles up the road to The Founders Inn.
"That gave us focus with fewer distractions," he said.
Logan said once the stage is set, begin with a basic assessment of where the business is today in terms of numbers of growth, money and trends. Trouble spots should be identified as well.
"The current market for their product and services should be a part of this process." Logan said. "The assessment can be simple or it can be pretty complicated."
Accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative. Once the basic assessment is complete, companies should do a SWOT analysis, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
"Strengths can be something like a unique product the company offers," Logan said.
For example, Phoenix Group provides professional support services to the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and NATO, as well as a broad array of first-responder products to federal, state and local agencies.
The next step is to assess weaknesses - both visible and invisible, Logan said.
"It may be customer service needs improvement, or the Internet presence is weak," Logan said.
Looking at opportunity is the next step. Logan said this should be the vision the company wants to pursue.
Finally, the company should evaluate possible threats, such as competition, the economy, the market for the product or service and any internal problems.
Pinpoint destinations for the business. Next, goals should be decided. No more than five goals should be on the list and no fewer than three, Logan said.
"It is a blueprint to share with staff, partners and anyone associated with the company," Logan said.
Make sure to determine how you will measure progress and success along the way.
"Examples of goals could be to increase revenue by 50 percent or launch a new product in X number of months," Logan said.
Phoenix Group decided on four strategic goals: grow profitably, communicate, mitigate risk and manage the workforce.
Map out a path to each goal. Setting the goals is just half of the process; the next is a plan to follow through, Logan said. What are the necessary steps to reach a goal? What is the timeline? Include action items for each goal.
Once a plan is in place, check to ensure it's being followed. Logan said this can be done on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, depending on the goal.
"It should be laid out just like a budget," Logan said.
Appoint "champions" to monitor progress. Phoenix Group assigns one person, or "champion," to each goal.
While setting goals is important, Verostek said having a strategy to achieve them is a larger priority. At Phoenix Group, the champion and other employees working on the goal meet with Verostek to discuss what has been accomplished and how to move forward with the plan.
As goals are checked, various factors might modify the goal - and that's a natural part of the process, Logan said.
"When that happens, it is good to learn from it and reconfigure it," he said. "It is part of running the business."