Mueller - Strategic planning

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

As the end of the year approaches, we should be thinking about setting some time aside for some planning for the next year. Start with a SWOT analysis -- identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. These factors can be identified by the organization as a whole, the departments within an organization or even by individual members of the organization. One may need to ask outside vendors and customers for their take on this in regard to the organization.

Then with data and comments in hand, follow these steps to simplify the SWOT analysis into an easier track to work with:

Step One: Define our "as is" list

These are critical areas that are key to our business success. These might include image, customers, employees, financial flow, continual and targeted growth, and production, marketing, and facilities, and professional/personal development.

Next step: Create our vision

This is also what I call the "should be" for our businesses. In each of the above areas we need to develop a vision of where we want to be. How will things look when we reach our expectations in each area? Remember to do some "big-picture thinking" -- think about all of the possibilities, large and small. This will be the vision for the future.

I often have team members draw their visions for their organizations on paper -- what will we look like as an organization, and as individuals within the organization, when we are "living the vision?"

Step Three: Target for improvement

Go back to those key areas within our business and rate each of them on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most effective, and 1 being less than adequate. Review the ratings, and select the three or four top areas where we may have an opportunity for improvement. Are these the areas, that when improved to a higher number closer to 10, will produce significant results that will move us closer to our vision?

Sometimes it is not worth improving on the 2's and the 3's. Sometimes, we may have a greater impact moving the 6's and 7's up a couple of points. It is often better to have two strong areas of 10's then many 5's. (John Maxwell explains this is also important in regards to targeting the strengths of individuals in an organization as well) We must consider this carefully.

Step Four: Create a plan for action

This is a time when we must really use our big-picture thinking. Brainstorm, get lots of input from associates. If we are sole proprietors, we must read books and talk with other successful entrepreneurs. Try to picture all of the possible actions that could move us toward the vision. This is the time to think outside the box.

Now, if we make a list of these actions, we can group them by categories to match our key areas, or we can group them by the manner in which they need to be carried out. We can also prioritize them in order of importance, or by ease of accomplishment.

Step Five: Implementation

This is the time for accountability. Each task will have a person assigned to it. For large organizations or just one-person companies, it is critical to set time parameters. We must all know the expected results, and there must be a time set to accomplish the task. We must review the progress regularly, perhaps bi-weekly or monthly.

We might set up a communication system to track everyone's progress. For actions of a large scope, we might want to create a visual management chart for everyone to see and be inspired by. We might want to build in rewards, celebrate small successes along the way.

If the system is failing, we must be ready to re-assign tasks. Some actions may need to be broken down into smaller, easier tasks that will facilitate easier completion. An action plan should be like setting goals. Remember the SMART formula -- specific, measurable, attainable, relative to everything else, and time-sensitive.

One business leader I know spends an entire day looking back over his business calendar, day by day and evaluating his time. Was it productive, both in terms of results and profitability? Or, was it time well spent in terms of an investment in future business -- did that business come to fruition? I plan on blocking an entire day to do the same, and I challenge you to as well.

And the last step is to enjoy the fruits of our labor! Of course, the market may change and external influences and internal changes may cause us to modify the plan mid-course. Be prepared. And, of course, after the plan is achieved, it is probably time to schedule another strategic planning session -- just as the world is ever changing, we need to be adapting to those changes within our organizations to achieve peak performance

Sharon Mueller is president of Success Skills, a staff development and training company committed to the success of a client's enterprise through improving the performance of employees and processes within the client's organization. She can be reached at 332-0900 or

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