Follow These Steps To Help Take Your Strategic Plan From "Just A Plan" To Decisions.

The concept of strategic planning was born in the late 60s into the early 70s. The Stanford Research Institute wrote a report in 1962 that stated strategic planning is, “a systematic means by which a company can become what it wants to be”. Many publications in the following years boasted about the importance of a strategic plan, and company after company raced to create their own plan that would lead them to the promise land.

What has it turned into?

Not many CEOs would publicly admit that their strategic planning feels like eating a Chinese dinner. Full after you get it, but after a little time passes, you wonder if you ever even ate! There has been a true struggle to link the intense planning activity with any real bottom-line revenue growth. Now, this is not all companies, but we have noticed one main reason why strategic planning seems to fail within most companies. The appeared difficult in tying the plan to actual decisions.

Graphs of three-year earnings projections, gap charts, or complex strategy statements do not capture market share, or produce revenue…strategic decisions do.

What To Do

Strategic decisions should be the main output of any planning process. The plan should layout the immediate issues currently facing the company, and if there are more than four or five then they are probably the wrong ones. Decide what steps should be made to change the current course of action within each problem. These should be decisions that NEED to be made now, and should include major risks or investment changes. Start to ask “what should our company do right now as a result of this plan”?

The process is difficult, and it should be. The true definition of a strategic plan deals with the most intricate questions a company is facing. After all the data has been collected for the planning to begin (which is a feat in itself), the job of analyzing the issues and options to resolve them is a creative process. This requires wisdom, and perspective…which can sometimes be an uncomfortable task.

It must come from the top.

The real purpose of strategic planning is to make decisions about the future of the organization, and this inevitable falls in the laps of the owner, or CEO, and his or her key people. In order to make sure that the decisions can actually be made based on the plan, the decision-makers must be a part of the process.

It is vital that this “top-down” leadership is checking in and reviewing the strategic plan throughout the year. The managers themselves are typically performing the day-to-day functions of the company, and therefore should not be responsible for challenging their own actions. Is their current course complimenting the decisions that were set forth to reach the strategic goals set? Many owners and CEOs sit through presentations about current state of the company, but most fail to challenge the current situation as it relates to the plan that was set in motion. We have found the most successful review process is a two-to-three day retreat by the leaders to intensely dive into the current state of the organization compared to what was planned. Due to the focus and preparation for this review meetings, valuable results can be obtained.


Remember, not all promotions and bonuses should be rewarded to the leaders who have met or exceeded the short-term goals. Long-term performance milestones should be added into an annual performance review, to ensure the strategic plans are not looked as as a pointless activity.