Before even starting with your strategic planning, bear in mind that this is a process rather than a graph or a sheet of paper with tasks and schedules on it. This process determines what your business targets and the way in which it can best reach its target. At the core of this process lies the evaluation of the maximum potential of a business and a clear representation of the connections between the objectives of your business and the actions or steps necessary to complete those objectives.
At the end of strategic planning which acts as a filter for achieving success, you should know exactly those things you or your business are good at doing. But the estimations you will be looking at are a direct result of the value of the information you started with. To help you make sure that the information you employ is indeed valuable, we have listed 6 essential questions to ask yourself before embarking on the process of creating a strategy for success.
1. What is my current situation?
Since quite often acknowledging with sincerity and accuracy where you are or where your business is going can be a whole lot more difficult than you may think, asking for an outside, objective opinion or, when concerning your company, hiring a consulting firm to make the competence/performance appraisal, could be the best thing you can do at this stage. However, learning also to be your own ferociously honest consultant is a priceless quality.
2. What got me here?
While strategy is indeed about outlining what you or your company will do to achieve your goals, at first, just as important is taking your time to recognize those decisions and aspects in the past that contributed to your current position. You will identify mistakes so you can avoid them, and you will identify patterns that have worked to your benefit, so you can repeat and increase their number and strenght.
3. What do I want to achieve?
OK, after the first two questions have been properly answered, now it’s time to have your objectives clearly expressed in terms of what you (your business) must accomplish. This is extremely useful in bringing out the priorities and the order in which to tackle them.
4. What do I need to achieve what I want?
Basically, this question maps your road from your current ‘location’ to your next destination. This is the moment when you clearly index the steps required to reach your goal (you will write down all essential things that will help you be successful such as: strategies, action plans, time-schedules, budgets etc). There is no room for errors and exaggerations here, as this will become your MASTER PLAN, your success will be based on this formula you have created.
5. What are the primary risks and difficulties involved?
Continuing with the honesty required since stage one, this question is about truly knowing yourself and your business and the importance of being familiar with every aspect linked to your area of interest. For example, if concerned with your company’s goal, you must accurately define its strengths and weaknesses in relation to competitors, conduct constant research on the market you operate in to track trends, changes, breakthroughs but also obstacles. Similar to a boxer studying his opponent so he can best compile his strategy against him, you must study what can go wrong so you can always get it right!
6. What if things do not go as expected? Return, Revise, Reconsider
Remember what we discussed in the begging of the article? This is all a process! It means it’s not something you just get over and done with after which you simply mind your business (pun intended) expecting amazing results. While every goal or business is defined and planned around a set of key skills and competencies, you can always bet that on your way towards achieving your goal, additional skills and competencies will have their necessity challenging you. And this is not a bad thing, also remember, as in a journey, at the end of it you will not be the same man that started it. It’s true that at the stage 4 we said ‘There is no room for errors and exaggerations here’ because the less mistakes you make when planning the more likely you are to succeed without major readjustments. However, sticking by all means to that plan in the sense of not being willing to make changes and assuming that you couldn’t have possibly made mistakes when designing the plan is the ultimate mistake you can make.
When you plan and schedule objectives and tasks, you can also schedule regular reviews of the overall strategy. Everything unfolds within an environment and those who succeed are those who can adapt. This stage is all about knowing the operations required in order to readjust in time if necessary so that potential obstacles or holes in your initial ‘plot’ won’t prevent you from reaching your goal.
Whether you have used strategic planning in the past or you are totally new to the “game”, paying attention to the elements outlined in which of the questions above can easily add more understanding to how you can get closer to your goal. Always keep in mind that the real advantage of the strategic planning process is the process itself and not the plan graph or document. It doesn’t matter how simple you start, just start!