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What is a strategic plan & what are the benefits?

So you want to create a strategic plan with your team, and you don’t know where to start. Or maybe you’ve been doing strategic planning for a while and you want to make sure that you’re going about it the right way.


The good news is that you’re in the right place. The bad news is that there’s no one universal way to do strategic planning. Unfortunately, that’s why so many people create ineffective strategic plans that don’t get executed. We like to call these plans “shelf plans”.


Don’t worry, we won’t teach you how to make one of these shelf plans. In this article, we’ll share with you what you need to know, including:

Why having a strategic plan is important

Going through the process of creating a strategic plan takes a lot of time and energy. The conversations that happen within strategic planning sessions can be exhausting, emotional and generally taxing. But ultimately, they’re important because they guide the overall direction and decisions your team and/or organization makes on a day to day basis.


One of the biggest challenges you might be facing prior to creating your strategic plan is what we call the “Multiple Destination Trap”. As it sounds, your team is stuck in the trap of working towards multiple destinations, having different versions of success, and moving in different directions at once.


If you are stuck in this trap, not only will you fail to accomplish your goals (because everyone has a different goal), but you’ll become exhausted and frustrated. Team members will leave, or worse, they will stay and become apathetic. Does this sound familiar?


The solution is to move your team towards what we call ‘One Destination’. It means that everyone is aligned on what success looks like, the rules and expectations of working as a team, along with the plans and tactics of how to get where you want to go.


Note: At this point, teams often get so focused on the action plans and what they are going to do, that they lose sight of why they are doing it and where they are trying to get to in the first place. Slipping into the Multiple Destination Trap happens fast and without you knowing it, so be careful.


It’s important to start thinking of strategic planning not as a one-time activity, but rather a process that you repeat regularly.


You create and align the plan, execute the plan, review your progress, and repeat. If you do that, you’re putting yourself in the best position to succeed. If you don’t, then you’ll spend a bunch of time and money, and be left in pretty much the same place 6 months down the road - with nothing to show for it (other than a frustrated team).

Before you start your strategic plan

Before you embark on creating a strategic plan, here are a couple things to consider:


  • Who is going to be part of the process?
    • Senior leadership, your board, staff, other stakeholders, or all of the above?
  • What is the process you’re going to follow?
    • EOS, Aligned Strategy Development, Scaling Up, no process, or something else?
    • There are many different approaches to creating a strategy. Having one in place before you start (that your team will understand) is key.
  • What is your desired outcome?
    • What does success look like from this process? Do you want to create space for candid conversations, make a decision about a market or business line to create? Do you want to have a 3 or 5-year vision? A 12-month action plan? Do you want to make sure everyone is on the same page about values and culture? All of the above? 
    • Be sure of your outcome on the front end, so you have it top of mind throughout your meetings and your process.
  • Are you going to lead the process yourself or bring in an external facilitator?
    • You might not have even considered this, but it’s almost impossible to remain objective while also leading and trying to participate. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard to do.
    • Furthermore, as someone who is very close to the problem, you probably can’t fully see it for what it is.
    • An external facilitator can bring a different perspective and ask tough questions that you might not be able to (because everyone knows you). Here’s a link to an article about the benefits of using a facilitator: Benefits of Using a Facilitator
  • How will you track the progress of your plan once it’s complete?
    • You might think it’s early to think about how you’re going to track your plan. Having a clear tracking mechanism in place early on will help you and your team address any accountability or follow-up challenges that might have been prevalent in past plans. 
  • How are you going to hold your team accountable?
    • This is similar to the point above, but relates more to the one-on-one relationship with action plans and what needs to be done, rather than tracking the metrics of your plan. 
    • Setting up a meeting cadence will take some of the pressure off, and reduce the feeling of having to solve everything during the planning phase. It’ll also give you some peace of mind, knowing that you’ve allocated time to expand on anything that might come up. 
  • Whose buy-in do you need to make this successful? 
    • We’ve seen many plans (good plans) fail or falter because they don’t have buy-in from their stakeholders. Those stakeholders could be above or below you in your plan, and they might even be external. Ignore them at your peril.  

Things to consider for the planning process

As mentioned above, every strategic planning process is different. Here are a couple more considerations as you move the process forward:


  • What are the dates of your session/sessions?
    • If you keep talking about doing strategic planning, but it never moves forward, SET THE DATE. Everything will flow from there. 
  • What does the agenda look like? 
  • Where’s the location? 
    • Online or in-person?
    • If you’re doing virtual strategic planning sessions, we recommend no session be longer than 3 hours 
  • What pre-work needs to be done?
    • What do you need to do?
    • What do other participants need to do?
  • How are you going to cascade the plan through the rest of the organization?
    • Where is your plan going to live within your organization?
      • A big presentation 
      • Print a one-pager for everyone
      • Bring it to every meeting
      • Put the strategic priorities on SWAG so no one EVER forgets where they need to focus

The steps you need to take to make it successful

Here are some key ingredients we’ve found make a big difference toward the success of a strategic plan:


  • A specific deliverable that people can expect
    • Even if you take a while to complete it, what is getting done?
      • Vision, values, mission, goals, action plans, scenarios
      • A PowerPoint, a direction, alignment conversations? What’s the outcome? 
  • Clear action items for what’s next and when the follow up will happen
    • What’s happening next week, next month, next quarter? Don’t leave the meeting without some sort of follow-up plan. 
  • The capacity for your leadership team to get buy-in, to execute the plan, and to create change. 
    • Your leadership team needs to be supported with the tools to drive the plan forward. 
    • You could have the best plan, but with no buy-in from above, below, and across, you’re not going to be successful. As a team, figure out what needs to be done to get that buy-in. 
    • If you want to improve your ability to lead your team through change, enroll in our ‘How to Create a Strategic Plan’ course.


In conclusion:

Hopefully this has helped give you a better understanding of what goes into a successful strategic plan.

If you’re looking to do it yourself, now you know what needs to be done and what’s next.


  • Remember that it’s a process, not a one-time activity
  • Be specific 
    • It’s harder, but it ensures your strategy is not open to interpretation
  • Focus on alignment and not agreement
    • You’ll die trying to get stubborn people to agree with someone else’s ‘right’. 
    • Instead, focus on the common ground where they do agree. 
    • If you aren’t moving toward the same place, you’re moving away - and that’s not where you’re trying to go. 


If you're looking for some more guidance, you can enroll in our online course we created to walk you through the strategic planning steps:


If you’re considering your options of working with a strategic planning facilitator, check out our services page or contact us for a consultation: