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An Introduction to the Complete Strategic Planning Process (Step-by-Step Guide)

By Jason Heckl - January 17, 2020

The strategic planning process contains various steps, exercises and opportunities to develop a culture of alignment and follow-through within your organization. This resource will serve as a step-by-step overview for the strategic planning process. Whether you're gearing up to lead your own strategy session, or plan on attending and participating in one, this guide will help you through each stage of the planning process. 

If you are just starting the strategic planning process, make sure you are asking the right questions:

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  • Getting Alignment

Without alignment among the departments and individuals within your organization, a strategic plan will not go far. It's important to foster that alignment early on in the strategic planning process, in order to generate buy-in from your team, and to ensure that everyone is moving towards the same organizational goals. 

Developing alignment is best done face-to-face, but can involve a combination of different strategies, including one-on-one interviews, questionnaires and team brainstorming sessions.

For more on how to generate alignment and buy-in:

  • Developing a Vision

The vision is something that everyone in your organization can work toward, and it will help guide the decisions and goals your team creates. Fostering alignment will help ensure that each person within your organization is making decisions that will move the company towards that vision. One of the ways we help organizations develop their vision is by getting leaders to imagine what the future looks like 3 or 5 years from today, down to the last detail. This will help you to define what success looks like, and to understand when you've arrived at that future. 

For more on how to develop an organizational vision:


  • Mission or Purpose

After you've reached agreement on a vision, it's time to determine your organization's purpose, or mission. For some organizations, most notably non-profits, the mission may be more important and may represent a more accurate target than the organization's vision. By asking questions like "What do we do?", "Why do we do it?", and "Who do we do it for?", you'll arrive at the purpose for which your organization exists.

For more on how to develop an organizational purpose and unite your people:


  • Defining Values

Values are the beliefs that will guide the actions and behaviours of your organization. Your organizational values will go hand in hand with it's culture if your team  truly believes in and represents those values. Not only do the values of the organization need to be aligned among departments and teams, but each individual's values must align with the direction of the organization.

For more on developing and defining your organizational values:



  • SWOT Analysis

Once you've decided where your organization is heading and why, it's time to dissect your organization, pick it apart, and from there decide how to strategically move forward. The SWOT analysis is a great place to start, and should also be done collaboratively. After completing this analysis, your organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats will be all out on the table.

For more on how to properly conduct a SWOT analysis:


  • PESTLE Analysis

The PESTLE analysis is another great tool to examine the external environment that your organization operates within. Also to be done as a team, the PESTLE analysis breaks down the political, economic, societal, technological, legal and environmental factors that will impact your organization or industry.

For more on how to properly conduct a PESTLE analysis:


  • Defining Risks

Just as important as deciding on a direction to go, your organization needs to plan for and prepare itself for the risks and roadblocks it faces. Asking each other what could go wrong is not only a great way to plan for risks, but it increases your teams involvement and buy-in with the strategic plan. When working with organizations, we have them work through a risk management plan in order to weigh and prioritize different risks to prepare for.


For more on how to create your own risk management plan: 

Create a Risk Management Plan 

  • Create Strategic Priorities

Once you've determined the ideal future and identified the external factors, values and risks that will impact your organization, it's time to start setting your plan in motion - starting with strategic priorities. Think of strategic priorities as broad areas to focus on, such as revenue, employee retention or customer service. Keep in mind, it's important to minimize the amount of strategic priorities to 3-5 in order to narrow the focus and make progress.

For more on how to set strategic priorities for your plan:

  • Develop Goals

Once you've decided on a few strategic priority areas to focus on, it's time to zoom in and develop 3-5 measurable goals for each priority area. Goals should be specific, measurable, and time-based. In other words, you want to make sure it's clear when goals have been reached or not reached. Using the SMART framework is a great way to get started on developing those goals.


We created a free Goal Setting Guide & fill-in-the-blank Worksheet you can download here:

Access our Goal Setting Guide & Worksheet
  • Communication Plan

After you've decided on some organizational goals and how to reach them, it's time to develop a communication plan in order to share the strategy with the entire organization. The communication plan will include what the organization plans to accomplish, who will be involved and what the desired results are. By the time it's completed, each type of communication will have an assigned audience, a message, objective and deliverable.

For more on creating a communication plan and improving the communication within your organization: 


  • Execution

When all is said and done, the success of your strategic plan will come down to your team's ability to execute. It's important to have an action plan in order for your team to be aware of who is in charge of what action, when each action is due, and how they're working towards the goals of the organization.

A major part of the execution strategy should be how often your organization, department, team and individuals meet to discuss the progress of the strategy. Having a meeting cadence is a great way to hold each member of your organization accountable.

For more on how a meeting cadence can help your organization meet it's goals:

How to Improve Strategy Implementation with a Regular Meeting Schedule

  • Culture

Culture is a constantly changing set of beliefs, attitudes and values that exists within every organization. Developing a positive workplace culture is a vital part of meeting your organizational goals and driving results. Employees with personal goals and values aligned with those of the organization will influence the culture in positive way. Although culture cannot simply be created from the top down, leaders can influence it by setting an example.

For more on how to develop a positive workplace culture within your organization:

Developing a Positive Workplace Culture


Hopefully this guide has given you an idea about how the strategic planning process is structured. 

If you're creating your own strategic plan, our video course will break down how to execute each step in the process, allowing you to create and deliver a complete strategic plan for your team: