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"Setting Strategic Direction for Your Company – Back to Basics"
By Barri Carian, principal, Carian Consulting


During the dot.com mania, strategic planning took a back seat to creating thick business plans with a lot of colored charts and unrealistic pro-formas. These plans focused on raising money but had little relevance to running and growing a business, and usually sat on the shelf never to be read again. Some argued that strategic planning was obsolete because the business world was changing too fast and companies needed to remain flexible to respond to opportunities -- particularly in the high-tech environment.

Today much has changed -- the economy, the availability of funding, the attractiveness of new business ventures, to name a few. Yet, many businesses still operate without a clear sense of strategic direction.

Strategic planning, when wholly integrated into the company’s culture, operational plans, and performance and management systems, provides a clear sense of direction for all in the organization and a context within which to evaluate new business opportunities and allocate resources. Equally important, functional and individual goals are aligned in support of the company’s strategic objectives, creating momentum and movement in the right direction.

So what are the elements of successful strategic planning?

The 40,000-ft. View -- Where do you want to go?

  • Vision: What is the ideal future state of your company?

  • Mission: What is the purpose of your company?

  • Values: What are the company’s core beliefs, and are they in alignment and support of your vision and mission?

  • Industry trends: What is happening in your industry now and what does the future look like?

  • Value proposition: What problems do you solve? Whom do you solve them for?

  • Competitive analysis: What makes your company unique?

  • SWOT analysis: Where are you now: your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?

  • Strategic Objectives: What are the three to five strategic initiatives that will have the most impact in propelling your company to reach your vision?

The Game Plan -- How will you get there?

  • Goal setting: Determine specific company goals for the next 12 months that will move you toward achieving your strategic objectives.

  • Department goals: Decide how each department will contribute toward the company goals.

  • Action steps: Choose the activities that will have to occur to achieve your goals. Set a deadline for each, and assign a responsible party.

  • Communication: Inspire and update employees along the way.

Execution and Management -- How will you know you’re there?

  • Measurement: Align all operational reporting to monitor your key indicators.

  • Follow-up: Meet regularly to address progress on key objectives, unexpected obstacles or opportunities, and to make needed adjustments to your plan.

  • Recognize and reward: Acknowledge the effort and results of your employees.

Some final thoughts on strategic planning….

Taking a disciplined approach to strategic planning does not mean creating an unwieldy and rigid document. You are creating a roadmap for the company -- setting direction, defining the route, drawing a clear picture of the destination and identifying the progress at checkpoints along the way. Circumstances may intervene to cause some elements to change: the key is to be aware and ready to respond when that happens.

However, changing your strategy often can result in confusion, multiple directions and depleted resources. According to Michael Porter, Harvard Business School, "Strategy must have continuity. It’s about the basic value you’re trying to deliver to customers and about which customers you’re trying to serve. That is where continuity needs to be the strongest. Otherwise, it’s hard for your organization to grasp what the strategy is. And it’s hard for customers to know what you stand for."

Barri Carian is the Principal of Carian Consulting. As a former COO and partner in two successful start-up firms, she now specializes in helping business owners jump-start profits and grow their businesses. She can be reached at (949) 640-2141 or barri@carianconsulting.com

 

 


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