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When is the Right Time for Strategic Planning?

Now, of course!

The most successful organizations look at the big picture often in order to stay on top of trends, keep pace with customer demands and client needs, and leverage new market, industry and technological opportunities. Having a perpetual learning mindset allows these entities to move with and manage the changes happening around them to prepare and adapt the organization for the near and far future.

Strategic planning is the process that an organization uses to measure its resources, capabilities and opportunity targets to create a plan to best meet its goals and aspirations.

Strategic planning is more than just coming up with a generic mission statement and a SWOT analysis though.

It's important to take stock of your company periodically. Are we fulfilling our mission? Is there anything about our business model or strategy that needs tweaking? Have any changes occurred in the external environment that will impact how we do business?

If you're wondering when the right time is for strategic planning, this blog post will get you started on understanding what strategic planning is all about, and how to time your strategic planning process to be most effective.

Identifying the Best Time to Start With Strategic Planning

Strategic planning sets businesses on the right course for developing their strategy and achieving their goals. However, there are a number of factors to consider before engaging in strategic planning. Here are some to consider:

  • Time planning efforts with your business cycle – strategic decisions will impact your budget so you will want to work out your strategic plan before you get too far into the budgeting process.

  • Schedule planning when you can get the right people to the table. Leaving out key stakeholders who have valuable insight to provide may leave you with gaps in data and undermines buy-in of the final action plan.

  • Give yourself plenty of time to do the discovery work needed (SWOT assessments, market reviews, performance reviews, etc.) before you sit down to make the plan. This underlying data provides critical information that you will need.

How Far Out to Plan?

Strategic planning sets the path for three to five years (typically), though some choose to make plans closer or further out. Plan length depends a lot on industry and how volatile the organization’s line of business is – if it is a slow-moving one, longer plans may make sense. It is not unusual to see these days to see three-year plans.

Another strategy to think about is whether to use a static or rolling plan.

A rolling plan looks at the whole plan each year, effecting adding a new year to the end; a static plan expects to let its existing plan expire before creating a new one. Although the rolling plan format tends to stay fresher because it’s getting a good review every year, either one is fine.

It is important to note to pay attention to timelines when creating goals. It is easy to set the big strategic targets out for a few years, but the process can become daunting and gets muddy along the way if you get too far afield. Be sure to identify yearly milestones for these large targets to make sure they stay on track.

More tactical goals, the ones with specific detail on how to meet the big strategic targets, should be looked at on a yearly basis with short-term milestones of 3-months, 6-months, and 12-months.

By cascading this way – with greater detail in the shorter timeframes – your strategic planning process becomes easier to manage and execute.

Should you hire a consultant or do it internally?

This is a critical question that forces you to assess this next question: Do we have the skillset in-house necessary to create a step-by-step plan?

Sometimes, even the most experienced management team may still have blind spots when it comes to observing weaknesses and opportunities. It is also very difficult for someone inside the organization to both facilitate and participate in long-term strategy discussions.

For this reason, it may be a good idea to bring on a third party with a fresh eye to get the most out of the planning effort.

If you decide to use a third-party strategic planning consultant or strategic planning facilitator to assist in the process.

Why should you hire an outside strategic planning consultant?

  • They have experience in strategic planning which means they know what to do and how to do it better than someone who has never done this before.

  • You'll get advice from experts in a variety of industries

  • You’ll get a clear and unbiased perspective

  • An outside consultant can provide a fresh approach to assessing and managing risks

  • An outside consultant can often provide a more diplomatic approach to dealing with internal conflicts

Those are just a few benefits of hiring a third-party master strategist to assist in your strategy sessions.

Is it Time For Your Organization to Develop or Revisit a Strategic Plan?

So we know that successful organizations look at the big picture on a regular basis, yearly at least with quarterly review of how they are progressing. If you aren’t doing that, it is the place to start establishing this important discipline in your organization.

There are also times, however, when regardless of your regular planning cycle, things are happening that should trigger reassessment and a deep dive on strategic planning. When these things happen, it is a red flag to stop and rethink strategy:

  • Material change in strategic assumptions – these are things out of your control like a market dive, industry crisis, economic shift, or government shutdown.

  • Rapid growth (25%-50%) or more achieved or projected for any one year. The higher the growth rate, the greater the strain on the organization and need for planning.

  • Intense contraction of business by 35% or more, especially if it will impact personnel.

  • New leadership, especially if coming from outside the organization.

  • Any merger or acquisition.

If you're looking for someone who can help you navigate these waters successfully while considering all aspects of strategic planning--from assessing current performance metrics and data-driven insights to creating vision statements and marketing plans--contact Erin today!

As a Master Strategist, Erin has the expertise and experience to help reveal blind spots and identify untapped opportunities to grow your organization.

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