From ‘the wall of ideas’​ to a strategic plan: Three key takeaways for success

I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in several strategic business planning processes over the years and have learned that whether you are a large corporate brand or a small business there are three key success factors that were critical to the success of these strategic plan.

1. Two-way communication will save the day:

The best strategic plans I’ve been involved in building have one critical component that makes or breaks its success and that is putting communications at the centre of the process. Communications for every step in the process itself, as well as soliciting feedback from all levels of staff about both the process and the content itself, will ensure that your next three-year strategic plan will get buy in and won’t make a hard landing on launch.

2. Staff engagement:

The people on the front lines of your business most often have the greatest insights into your customers and this can be harnessed during brainstorming sessions and focus groups. The most authentic leaders I’ve worked with truly want to hear from the crowd, and not just implement their own ideas. If you aren’t actually listening to insights and input from every level of the organization during this process, and if you’re just going through the motions, the strategic plan will fall flat. Ideally, you’re already doing this as an ongoing part of business intelligence, but that’s a topic for another post.

3. Identify outcomes as soon as possible and then communicate them:

Don’t let your strategic planning process drag on without determining “if this, then that” outcomes. Set two or three goals early on that tie into the vision and build them into a balanced scorecard to track ongoing success. There are traditional types of KPIs – standard financial health measures and employee retention, for example – and there are non-traditional KPIs which could be related to brand reputation, member/customer engagement or external advocacy (in the case of nonprofits). You (and your team) are the only ones that can determine what those KPIs are and how often you are going to measure them.

Certainly, there are examples of strategic plans that have not utilized the above approach and been successful. As a communicator, the first two tactics resonate with me as the most important parts of the process, whereas a financial manager would point to data gathering and analytics as a priority. What I think is relevant here, and from my own experience, is that communications is a cross-functional lever that needs to applied as a part of the process just as much as data analytics or blue sky brainstorming does, whether your business is big or small. There are many many articles written on the importance of communicating your strategic plan after it’s been created, but it’s key not to forget about it from the start line.

For additional reading, here is a short article on strategic planning and communications: