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How to Organize a Cutting Edge Strategic Plan


In this paper the Bradley Lambert Int. staff defines strategic planning and gives you cutting edge tips on how to successfully implement strategic planning in each of the four strategic planning phases: Preparation, Situation Analysis, Strategic Assessment and Objective Setting.  These tips will equip you with a step-by-step process to sharply focus your efforts on what is most important to your organization’s future success.  The tips represent over 60 years of the Bradley Lambert, Inc. staff’s experience in leading or participating in strategic plans in companies with sales over $20M.  The tips apply to all businesses, profit/non-profit, large or small.




·        The Strategic Planning Framework


·        Phase 0:  Preparation Tips to Successful Strategic Planning

1.      Initial Preparation Tips

2.      Planning Preparation Tips


·        Phase I: Situation Analysis

1.      Customer Analysis Tips

2.      Competitive Environment Analysis Tips

3.      Internal Environment Analysis Tips


·        Phase II: Strategic Assessment (look for tips in early December)

1.      Tips for Resolving Important Issues

2.      Tips for Evaluating Alternatives


·        Phase III: Objective Setting & Follow-up (look for tips in mid December)

1.      Tips for Formulating the Strategic Plan

2.      Aligning Resources Tips

3.      Tips for Ensuring Organizational Accountabilities

4.      Tips for Preparing Employees to Support the Strategy

5.      Tips for Monitoring the Customer

6.      Tips for Monitoring the Company


·        Definitions



·                    The Strategic Planning Framework


A Strategic Plan is a road map for the Company’s management.  It defines policy and strategy to guide essential decision-making and allocation of resources around business priorities for the next 3-5 years. A Strategic Plan is a statement of the future envisioned by the Champion, based on an objective and realistic assessment of the Company’s performance and the opportunities and challenges that can be foreseen. A Strategic Plan is a statement of action steps to move the company to a "will be" state.

















·                    Phase I: Situation Analysis

In this phase you must determine what direction you need to take.  This is the phase where you focus your strategic planning energy on the one or two breakthrough goals that will produce the greatest benefit to your company, its customers, and stakeholders.  This situation analysis will provide you with the strategy to identify and align the organizational functions and levels necessary to achieve breakthrough goal.   The situation analysis will define and integrate mission, vision & business goals, while defining the environmental conditions, strengths, and needs to deploy change.


·                    Phase II: Strategic Assessment

Now that you know where you are going and who will be on the strategy team, we move to the assessment phase.  In this phase we help you identify alternatives for achieving the strategic goals, key issues for resolution and a selection from the best alternatives for accomplishing the goals identified in Phase I.   We then work with you to translate your goals into a defined, prioritized and linked set of initiatives to achieve them.



·        Phase III: Objective Setting & Follow-up

Objectives must be established and monitored for follow-up to ensure they are met.  We assist our client to closely monitor the plan’s initiatives and activities for attaining the breakthrough goals and to act upon them immediately should they deviate from the plan.  Clients are looking to ensure they stay on track and make changes to plan when necessary.  We encourage monthly reviews are conducted at all levels to keep the activities focused and relevant. The intensity of the reviews ensures communication, completion, corrective action, and success. 



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·                    Phase 0:  Preparation Tips to Successful Strategic Planning


1.      Initial Preparation  - You will have executive commitment, relevant information, and skills.

a.      The strategic planning process is designed to provide an approach to gathering and analyzing essential market data (competition profiles, economic studies, industry opportunities and threats, and critical success factors).

b.     Make sure the boss (the CEO or person who will ultimately own the plan) is the Champion.

1)     Get on his/her calendar to discuss a list of preparation planning topics you will organize in advance.  The objective is to get his/her confirmation on what is expected from the planning process.  Some of the topics follow.

2)     Define the overall goal of the meeting.  Get specifics on what the Champion expects after the meetings are complete.  E.g., Does the Champion want a detailed plan with goals, objectives, action plans, responsibilities and budgets.  Or, does the Champion expect a general consensus of how to meet the challenges of the coming year(s).

3)     Agree on the time horizon: 1 year (usually referred to as an operations plan), 2 years, 3 years, etc.

4)     Recommend the participants:  direct reports, consultants, persons with specialized knowledge in areas strategic to the company, etc.  Identify and involve the individual most likely to be responsible for determining and adjusting resources to accomplish or adjust the plan.

5)     Recommend company-experts to present support material for:  financial forecasts, risk associated with forecasts, company strengths and weaknesses, new product/service developments, and assessments of: strategic markets, relevant technology changes, competitive companies, and economic forecast.

6)     Encourage the Champion to be an active participant, clarify any conflicts with goals or objectives and resolve any issues where consensus is difficult.

7)     Learn from the past.  Ask the Champion to describe activities in prior planning sessions that worked poorly and those that were successfully. 

c.      Handouts:

1)     Make available all back-up materials on existing company vision, mission, goals, objectives and initiatives.  Determine what were the relevant issues when these goals and objectives were set and how they are different today?

2)     Prepare materials to describe the strategic planning process to be utilized.  Include a list of critical success factors.

3)     Create promotional materials to highlight the importance of strategic planning.  It is easier said than done to convince senior leaders to delay the development of tactics for today’s business battles until they address the uncertainties of tomorrow.

4)     Provide a glossary of terms.  It should include all the terms used most frequently in planning sessions: vision, mission, goals, objectives, strategy, action, etc.   

5)     Recognize what type of plan you are developing:  strategic, long range, operating, marketing, technology, etc.  Each of these plans have different requirement for success.  Have copies of each type of plan for reference.

d.     Participation is key.

1)     It is critical to encourage participation by everyone in attendance.  Therefore, determine the appropriate process improvement tool(s) to support this effort.  Facilitation and problem solving are the most beneficial for their ability to elicit participation to gather everyone’s best thinking.

a)     Facilitation  - Utilize an experienced facilitator to conducts the planning process.  This will allow the Champion to be a participant.  It will also assure that everyone participates and his or her ideas are recorded (a basic function of the fascinator).

b)     Contracting and Problem solving – the facilitator will use contracting (getting agreement from participants on the purpose, expected outcome, time set aside to do the planning and rules of conduct for the meeting).  The facilitator must also have various techniques available to settle disputes and analyze difficult problems

2)     Get consensus – this is not everyone’s first choice, but everyone will be able to support going forward with actions arrived through consensus.

3)     Communicate frequently and incorporate various communication alternatives:  broadcast, mail, email, slide and voice integration, etc.

4)     Make clear to participants why they are being involved, what they are asked to do and how they will receive feedback about their input.

2.      Planning Preparation - You will have management buy-in.

a.      Begin the planning process with a notice from the Champion thirty days before the kick-off meetings – this will give participants enough time to adequately prepare.

b.      Get buy-in from participants by meeting with as many of them as possible.  Go over the planning process and the goals established by the Champion.  Get their questions answered.  Create an anonymous list of issues they want to see discussed at the planning meetings.

c.      Prepare and finalize the planning meeting agenda with the Champion.  The agenda must support the key subjects and desired outcome proposed by the Champion as well as address issues raised by the participants.

d.      Determine the tracking and follow-up process.  For example, individuals responsible for actions should report progress against the plan monthly and reset actions if required.  The Champion may choose to get consensus on a tracking approach.

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·        Phase I: Situation Analysis Tips to Successful Strategic Planning


1.      The needs of the customer are understood. 

a.      Define reasons why customers buy (and would not buy) the company’s products and services and the benefits they seek.

b.      Focus customer analysis on the customer’s points of purchase: distribution channel, bargaining power, marketing campaigns, buying trends, etc.  What points of purchase do customers choose?

c.      Clearly define customer service expectations and ensure all employees take pride in customer loyalty by addressing customer expectations.

2.      Potential threats and opportunities are identified in the industry and the competitive environment.

a.      Assess the strengths, weaknesses and strategies of competitors and how, subject to this competitive environment, the company will attract customers.

b.      Understand the company’s market position in terms of customer retention, market share, proprietary assets, and growth.  Alternative actions are proposed for improving the market position.

c.      Assess the company’s (and the competitor’s) vulnerability to influences from economic conditions, technology shifts, regulatory infringement and unpredictable business cycles. 

d.      Identify those critical factors that influence business success within the industry and implement a system for consistently monitoring these factors.

e.      Determine what actions are required to ensure the future perspectives meet the long-term needs of the stakeholders in the atmosphere of evolving opportunities.  This requires critical industry and competitive data is available and assessed regularly, not just at the beginning of strategic planning process.

3.      In addition to the external environment, the internal environment is analyzed to determine the company’s comparative advantages based on size and availability of resources. 

a.      Resources are defined as physical assets, human, interpersonal relations, inertia of past decisions and views, and personal values.

a.      Ensure everyone understands what business the company is in by defining its products, services, activities, markets, customers, distribution channels, resource management, operational systems, management systems and corporate culture.

b.      The company’s current goals and objectives are reviewed to point out strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the current environment.  This should answer the question: how the company is currently competing.  Identification of the company’s competitive strengths and weaknesses will be the key to forming the competitive strategy and resource alignment. 

1.)   Applying the company’s core strengths creates competitive advantage in terms of: skills, knowledge, abilities to support differentiation, increaseing customer value, and developing product or service offerings.  Examples include:  adequate financial resources, good competitive skills, respected buyers, acknowledged market leader, cost advantage, proven management, etc.

2.)   Determined how the company’s strengths and weaknesses relate to opportunities and threats facing it.

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·        Phase II: Strategic Assessment Tips to Successful Strategic Planning


1.      Identify criteria for evaluating alternatives for accomplishing the goals identified in Phase I.  E.g., market leader, growth rate exceeds industry, high degree of customer retention, possessing a proprietary position, cost-benefit models, resources alignment, etc.


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·                    Phase III: Objective Setting & Follow-up Tips to Successful Strategic Planning

1.      Align resources:

a.      Commit the required resources to achieve each strategic objective.  E.g., implementing a communication system that provided strategic information to all stakeholders. 

b.      Employ a cost-benefit approach to resource allocation with priorities (criteria for selection) directed by the strategic plan.

2.      Ensure organization accountabilities:

a.      Articulate what the company wants to do, how and when. 

b.      Instill accountability and measures of success. 

c.      Establish goals that are challenging, but realistic.  Include performance evaluations that are comprehensive and well-substantiated.  Reward employee accomplishments.

d.      Ensure employees and partners clearly understand the company’s competitive advantages and how their roles support the company’s strategy.  Create an approach to track and communicate performance to strategic plans and actions.

e.      In addition to the strategic planning process, which describes how the business units will effectively plan together, the process should specify how its business units will contribute.

3.      Prepare employees to support the strategy.

a.      Make sure training is aligned with strategic goals. A skills assessment defines the need for employee training to support strategic goals and performance improvement.  The company should be committed to developing employees who are committed to carrying out its vision.

b.      Employees are encouraged to show initiative.  The company takes the employee goals and aspirations into consideration during strategy reviews.

c.      Assess whether the company should reorganize to advance its strategy and to facilitate inter-business collaboration, flexibility and innovation (not allow company political influences).

d.      Align strategy and tactics.  Ensure managers understand the broader implications of their tactical decisions.

4.      Monitor the customer:

a.      Keep track of your customers to know when their buying trends change. 

b.      Incorporate a system that monitors key influences within the industry.  Key influences are factors that drive a successful outcome, i.e., the customer selects our product or service.

5.      Monitor company performance.

b.      Managers are regularly provided with current information to make informed decisions to support the strategy in their area of responsibility.

c.      The strategic plan and progress against key objectives is communicated and employee feedback is solicited.

d.      A results-oriented performance management system is in place to provide rewards and consequences for employee achieving their goals.  Further, the reward system is monitored for effectiveness.


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·        Definitions

Strategic Plan

A plan that guides the entire organization over a period of 3-5 years

Long Range Plan

Sometimes used in place of a Strategic Plan and usually shorter, i.e. 2-3 years

Operating Plan

The first year of the Strategic Plan that details actions by all supporting departments, including goals, budgets and responsibilities to achieve tactics

Functional Plans

Marketing; Engineering; Financial; Operations/Manufacturing Plans, etc.  These plans are similar to strategic or operating plan, however they focus only on a function or department.  These plans must be supportive of the overall plan.  E.g., if the overall plan calls for sales growth of 10% per year, the marketing plan must have that as their goal with a plan to make it happen


A one-sentence statement that everyone understands and can get behind.  E.g., Lexus’ vision – “Beat Benz”.  It is a brief statement of how the world be improved if the company is successful.


A broad statement of the overall purpose of an organization.  The mission describes the business the company is in, its short and long-term market position and the manner in which it will differentiate itself from the competition.  It can also include specifics about product lines, profitability, quality of life, and reputation.  E.g., "Our mission is to provide above industry returns to our shareholders by selling high quality, price competitive automobiles with service that engenders loyalty and customer satisfaction."


Broad, long-term aims that define accomplishment of the mission.   E.g., “Maximize net income by increasing revenues and controlling costs."


Specific, quantifiable, realistic targets that measure the accomplishment of a goal over a specified period of time.   E.g., “Increase revenues by 12% in 2002.”  “Limit increases in overhead costs to 2% in 2003.”  “Achieve a 5% reduction in cost of sales by 2004” through increased automation."  Achieve six-sigma level product quality by 2005.


Broad activities required to achieve objectives.  For example the strategies for the above objectives would be enhanced to read: "Increase revenues by 12% in 2002 by adding 4 new sales offices and 12 salespersons.”  “Limit increases in overhead costs to 2% in 2003 by combining warehouses and selling the Oakland storage facility.”  “Achieve a 5% reduction in cost of sales by 2004” through increased automation." 

Strategic Advantage

Company characteristics that give it a competitive advantage and differentiates it from the competition.


Specific steps to be taken, by identifiable individuals and to be completed in a specified time, to implement a strategy and meet the strategic objective.


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