The template for a basic strategic plan typically consists of a mission statement, core values, a SWOT analysis, yearly objectives, long-term goals and action plans. By including these elements, you know exactly where you are, where you want to go and how you’ll get there. A strategic plan is the roadmap to success. It gives you and your team long-term purpose and direction, as well as actionable operating plans, which is paramount when starting a business.
The problem, however, is determining what to prioritize in your strategic plan to achieve your company’s goals and objectives. And when you’re halfway through the year, it can be hard to realign yourself — and your team — to end the year on a high note, regardless of what came before. Setting these five strategic priorities, however, can set you on the right path.
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1. Acknowledge three kinds of priorities: critical, important and desirable.
Instead of using a ranking order for your priorities, Derek Lidow, a Princeton University professor and the founder and former CEO of iSuppli Corporation, suggests you return to principles based on objectives, resources and timing. Lidow says that “resources reign supreme” because they’re what makes achieving an objective within a set time a reality, not just a fantasy.
Once you determine what resources need to be set aside to achieve your goals over a specific period of time, you no longer need to rank your priorities. Instead, you’ll acknowledge the three kinds of priorities: critical, important and desirable.
A critical priority is something that must be accomplished by a specific deadline, without fail. Declaring a priority is critical means you’re devoting all available
resources to reaching this goal or objective. On the other hand, an important priority is an effort that will benefit your company, but only requires fixed resources. For example, rather than devote your entire team to completing a project, you would assign just two or three team members to the effort.
A desirable priority doesn’t merit specifically committing time or resources to it. For instance, you could ask a team member to start updating software after he’s completed a critical or important priority.
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2. Take a bottom-up and top-down communication approach.
After you’re determined your priorities, you have to effectively communicate them to key stakeholders. After analyzing S&P 500 companies, Donald Sull, Stefano Turconi and Charles Sull from MIT’s Sloan School of Management found six steps were most effective.
They recommend limiting strategic priorities to just a handful. After all, if you have 50 “crucial” goals to accomplish, chances are high that none of them will be done as you spread your resources, time and energy thin. A narrow set of objectives makes it easier to see what’s most important to the company. To make it even easier, provide a brief explanation of what a priority means and explain why the priority matters; attaching meaning and explaining why something trumps other considerations can make it stick.
Then, you need to clarify how a priority will be accomplished. Provide concrete examples of how you plan to go about achieving your goals — with just half the year remaining, you need to be specific about what it will take for your team to make them happen.
After your plan is set in motion, measure your progress toward achieving your priorities. In order to prove that priorities still matter, you need to track concrete metrics like cost reductions or market share. That will allow you to set specific targets for the future. Make sure you show your commitment by setting concrete targets. If you really want your business to be more sustainable, set a target like reducing a specific percentage of air emissions by a certain date.
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3. Get your team involved.
Remember, strategic planning isn’t an event — it’s a process. As such, you should solicit feedback and input from your team throughout the process. Your team provides insights into issues, challenges, concerns and opportunities you may have overlooked or misunderstood. Additionally, it guarantees their buy-in on the strategies.
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4. Encourage innovation.
It’s one thing to encourage your team to be more innovative; it’s another to actually have an innovation strategy that reshapes the organizational culture into a growth company. For example, compare Research in Motion — the company behind the Blackberry — to Amazon, Google, Apple and Starbucks. They continue to be leading innovators and defy expectations.
They’re able to achieve this because they have an innovation strategy that follows these four practices of high-growth companies: They make innovation a continuous process so they can reach new markets before sales decline, or find the next S-curve. They lean on their top existing customers. This builds loyalty and develops a deeper understanding of their problems. They then think like a designer by searching for “uncontested market space” and staying ahead of competitors by using Blue Ocean Strategy and the Business Model Canvas.
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5. Develop values and culture.
Finally, every successful organization has a culture of shared attitudes, values, beliefs and behaviors. When there’s a strong culture within your company, your team immediately knows how to respond and act in any situation. It encourages ownership and builds brand loyalty among your team members.
Think of Zappos and Southwest Airlines. Ask any employee what the vision, mission or strategy of these companies is; she’ll be able to tell you immediately. These brands are also known for having dedicated and happy employees — which, in turn, inspires buy-in from customers.
While the midpoint of the year often doesn’t carry the same feeling of a fresh start as New Year’s Day does, it doesn’t mean your company can write off its year just yet. Focus on setting these strategic priorities so the second half of the year puts you in a great position when New Year’s rolls around again.