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Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is a step-by-step process through which organizations engage in two types of activities. Specifically, the organization

  1. Identifies where it wants to be and what it wants to accomplish long-term (often 3–5 years).
  2. Begins to map out how its vision and mission for those years will be attained.

In an oversimplified sense, strategic planning is the process of looking into the future, painting a picture of where we want to be and what we want to achieve in that future, and ascertaining how we will get there. It is a type of "extreme proactivity" rather than reactivity...of planning for the future rather than simply responding to it as it unfolds.

There are a number of compelling reasons for organizations to engage in a strategic planning process, just a few of which are

  • By methodically looking towards the future, the organization creates an opportunity to proactively shape and influence its own future.
  • The organization will develop a clearer awareness of how it is positioned externally, and how it "measures up" internally.
  • It either creates or reaffirms the overall vision, mission, and values of the organization, and refocuses attention on how to bring them to life.
  • It engages individuals throughout the organization in a meaningful and effective initiative.

Strategic Planning—A Four-Phase Process

Many theorists describe and define the strategic planning process in different ways, and as containing different steps and components. The following is one way of looking at the strategic planning process.

Phase 1: Establish a Foundation for the Strategy

To be effective, the strategic planning process must be grounded in the organization’s mission, vision, and values.

  • Vision: An organization’s vision is a brief yet comprehensive descriptive and inspirational statement that articulates where the organization wants to be and what it wants to become in the future. The vision should resonate in the hearts, minds, and day-to-day endeavors of the organization’s employees. It should give those employees an awareness that they have a meaningful opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves. It must motivate them to aspire to the legacy that the vision can create and that it ultimately can leave behind.
  • Mission: An organization’s mission statement articulates, in essence, its reason for being. It may speak to the nature of the organization’s business or purpose, its customers, and sometimes even its employees and its role in the community. A mission statement should be broad (but not overly generalized), brief, clear, unambiguous, and designed to last for "the long haul." The goals of an organization must be based on the mission, so the mission is therefore far bigger than any goal—and thus must be must be able to withstand the test of time.
  • Values: Values are the beliefs on which the organization has been built. They are the tenets that shape and guide strategic and day-to-day decision making, as well as the behaviors that are exhibited in the organization. Organizations identify values, in part, as a way to clearly guide those decisions and behaviors. Values are often represented in terms and principles such as integrity, honesty, respect, and so on.

Phase 2: Develop the Strategic Plan

Formulating a strategy on the basis of deliberately crafted statements that articulate the mission and values of the organization is critical, but it’s only the first step. The next step is to actually develop the strategic plan.

There are several key components to the development phase of the strategic plan.

SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)

A SWOT analysis is conducted to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses that are inherent to an organization, as well as the opportunities and threats that it faces from external forces. Though it sounds relatively simple and straightforward, the process of conducting a SWOT analysis can become challenging, in part because it is often difficult for organizations—as it is for people—to see themselves objectively.

When examining "strengths" and "weaknesses," it is necessary for analysis to be directed inward. This clear and objective assessment of the organization would ascertain the resources of the organization, including, but not necessarily limited to

  • Human
  • Financial
  • Technological
  • Capital
  • Brand image

Opportunities and threats, conversely, look outward at factors such as competition, economic trends, customer needs and wants, and legislative or regulatory activity. This process, known as environmental scanning, is explored more thoroughly in "Environmental Scanning—An External Perspective," later in this chapter.

Generate Strategic Objectives

Once the SWOT analysis is completed, the outputs of that analysis can and should be scrutinized and, to the degree possible, addressed. Once that process has been completed—or at least has been begun—it’s time to begin generating ideas that will eventually grow, develop, and be cultivated until they take the shape of organizational objectives.

These organizational objectives must be translated into specific strategies that enable each department, division, or other organizational unit to contribute directly to the attainment of the organization’s overall objectives. In order for this to happen, a top-down/bottom-up approach similar to that described in the performance management process must be implemented throughout the organization (see Chapter 5). To oversimplify the process, like any pyramidal structure—and even like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (see Chapter 2)—goals at the "lower," more functional levels of the organization must be attained in support of the more overarching objectives of the organization. Keep this process building and you’ll be well on your way to bringing the vision, mission, and values of the organization to life in a highly tangible and visible manner.

Phase 3: Implement the Strategic Plan

Similar to Fayol’s "directing" stage, the implementation phase is, once again, where "the rubber meets the road." Strategies become tactics and tactics become operationalized. Management functions—from planning through controlling—are used to make the strategies a part of the day-to-day fabric and functioning of the organization. Since, at this level, we have also reached the point at which individuals will have a very real, albeit somewhat indirect, impact on whether the organization’s objectives are attained, performance management principles become critical, as well (see Chapter 5).

Three factors that are critical to successfully implementing any strategic plan are commitment, credibility, and communication.


It is absolutely critical to secure the support and commitment of leaders at all levels of the organization—particularly the upper levels—before even entertaining the idea of creating (let alone implementing) a strategic plan. This commitment can and should encompass everything from seeing the strategic process through to its conclusion, to striving to achieve the goals and implementing the changes that are generated through this process.

In short, strategic plans that sit on a shelf are useless. Talking the talk is not enough. Walking the walk is mandatory. Without commitment, a strategic plan is not only useless—it might even do more harm than good.


Credibility is created and sustained through representative participation from all levels of the organization, through a commitment to follow through on every step of the process (rather than "short cutting" the process), and through clear, complete, and appropriate documentation of the process.

Phase 4: Evaluate the Plan, Process, and Performance

Evaluating how well a strategic plan was envisioned, designed, and implemented is an involved process, as any evaluative process is. In Chapter 5, we provide a more in depth discussion of any evaluative process as explored through ADDIE. Revisit the "E" in ADDIE, and also seek other sources and ideas for evaluating a plan, the process for developing that plan, and the overall performance against that plan.

Perhaps most importantly, be prepared to incorporate changes, insights, and revisions. Holding on to a flawed design or an ineffective implementation process is like "spending good money after bad." In an organization, the "currency" in question may be your own reputation and credibility, so be prepared to flex.

Review Break

Strategic planning helps the organization look towards the future, and to begin to shape how it will position itself for that future.

One element of strategic planning that was mentioned in the last section was "external scanning." Let’s take a closer look at that particular component.

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