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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

3 key elements of a success-bound strategic plan

By Calvin Swartz

Every business must develop its own method for strategic planning - but is there a best approach?  Consider these two strategies found at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Strategic Planning Process Visual
Business plans help pave the way to commercial success

Opposite approaches to planning

One business owner is rigidly structured, with a detailed work plan and documentation that covers every step to be taken. Another owner prefers a completely flexible structure, moving as inspired by creativity and influenced by the most current top trend. Which business is most likely to succeed?

Perhaps neither will reach its highest potential for success (although anything is possible). The rigid business owner may be so caught up in minutia that opportunities are missed to take action, adapt to changes, and move the business forward. Myopic focus and time spent documenting every little step and laboring over planning details can equate to time lost in the weeds.

On the other hand, trying to keep up with every new and exciting trend and chasing random moments of creative inspiration can be detrimental distractions that waste time and resources. Such a wide open focus can dilute brand identity and create confusion for all involved, putting the business on a sure path to failure.

These two businesses reflect two sides of the same coin – too much focus and not enough. To achieve success, you must consider both sides of that coin – you can’t have one side without the other.

Find the happy medium

Focus your business on providing value and fulfilling the needs of your industry while increasing your business reach and growth.  The happy medium is the point of balance in between. Building a strategic plan to steer your business toward success requires investment in three key elements: 
  • Communication
  • Action
  • Follow up

Inter- and intra-communication

Open communication across all channels is essential. Consider inter-communication, within your organization, and intra-communication with your industry, suppliers, customers, and prospects.

Inter-communication with staff. Talk with the people inside your business. Listen to what they have to say. Sometimes it’s the workers “in the trenches” who come up with the best ideas. An organization with a large communication chasm between top management and employees is doomed to fail. You can motivate your employees to their highest level of productivity by listening to them and placing value on their input.

Intra-communication with industry. Talk with other professionals in your industry. Build a reputation as a credible authority by communicating valuable information and insight. Share with your community through your business blog and social networking on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. Build a strong network with industry suppliers.

Intra-communication with customers. Talk with your customers and prospects. You should know what your customers are thinking and saying about your business. Demonstrate concern for their needs and create ways for them to communicate with you. Sharing their positive experiences will help you convert prospects into buyers.

Value-added action plan

Without action, a strategic plan is simply a list of lofty goals and great ideas. To make your plan happen, you need:

Vision and a mission. Your strategic plan should include a clear vision that expresses the values of your organization and its purpose for being in business. Your vision and mission form the foundation on which your business is built and should express the value it will contribute.

Goals and objectives. Your action plan should contain 1) specific goals – the bigger picture items you wish to accomplish, and 2) objectives – the individual tasks to be done to achieve those goals.

Implementation plan. Finally, you need execution strategies to successfully launch your plan. Once you know the goals and objectives you must accomplish, how will you make them happen and who will do that work? Your plan should also consider the barriers and challenges that will impact plan implementation and include strategies to resolve those issues.


Periodic reviews over time are key to maintaining control and resolving problems quickly. Here’s a video from McDonald’s that illustrates the process their analysts used to evaluate competitive advantage and modify marketing strategies.

Monitoring. A successful strategic plan is monitored against established milestones for mission accomplishment – objective completion and goal achievement. Without measures, your business will float along and you may not realize until too late that you are lost again in the weeds.

Evaluating. How is your business measuring up? What changes do you need to make? What new industry trends are impacting your potential? Evaluate your plan against definitive standards and see how it compares with similar organizations in your industry. Focus on the trends that are most relevant to your business rather than attempt to capitalize on every new excitement.

Modifying. Allow the flexibility to adapt and make changes to your strategic plan as needed.
Your strategic plan will achieve success through: 1) Effective communication with your staff, industry, and clientele; 2) Vision, mission, goals and objectives that add value to your industry; and 3) Follow up bymonitoring achievement, evaluating your market position, and making the changes necessary to keep moving forward.

About the author: Calvin Swartz is President and Founder of Progressive Success Corporation, a management consultancy specializing in executive leadership coaching and training. Reach out to Cal at AskCal@cox.net or on Twitter at @AskCalS.

Images: 1. BetterBizIdeas, "Strategic Planning" CC BY 2.0   2. Author owned and licensed