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Opinion: How to simplify your strategic plan

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A client showed the need for simple strategic planning when I sat down for a meeting in his office. He looked up from behind a stack of large three-ring binders from strategic planning workshops he’d paid thousands of dollars to attend, and he said, “How am I supposed to stay on top of all this?”

Maybe you can identify with his frustration when it comes to managing a large or complex plan.

A frequent complaint about creating strategic planning is that it’s a long, painful process – and too often, that is the case. But it doesn’t have to be.

The best plans are brief, yet thorough, and highly effective because they are efficient and straightforward to use. Consequently, they enjoy high user adaptation rates, which is one reason they are effective.

Before plunging into planning, though, first consider the purpose and usefulness of a strategic plan. I find that leaders who miss the point of a strategic plan undervalue its potential benefits.

The purpose of a strategic plan is to allocate limited resources to achieve the organization’s most significant opportunities and to solve its most pressing problems. A business benefits when managers align their department’s plans and execute consistently.

Following a few practical tips can have a positive influence on your strategic plan.

Be realistic. Trying to achieve too much throws your goals out of balance with your resources. You can get desired outcomes without stretching your people or company too thin by remaining realistic.

Don’t use your default method. In a world with uncertainty and disruptive change, you need a simple game plan built around your unique challenges and opportunities. Take a complete but fresh view of your situation and what you want to accomplish. Don’t look at last year’s plan.

Keep things simple. Leaders realize they need to do strategic planning but may be confused as to how to do it. That’s understandable because strategic planning was once reserved for large companies with big dollars to spend on fancy planning retreats. There’s a better way to lead your team’s thinking and get everyone committed – keep things simple.

Stop winging it. You know which activities offer the highest value for your time, but if you get distracted and spend time on tasks with a low value, you limit what can be achieved. Your most important priorities and goals deserve your prime time and careful consideration.

Up your game. You can’t control the economy, the competition or your customer, but you can control how well you plan, set goals, strategize and execute. Even small improvements in your planning approach can yield significant returns.

Stop the chronic acceptance of poorly created goals or strategies. Organizations today require game-changing plans to remain competitive. Setting goals or strategies with a preservation mindset can become a self-limiting trap. For example, consider this goal: “Continue our focus on delivering great customer experiences” has no measurable improvement target and it’s not aggressive enough. You want to up your game, not keep it level.

Revamp execution. When you leverage department plans together, you equip them to achieve better results. However, this ultimately requires effective implementation, and poor execution is the primary cause of lackluster results from planning. To correct this, view implementation as something that begins as you plan, not after you’ve finished. Emphasizing execution from the start lets everyone know how critical it is to your plan’s success.

Scuttle your strategic plan if you created it before the crisis. Projections can be off for sales, capacities, profitability and more. Issues that were in place before the crisis may need to give way to more urgent concerns.

Keep your strategic plan thorough but straightforward, and follow effective execution practices for better results.

Consultant, professional speaker and author 
Mark Holmes is president of Consultant Board Inc. and He can be reached at


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