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Strategic Planning: 3 Essential Keys to a Complete Strategic Plan That Gets Results

3 keys to a successful strategic plan

The strategic planning process doesn’t have to be stressful, cost a fortune or end up in a binder to gather dust on your shelf….

Have you ever felt strategic planning is a lot of work and expense for not a lot of return on your time or investment?

The good news is creating a strategic plan doesn’t require a lot of time away from the office or a huge, expensive team of external consultants.  Instead, it can be efficient because you can draw on your employees’ knowledge and expertise.  The process doesn’t have to cause unnecessary conflict, confusion, or stress. Best of all, it’ll use straightforward language without jargon and bake in accountability from start to finish.

Do you know you need a strategic plan but aren’t sure where to start?

If you have ever felt frustrated when it comes to creating or implementing a strategic plan in your organization, you aren’t alone.  It’s easy to make the process too complicated, costly and overwhelming, unless you keep it simple and focus on just the three essential components.

Click here to take this quick assessment to find out whether strategic planning in your organization is as stress free and effective as it should be!

An effective strategic planning process includes three key components.  If you skip or poorly execute any one of them, you are won’t get results and it could sit on the shelf collecting dust.  Sound familiar?

The huge costs associated with an incomplete strategic planning process and plan are:

  • Loss of leadership in the market and a sense of losing ground
  • Failure to accomplish anticipated operational and financial goals
  • Frustration in your organization and the view that strategic planning is a waste of time, and
  • Loss of credibility of you and your leadership team
  • Loss of the time and money spent on the first step of the process because the next steps aren’t completed

I’ll share with you the strategic planning process we use at The Center for Sustainable Strategies where we help our clients focus on three key elements:

#1 – Answer the “big” strategic planning questions – without jargon or by spending a fortune on a consulting firm

#2 – Set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme – otherwise you’ll have a long list of initiatives, most of which will not get done

#3 – Implement with a clear 3 part accountability plan 

Good news!  You don’t have to hire an external consultant to create your strategic plan, but you (or a good facilitator) can lead your team through all three steps.

The 3 Essential Keys to a complete strategic planning process:

This process is most effective when you schedule three 2-hour blocks of uninterrupted, focused time with all of your employees, or a one and a half or two day offsite retreat with key team members.  If you have more than 10-20 employees, ask for volunteers from different departments to encourage diversity in thinking and keep the discussion manageable. Break people up into small groups to answer the questions and report back to the larger group, otherwise it’s challenging to keep everyone focused.

  1. Collectively answer the “big” strategic planning questions – The big questions to be answered in your first planning session include:
  • Who are our customers and how can we better serve them?
  • Who are our competitors and how can we beat them?
  • What do we do best and how can we build on that edge?
  • How can we prepare the organization to defend against threats and seize opportunities?
  • What are potential “what if?” scenarios we need to consider for the future and how will we prepare for them?

Unfortunately, many strategic planning sessions are filled with inefficient discussions and result in a list of jargon-filled answers.  Encourage the use of clear language everyone can understand, leaving no room for guesswork.   Drill down to specific answers to these questions, so you can take them to the point of creating clear initiatives that can and will get done.

Key Take Away: The big strategic planning questions are worthless if they don’t result in a few clear, compelling strategic initiatives that will grow and strengthen your organization.

  1. Set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme. The most important outcome of the first part of the strategic planning process is to identify the most important priorities for your organization.

In this second meeting you will:

  • Start with your long list of potential priorities from the first session
  • As a group discuss the relative value of each, and
  • Hone in on only a few key priorities

By having a well-facilitated discussion you will have greater clarity about the big strategic planning questions, especially about what the organization should do best.

Once a list of no more than three to five priorities is agreed upon, the group can come up with a strategic theme. This is a one-line statement that conveys the overall compelling strategic push for the organization that clearly aligns everyone and focuses on the direction of your company. Examples could include:

  • Beat (Our Top Competitor)!
  • Zero Safety Incidents
  • Expand to markets in the southwest region
  • 0% medical errors
  • Become a magnet for top talent

Key Take Away: During this session, many companies just settle for a long list of priorities. While the benefit here is usually to avoid conflict, reduce tension and make sure that nobody feels excluded or insulted. However, doing so makes it highly unlikely that the organization will get any of the initiatives completed because of the feeling of overwhelm that will result from a lack of clarity and focus.  People have to believe the strategic plan is do-able and achievable to feel excited and motivated to take action.

  1. Implement. The biggest complaint I hear about strategy is that it never seems to get fully executed or completed. The five biggest mistakes I see are:
  • Not setting clear roles, responsibilities, accountability, and rewards systems
  • Failing to take things off the plate of busy employees, just stacking more work on them
  • Neglecting to commit essential resources to the strategy, including capital, training, technology, people
  • Lacking will to stop old initiatives that compete with the new
  • Giving up after a few setbacks or initial resistance, instead of getting feedback and making small adjustments needed to stay on track

Key Take Away: If you want to have a sound strategy you will spend as much time on implementation planning as you do on the more glamorous work of answering the key strategic questions and setting priorities.

While some organizations are strong at asking the big picture questions, but they fail to follow up or bake in accountability. Some set too many priorities, and can’t say “no” to good ideas, despite limited resources. Others are strong at executing, but lack the vision to develop compelling strategic initiatives. Which of the above areas is or potentially could be the weakest area in your organization?  How can you address them?


We’ve covered a strategic planning process that simple  to implement, efficient and gets results. The 3 essential keys to include in your strategic planning process are:

#1 – Answer the “big” strategic planning

#2 – Set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme

#3 – Implement

REMEMBER: Successful Strategic Plans are a process, not an event. 

After you’ve completed the strategic planning process and have a written plan, including any agreements and clear do-able accountability steps for everyone (including yourself), be sure to schedule quarterly reviews to ensure everyone is on track.  This is a good time to make any adjustments necessary so you can continue to implement your plan.  Create a one-sheet strategic plan and post it so all can see and be accountable.  Celebrate milestones in your quarterly meetings and as part of your posted plan so everyone can see progress in action!

Click here to take this quick assessment to find out whether strategic planning in your organization is as stress free and effective as it should be!