Strategic planning is a very useful tool to help you achieve your business objectives and stand out from your competitors. No matter the size of your company, the process will equip you with an action plan to guide you in the coming years. We'll explain exactly what a strategic plan is, its advantages and how to put it into action.
Strategic planning is taking time to think about business opportunities, determine where your business is now and where you want to take it. The strategic planning process will result in a plan that will guide you in achieving your business objectives. A strategic plan includes:
Reminder: Strategic planning should be used at all stages of a business's lifecycle (start-up and periods of growth or significant change). Strategic planning is useful even when business is going great and you're experiencing growth. To keep up momentum, you must take a clear position and stick to the plan
Here's why taking the time and effort to draw up a strategic plan is worth your while.
A strategic plan shouldn't be confused with a business plan, but the two plans do complement each other. A business plan allows you to understand how your business works day to day and what must be done to properly manage it. A strategic plan helps you to look ahead. It explains how you'll achieve your goals and make your vision a reality.
Build a team
Starting a strategic planning exercise on solid footing requires the right people. You'll need some stakeholders who are creative and others who have a solid understanding of how your business operates. Of course, to maximize your chances for success, the company head and its leaders need to participate and support the process. It's not only the leaders who should be taking part. Key employees should also be involved. Designate the people who'll be in charge. They'll be responsible for documenting activities and consolidating everything.
Pro tip: Consider hiring an external consultant to help with your strategic planning. An experienced person with no vested interest in the business can help simplify your task, push you out of your comfort zone, and make the process run more smoothly.
Get away from daily distractions
Make sure that when your key people meet, they're able to leave their daily tasks behind for a while. To bring the group together and give them time to focus, they could meet off the company premises (e.g., a retreat). Expert advice: Preparatory work before the meeting can help to generate new ideas. Participants could spend some time beforehand thinking about what will be discussed so they have ideas to share with the group when they meet.
Analyze the foundations
To lay a solid foundation on which to build in the coming years, review the company's mission, vision and values. This will help ensure that decisions made during the strategic planning are aligned with what the company stands for.
Examine previous strategic plans
If there was a previous strategic plan, take the time to review it and do a strategic analysis to see what you can learn from it. Understanding what worked and what didn't will be very useful for building a new, more solid plan.
When you reach the second step, ask yourself these questions:
Gather all the relevant information to help you answer the questions. You could ask all employees, regardless of their level, to send you their thoughts and impressions. Once you've received them all, take their answers into account during the strategic planning process. Next, you might consider:
When you've completed the diagnosis, you can design strategies that are better adapted and well-thought-out. You'll be in a better position to solve the problems you've identified and change your methods, if necessary. You'll also be better prepared to seize the opportunities that arise and achieve the goals you've set.
Diagnostics help you to establish a clear vision for the company and determine the resulting objectives. To achieve them, you must break the vision down into several strategic orientations. Based on the objectives, choose the relevant areas of development that the company will prioritize. Next, establish the sequence of concrete actions to carry out and set timelines. The number of actions and the pace are important things to consider. It's better to have fewer objectives and carry out your actions properly than to have too much to do and discourage your employees.
Generally, a strategic plan is carried out over a 2- to 3-year period. Beyond this time (e.g., 5 years), too many unknowns like the markets and new, rapidly evolving technologies could jeopardize the plan.
Pro tip: At this stage, look at the choices made by the managers and employees. Communication and feedback will increase the chances of employees buying in.
Now the time has finally come to draft your strategic planning document.
The financial aspects are key to achieving your objectives. The document detailing the plan must therefore:
The final step in your strategic planning: do what's necessary to put the plan into action. Follow up regularly on the actions and projects currently being carried out (e.g., budgets). This is an ongoing process: Be flexible, stay up to date on the market and any changes (technological, demographic, etc.) so you can make any adjustments. Remember that when the strategic plan comes to life, it can continue to evolve.
For short-term action plans (up to 1 year), opt for monthly follow-ups. For long-term plans over 3–10 years, follow up monthly, quarterly, and annually.
Pro tip: Consider creating a dashboard to make it easier to follow up and monitor progress.
Good to know: There are many approaches to strategic planning, such as the 3-C method (client, competition, company), the lean approach, the mission-based approach, or a combination of the three. No matter which you decide on, the exercise will help you take your company to the next level.
Strategic planning is a powerful business development tool. The process will serve to establish a plan that maximizes your chances for success. It will also help you stay the course when the going gets tough. Feel free to ask for advice or support from an expert. We’re here to answer your questions.
Any reproduction, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited without the prior written consent of National Bank of Canada.
The articles and information on this website are protected by the copyright laws in effect in Canada or other countries, as applicable. The copyrights on the articles and information belong to the National Bank of Canada or other persons. Any reproduction, redistribution, electronic communication, including indirectly via a hyperlink, in whole or in part, of these articles and information and any other use thereof that is not explicitly authorized is prohibited without the prior written consent of the copyright owner.
The contents of this website must not be interpreted, considered or used as if it were financial, legal, fiscal, or other advice. National Bank and its partners in contents will not be liable for any damages that you may incur from such use.
This article is provided by National Bank, its subsidiaries and group entities for information purposes only, and creates no legal or contractual obligation for National Bank, its subsidiaries and group entities. The details of this service offering and the conditions herein are subject to change.
The hyperlinks in this article may redirect to external websites not administered by National Bank. The Bank cannot be held liable for the content of external websites or any damages caused by their use.
Views expressed in this article are those of the person being interviewed. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of National Bank or its subsidiaries. For financial or business advice, please consult your National Bank advisor, financial planner or an industry professional (e.g., accountant, tax specialist or lawyer).