Contributed Column

The Manager's Corner

by Emily Morrow

Strategic planning: a practical guide for businesses

Having a well-crafted, regularly updated strategic plan correlates directly with long-term business success and is a critical component of future-proofing your business. Businesses that are adept, consistent, realistic, and practical strategic planners are the winners. It’s just that simple.

If your business does not have a current, high-quality strategic plan, how might you approach the process?

The discussion phase: before you put pen to paper.

All high-quality strategic plans originate in high-quality discussions involving key people, trusted external advisors, and/or a facilitator. Because having uninterrupted time for such discussions is critical to the success of the venture, an off-site retreat is a good forum for the conversation.

I recommend such discussions include the following:

  • A critical reflection about the core elements of the company’s culture, including its current and aspirational components;
  • A discussion about the successes and challenges to date;
  • An “envisaging exercise” in which participants consider what an optimally successful version of their business might look like in the next 5 to 10 years;
  • Once participants have reached consensus on an optimal vision, some initial “drill down” into what needs to be done to achieve it;
  • Identifying who will draft the plan and authorizing them to do so, providing clear guidance about expectations, timeframes, and outcomes for the process.

Drafting the plan

After the planning retreat, the drafting group should have a good idea of a vision that will correlate with the company’s long-term success, as well as the issues that need addressing. For example, assume the optimal vision for the business is to be “a recognized regional leader providing services consistent with its unique culture such that it doubles in size in 10 years, develops satellite office(s), and pursues several new business lines.” The following topics should be fleshed out in the strategic plan’s drop-down menus:

  • What is unique about the company’s culture?
  • What are the current and potential target-market areas?
  • What are the plan’s financial implications?
  • What are the personnel and staffing implications?
  • What should be considered preparatory to opening a satellite office, and what will need to be done to make that happen?
  • What role will technology play in the process?
  • What are the plan’s business development implications and how will they be addressed?

Adopting the draft plan

Once the plan is drafted, it should be shared with the original retreat participants for their review and comments. If the retreat provided the working group with clear guidance on outcomes for their work, this second discussion should be relatively straightforward.

After the plan has been finalized and approved, I suggest it be shared to some extent with everyone in the business. Generally, I don’t recommend circulating the entire plan because it will contain confidential information. However, an executive summary can be exceedingly helpful and ensure buy-in throughout the business.

Using the plan to guide future decision-making

For the plan to be really beneficial and inform everything the business does, it needs to be a living, organic document. It should provide a lens through which decision-making about important matters can be viewed. Should the business undertake certain new initiatives? Are there opportunities that are worth pursuing (or not), etc.? The document should give guidance on all important issues so there is an internal consistency to the company’s direction and decision-making.

I suggest the strategic plan working group meet at least twice a year, review the plan, revise and update language as appropriate, and refresh everyone else’s memory about what is being done and why. It should become a core part of “everything we do in our business” and the compass for the business. •

Emily Morrow, JD (, of Shelburne and Auckland, New Zealand, provides tailored consulting services to business owners, professional practice firms, executives, and HR personnel.

Index of Contributed Columns

For information on submitting a contributed column see here.