Strategic Planning

Leadership is vital for the functioning of the family, group, society, business, government or any other organization. Since planning, executing, reviewing and controlling are the functions linked with every organization, they require a critical force in the form of a leader to design, execute, co-ordinate and control all these functions to help accomplish the desired objective with efficiency.

Strategic planning is an organizational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals, establish agreement around intended outcomes/results, and assess and adjust the organization’s direction in response to a changing environment. It is a disciplined effort that produces fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, who it serves, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future. Effective strategic planning articulates not only where an organization is going and the actions needed to make progress, but also how it will know if it is successful.

Strategic planning is an organization’s process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. It may also extend to control mechanisms for guiding the implementation of the strategy. Strategic planning became prominent in corporations during the 1960s and remains an important aspect of strategic management. It is executed by strategic planners or strategists, who involve many parties and research sources in their analysis of the organization and its relationship to the environment in which it competes.

Strategy has many definitions, but generally involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions. A strategy describes how the ends (goals) will be achieved by the means (resources). The senior leadership of an organization is generally tasked with determining strategy. Strategy can be planned (intended) or can be observed as a pattern of activity (emergent) as the organization adapts to its environment or competes.

Strategy includes processes of formulation and implementation; strategic planning helps coordinate both. However, strategic planning is analytical in nature (i.e., it involves “finding the dots”); strategy formation itself involves synthesis (i.e., “connecting the dots”) via strategic thinking. As such, strategic planning occurs around the strategy formation activity.

Strategic planning is a process and thus has inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes. This process, like all processes, has constraints. It may be formal or informal and is typically iterative, with feedback loops throughout the process. Some elements of the process may be continuous and others may be executed as discrete projects with a definitive start and end during a period. Strategic planning provides inputs for strategic thinking, which guides the actual strategy formation. The end result is the organization’s strategy, including a diagnosis of the environment and competitive situation, a guiding policy on what the organization intends to accomplish, and key initiatives or action plans for achieving the guiding policy.

Michael Porter wrote in 1980 that formulation of competitive strategy includes consideration of four key elements:

  • Company strengths and weaknesses;
  • Personal values of the key implementers (i.e., management and the board);
  • Industry opportunities and threats; and
  • Broader societal expectations.

The first two elements relate to factors internal to the company (i.e., the internal environment), while the latter two relate to factors external to the company (i.e., the external environment). These elements are considered throughout the strategic planning process.

Inputs

Data is gathered from a variety of sources, such as interviews with key executives, review of publicly available documents on the competition or market, primary research (e.g., visiting or observing competitor places of business or comparing prices), industry studies, etc. This may be part of a competitive intelligence program. Inputs are gathered to help support an understanding of the competitive environment and its opportunities and risks. Other inputs include an understanding of the values of key stakeholders, such as the board, shareholders, and senior management. These values may be captured in an organization’s vision and mission statements.

Activities

Strategic planning activities include meetings and other communication among the organization’s leaders and personnel to develop a common understanding regarding the competitive environment and what the organization’s response to that environment (its strategy) should be. A variety of strategic planning tools (described in the section below) may be completed as part of strategic planning activities.

The organization’s leaders may have a series of questions they want answered in formulating the strategy and gathering inputs, such as:

  • What is the organization’s business or interest?
  • What is considered “value” to the customer or constituency?
  • Which products and services should be included or excluded from the portfolio of offerings?
  • What is the geographic scope of the organization?
  • What differentiates the organization from its competitors in the eyes of customers and other stakeholders?
  • Which skills and resources should be developed within the organization?

Outputs

The output of strategic planning includes documentation and communication describing the organization’s strategy and how it should be implemented, sometimes referred to as the strategic plan. The strategy may include a diagnosis of the competitive situation, a guiding policy for achieving the organization’s goals, and specific action plans to be implemented. A strategic plan may cover multiple years and be updated periodically.

The organization may use a variety of methods of measuring and monitoring progress towards the objectives and measures established, such as a balanced scorecard or strategy map. Companies may also plan their financial statements (i.e., balance sheets, income statements, and cash flows) for several years when developing their strategic plan, as part of the goal setting activity. The term operational budget is often used to describe the expected financial performance of an organization for the upcoming year. Capital budgets very often form the backbone of a strategic plan, especially as it increasingly relates to Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

Outcomes

Whilst the planning process produces outputs, as described above, strategy implementation or execution of the strategic plan produces Outcomes. These outcomes will invariably differ from the strategic goals. How close they are to the strategic goals and vision will determine the success or failure of the strategic plan. There will also arise unintended Outcomes, which need to be attended to and understood for strategy development and execution to be a true learning process. One of the immediate goals to be achieved by the action plan includes ensuring that the organization conforms to the legal requirements. A business organization that operates within the legal requirements operates with minimum problems; this directly increases the company’s share-market. Climbing the corporate ladder sees to it that the organization increases both its income and expenses (He, 2012). The other short-term objective to be met by the strategic action plan entails increased customer loyalty. Customers are usually attracted to business organizations that offered good services and respected the client needs. Each departmental head will be responsible for their teams. They will monitor the activities and operations of the conducted for each strategic action. Different organizational teams will take responsibility for the various marketing strategies in the organization. The successful strategists will be rewarded, an incentive for them to work harder to attain the organization’s long-term goals

Tools and Approaches

A variety of analytical tools and techniques are used in strategic planning. These were developed by companies and management consulting firms to help provide a framework for strategic planning. Such tools include:

  • PEST analysis, which covers the remote external environment elements such as political, economic, social and technological (PESTLE adds legal/regulatory and ecological/environmental);
  • Scenario planning, which was originally used in the military and recently used by large corporations to analyze future scenarios;
  • Porter five forces analysis, which addresses industry attractiveness and rivalry through the bargaining power of buyers and suppliers and the threat of substitute products and new market entrants;
  • SWOT analysis, which addresses internal strengths and weaknesses relative to the external opportunities and threats;
  • Growth-share matrix, which involves portfolio decisions about which businesses to retain or divest; and
  • Balanced Scorecards and strategy maps, which creates a systematic framework for measuring and controlling strategy.
  • Resonsive Evaluation, which uses a constructivist evaluation approach to identify the outcomes of objectives, which then supports future strategic planning exercises.

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