Building the Strategic Plan: Part 1

Now comes the fun part of the strategic planning process, building the plan.

A strategic plan should contain elements of “want to do’s” but must contain the “need to do’s.” So how do we figure this out?

The most important tool we can use is the SWOT analysis. As I described in a previous Reflection, the SWOT analysis gives us a true and real description of what is going on with our organization.

When I get started with the building process, I like to take time to revel in the successes of our Strengths. As we review our strengths, I like to look at growth trajectories of our successes and truly understand what we do well. As part of this step, it is time to build some strategic goals that address these strengths. That is, what are some short- to intermediate-term objectives that improves what we already do well or actions to maintain strengths?

As I described previously, a strategic goal should have a time frame and some quantification of what needs to be done. That is, a strategic goal is an objective that should take 2-5 years to accomplish. However, it should not be a description of a specific task or a specific list of identified tasks. Identified tasks, in my framework, are tactical measures. At this stage, I like to have everything developed as strategic goals. And, the more strategic goals that are written, the better. It doesn’t matter if the goals are similar or address the same issue. Go ahead and write them down. In a later part of the process, we will talk about how to whittle down the strategic goals. The main thing is to get them all down for now.

It is typical for most of us to develop tactical measures instead of developing strategic goals. Tactical measures describe things we do. What I like to do is to keep the tactical measures and associate them with strategic goals that have been already developed. However, it is essential that the primary task at this stage is to develop strategic goals.

The next thing to do is to review the Threats. Threats are the external forces that can negatively impact our organization. For all threats, I like to address each with three questions:

  1. Can one of our Strengths address this threat?
  2. Can improvement of one of our Weaknesses address this threat?
  3. Can action on an Opportunity address this threat?

If the answer to any of these three questions includes a “yes,” then we can do something about it.

If all three answers are “no,” then the question is whether or not the threat addresses the fundamental mission of the organization. If it does, then we have to ask the question of why we are not doing something to address this threat. Can we do something and what would it entail? How would it mesh with our Strengths, Weaknesses, and Opportunities? Was it something we had missed in the SWOT analysis?

If we are absolutely sure that there is nothing we can do about this external threat, then we should monitor the threat and otherwise ignore it. It is a waste of time, energy, and emotional strength to focus on that about which we can do nothing. I must admit that I have come across very few threats in this category.

Threats are best addressed by identified Strengths and Weaknesses (“yes” to above question 1 or 2). The reason is simple; we are already doing something that addresses the threat. We may be doing something well (Strength) or not-so-well (Weakness), but we are already doing something. At this point, we should be writing out strategic goals that address the threats.

Next, we should address the Weaknesses:

  1. Can one of the Strengths address this weakness?
  2. Can we improve what we currently do to address this weakness?
  3. Can action on an Opportunity address this weakness?

If the answer to question 4 is “yes,” that is terrific. What we need to do is to develop strategic goals that amplify the Strengths to address the Weakness. If the answer to question 5 is “yes,” then this is also terrific. What it says is that we can develop some strategic goals that involve work we are already doing. Again, I think it is perfectly appropriate to write out strategic goals that may be similar to ones developed previously. The key is to get the strategic goal written.

If the answers to question 6 is a “yes” or if the answers to questions 4, 5, and 6 are “no,” then we need to develop strategic goals about things we currently do not do. This can be challenging in that it asks us to look beyond our current scope. At the same time, it can be exciting to look at new opportunities and actions. Regardless, as the mantra goes, write down the strategic goals.

Now, we should look at Opportunities. There are two components for analyzing Opportunities. First, does this opportunity fit with our mission? If the Opportunity fits our mission, then, what are the strategic goals that address this Opportunity? If the Opportunity does not fit out current mission, but is part of the vision of what we do, then we need to ask the questions (a) do we need to revise our mission and (b) should we incorporate some “nice-to-have” strategic goals that address this Opportunity.

Lastly, we should ask ourselves, are there new strategic initiatives that we want to achieve that was not addressed in the SWOT analysis? In my experience, many of the most exciting ideas can come from this discussion. As far as Opportunities and new initiatives are concerned, I believe that we should document them and include them in the discussion. The more ideas, the richer the strategic aims will be when we develop them.

At this stage, what we should have is a list of many strategic goals. In some cases, it is not unusual to have lists of a couple hundred strategic goals. Many of these goals have associated tactical measures as well.

The next question is how to take this huge list and pare it down to a Strategic Plan. This will be the topic of a subsequent Reflection.

Note: The views in this commentary are my own and not necessarily those of my institution, employer, or colleagues.


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