What should be included in a strategic plan? 

by | Feb 13, 2023 | Effective Teams, Innovation, Leadership, Strategy

As a strategy consultant, I’m often asked what should be included in a strategic plan. Strategic plans look different based on the organization’s industry, life cycle, and needs. I’ve developed the following suggestions to help organizations think through the strategic planning process. As the rate of change continues to accelerate, I think developing 3-5 year strategic plans is about as far as most organizations can look out to in the future. However, plans must be regularly reviewed and updated as conditions change.

Vision/Mission/Values: Organizations often use different terminology to describe their purpose. The mission of the organization should be clearly articulated, and all efforts should be aligned with it. If you’re looking for a good resource to develop a purpose statement, I still like “Building your company’s vision” by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. It’s a classic article from the Harvard Business Review. 

Goal or problem definition: For this part of a strategic plan, I think it can be helpful to identify the problem an organization is trying to solve. I studied with Min Basadur who coined the phrase “How might we…?” Basadur uses this phrase to clearly define problems. This question can help individuals and organizations think more innovatively. For example, How might we increase employee retention from 70% in 2022 to 80% in 2023? You can learn more at “The origin of How Might We” by Bob Basadur.

Owner: This is the person responsible for accomplishing the stated objectives. Ideally, you’ll list the name of a person or position who will be responsible for implementing this part of the strategic plan. An owner will likely be an employee or sometimes a volunteer in a nonprofit organization. I caution groups against identifying teams as owners, since that often leads to a lack of follow-through, accountability, and commitment. 

Team members: Here you’re spelling out who will help support these efforts. Identifying a committee or team to support the owner will help with accountability and implementation. The organization might have an existing committee or team that can help, or a new committee may need to be created. This is a great way to engage people throughout the organization.

Desired outcome: What do you really want to accomplish? How will you know you accomplished it? Begin with the end in mind. Spend some time writing a vivid description of what the favored outcome will look like. A paragraph is adequate. 

Key Performance Indicators: For this section, you’ll want to outline key measures for success in the first, second, third year, and so on. I encourage you to really think about clearly articulating your indicators for success to understand what you truly hope to accomplish. Clarifying these measures will help the organization work towards a specific goal. 

Strategies (Year 1, Year 2, Year 3): What work will need to take place to achieve the desired outcome? The strategies need to be directly aligned with the key performance indicators and desired outcomes. Consider the work that will need to take place. 

Action Steps (Year 1): Action steps break down the strategies and initiatives into smaller bite-size pieces. Although I suggested three year strategies above, I recommend revisiting the plan regularly. At least once a year, organizations should review progress and update the action steps. 

Quick Win: With multi-year planning, it is beneficial to identify a quick win to begin experiencing progress and success. Quick wins can motivate team members when the results of a multi-year effort may seem too far away. 

Resources needed: This may include budget dollars, staff resources, or assistance from an external source. Although it can be difficult to estimate a cost, it is advantageous to provide as much information now as possible.

Implementation: Organizations should discuss how the work will actually get done. There may be a need to schedule meetings, accountability check ins, etc. Many organizations spend more time developing the plan instead of discussing implementation, and this can be a major oversight.

I hope this content is helpful for your strategic planning process. Every strategic plan looks somewhat different based on the type of organization, life cycle, needs, etc. Terminology may differ, but these elements can be valuable to ensure a successful planning process and resulting implementation.

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