Have you thought about strategic planning lately?

By Jennifer Pellersels, Generation Next Vice Chair, Altec Industries

This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of Generation Next Edition.

Have you participated in a strategic plan? I know when I first started out my career at Altec I never thought about a strategic plan; all I wanted to do was to do a good job, to do the task at hand, and to volunteer in the community. Yes, I took business classes in college where I learned about business planning. I don’t know about you, but when I graduated college I didn’t remember everything I was taught.

Early in my career, I was what you call a “tasker”; I put out fires or accomplished tasks for the day. I never thought about projects or strategic initiatives that would show an impact two to five years in the future. It wasn’t until two years into my career when my current boss, who has been my mentor and friend, taught me about strategic planning. Since then, I have had the opportunity to put together a few strategic plans for nonprofit organizations and the department in which I work. I now know how important it is to have a plan. I am much better at having a vision by focusing on projects that support the overall plan.

Not just a document

Strategic planning isn’t just a document with ideas – rather, it’s all about creating a game book or plan so people can actually put the ideas into action. For example, coaches don’t just go to a game and wish the players good luck. No – coaches come prepared with a plan on how to play the game. They build it by investing hours into studying opponents, and analyzing the team’s advantages and disadvantages. Coaches put their plan and vision into action.

To successfully put ideas into action, it’s recommended to be prepared with a strategic plan. What’s the risk of not having a plan? Your management team, board, or even employees won’t know what direction the company is going. This could lead to miscues and decisions made within the company.

The plan considers your company or department’s mission and vision, and will enable your employees or key decision-makers to do their jobs without running all decisions through the ownership level. The mission and vision should state the main objective, as well as the outlook for the company or department. This sets the stage for the rest of the strategic plan.

Although there is no right or wrong answer on ideas or plans, I have found a few essential areas within a strategic roadmap. These important sections are: focus areas/objectives; strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT), and a balance scorecard. I recommend putting together a SWOT analysis to identify areas in which your company or department are doing well, and areas that need improvements. You must be brutally honest for this to work. It is ok to bring out the “skeletons in the closet.” The only way an organization will improve is to understand their weaknesses, opportunities and threats. 

Strengths are good to recognize and should not be ignored, however; the other areas need attention in the next one to five years. For those that do not remember, strengths are areas in which the organization excels, and weaknesses are areas in which the organization needs to improve. Strengths and weaknesses look inside the organization, whereas opportunities and threats can help evaluate ideas outside the organization. 

Real-life example

When I helped coach girls’ softball, I had to look at each player’s SWOT. This helped me coach them to be a better pitcher or softball player. I would look at their pitching form, warmups, how they threw the ball, and how many times they practiced each week. These were short-term assessments if the player could adjust, but sometimes it took a player one or two years before we saw improvement in their pitching.

SWOT evaluation will allow you to define four or five major focus areas or objectives in which you want to see an improvement within the next one to five years. Each focus area has a plan and key objectives, allowing team members to make decisions. The focus areas’ objectives should tie into the last point – the balance scorecard. A balance scorecard has four areas in which a company or department needs to define key metrics. These are: financial, operations, learning and growth, and customers. Balance scorecards are essential, as you can keep track of where you are and if you are heading toward the goals you have identified. 

Stay focused

In summary, if you are feeling frustrated because your company, department or organization isn’t achieving its objectives, as yourself if there is a strategic plan. If not, get someone with experience in strategic planning to help you out. If yes, maybe it is time to dust it off and review it. It should be reviewed with your team at least once or twice a year. Keep a copy in front of you. This will help keep you focused.