What is a strategic plan?

A strategic plan can vary from entity to entity but all have the following three key elements: A Strategic Assessment, A Vision of Future Success and A High-level Plan (a strategy) to close the gap between where you are today and your vision of future success.

What is a strategic assessment?

A strategic assessment can vary from entity to entity, but most include the following:

  • An evaluation of the entity’s performance against current plans and goals. This could include insights from customers, employees, leadership team members as well as board members (quantitative and qualitative).
  • An evaluation of market forces inclusive of market data, primary market research (proprietary and self-funded), secondary market research (data and insights from shared or public sources), and insights gathered from key influencers or decision-makers as part of strategic planning project interviews.
  • A summary of key finding and strategic issues that need exploration and resolution.

What is a vision?

A vision is a comprehensive statement of success at a defined future date, typically 10 years out.  It should be defined for a date far enough in the future that working to achieve it is inspiring, motivating and challenging.  In other words, it should excite and scare you at the same time.

A vision should have a vision statement that summarizes the essence your future picture of success. The vision statement must be written in such a way that it can be shared broadly without revealing any of your secret ambitions.

Each vision is unique, and the construction of a vision statement will vary from entity to entity, but most include the following:

  • A statement of ideal, future market positioning: the role you want to play in the market and how people in the market (customers, competitors, and partners) will define your role.
  • Clear metrics: revenue and profit goals, how large or small (number of employees or geographic reach) you believe you will need to become to achieve your goals.
  • Clarity around how your business model must evolve over time and what new competencies you will need to add.
  • A description of the types of partnership or collaborations will be critical for future success.
  • If possible, a sense of what associations will strengthen your brand and the role these associations play in enhancing your brand equity.

What is a strategy?

Simply put, a strategic direction is a story. Like a story is has a beginning, middle and an end.  In a strategic plan, the beginning is the Strategic Assessment, the end is the Vision of Future Success, and the middle is the Strategy. Your strategy states how you plan to move towards your vision over time.

Each strategy is unique to the entity, their market, their culture and their business model, but all should include three milestones:

Now, the first milestone: now doesn’t really mean this week, it means what you can do now, in the next few months to start building the things you need to achieve your vision.  It could be more research and deeper planning, or it could be something much more dramatic, like reorganize and let go of a poor performing part of the business/entity.

  • In a larger entity, the first milestone is 18 -24 months from the approval of the new strategic plan.
  • In a smaller entity, the first milestone could be 3-6 months.

Next, the second milestone: next is the what needs to happen after you get through your first milestone and are really ready to put all your effort toward new key initiatives in the strategic direction.  This of the first milestone as the ready, set and the second milestone is the GO!

  • In a larger entity, the second milestone starts after the first milestone and ends 18 -24 months later, so 2-3 years from the approval of the new strategic plan.
  • In a smaller entity, the second milestone is typically the following full planning year.

Then, the third milestone: this is not the vision. No planning process can define how to completely achieve the vision. If it can, you have not created a vision, you have defined a goal.  The third milestone articulates what you expect to be focusing on once you are fully engaged the organization in the new strategic direction and it is working.  What new opportunities will come your way?  What is the next set of new markets will you be ready to enter or what new products will you be ready to launch?  How will your entity have evolved?

  • In a larger entity, the third milestone should be achieved 5-6 years from the approval of the new strategic plan. This way the new strategic direction defines a direction through 10 years with a high-level plan to guide it with some level of detail through the 5th or 6th year.
  • In a smaller entity, the third milestone is typically two years out. This gives the entity time to respond to conditions (favorable or unfavorable) that arise and have a large impact on the ability to execute strategic goals without too many months between planning discussions.  Stated differently, the planning cycles in smaller entities should be shorter.

What is strategy development?

Strategy development is the act or process of creating a clear and comprehensive story for progressing from where you are today to where you ultimately want to go. This story is your high level strategy. It is clear in that everyone involved understands and can consistently communicate your strategy. It is comprehensive in that your strategy tells how you plan to progress on all critical factors of your entity’s business model. It is not a detailed operating plan – that is for your annual objective setting and budgeting process – it is a high-level, multi-year strategy.

How do you know you need strategy development?

Strategy development is needed when you observe a disconnect in your team or your activities; when actions are stalled or out of alignment with one another. It is needed when you are spending more time talking about what you should be doing rather than doing it.

We often hear clients report that they are struggling with “communication” or “decision-making,” but those are only symptoms, not the root causes. What we know is that strategy development is necessary when leadership has lost their clarity and commitment. When a lack of confidence hinders the ability to make decisions that guide the future of the entity you need to stop and engage in strategy development.

How do I start?

Strategy development begins with an assessment of where you are today and the beliefs held about where you need to be in the future. Typically, you will find that a strategic assessment brings to light significant gaps in your current strategy. These gaps look like a series of questions to which management does not have common responses.

To confidently engage others in planning, we have developed four essential exercises to draft strategic focus before you conduct your first planning meeting. These exercises are outlined in Cecilia Lynch’s first book Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking. These are the same exercises Focused Momentum® uses to conduct strategic planning engagements for corporations and nonprofits and are the basis of the outside-in approach to strategy development.

How much time does it take?

Strategy development can be very quick, just a few weeks for a small business, or many months for a large company with many product or markets. At Focused Momentum® our most in-depth strategy development engagements, Strategy Summit™, are completed within nine months. This comprehensive planning process includes expert guidance in all four phases of a Strategy Summit™: Strategic Assessment, Strategy Creation, Initiative Development and Strategy Integration. This does not mean that strategy development completely ends. There may be completely new businesses to develop or markets to enter. This execution of the strategic direction often requires more narrowly-defined strategy development, but it is defined by the end of a Strategy Summit™ engagement.

For teams or smaller organizations that need expert guidance with their strategy development, we have designed a one-day workshop approach, Strategy Boost™, where we provide a simplified Strategic Assessment and real-time Strategy Creation and Integration Planning using our tools and group engagement techniques such as Graphic Recording.

For those of you who want to get started right away, invest in my book, Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking and begin refining your strategic thinking today.

Contact us to discuss which approach is best for you.

How much does it cost?

There are always variables that can change these estimates, but a six- to nine-month custom-designed and expertly-executed strategic planning process with up to 60 session participants (a Strategy Summit™ engagement) typically costs between $75,000 and $125,000. This $50,000 difference is completely dependent on the process design. In our experience, the higher end of the fee range is required when there are multiple business lines and thus greater complexity in strategy development, or if there are a large number of stakeholders to engage requiring more time, or you need a significant shift in direction requiring more analysis and deep engagement to ensure a commitment to change.

Strategy Boost™ is less expensive because the scope is significantly reduced. To engage up to 15 participants, the cost is $15,000. To engage 20 – 25 participants, the cost is $25,000. These estimates may change for the design to meet your needs.

Want to find a planning approach that fits your budget?  Contact us, we will explore you options.

What can I expect as outcomes?

When contracting for a Strategy Summit™ you can expect a highly efficient, professionally designed and executed strategic planning process that allows you and your team to fully participate in serious strategic thinking without worrying about the process. Although each Strategy Summit™ is customized, these four phases are always delivered:

  • A Strategic Assessment includes in-depth interviews with all key stakeholders as well as a deep analysis of your current performance, market analysis, and a review of all planning materials and reports. A full survey that pairs with the assessment interview content is also available to engage large groups of stakeholders – such as all staff.Once the assessment steps have been completed, we prepare a compilation for review and use in designing the Strategy Creation Session.
  • A Strategy Creation Session follows the Strategic Assessment. This session is typically two and a half to three full days off-site where the group can focus entirely on new thinking. The preparation for this meeting includes the development of a strategic hypothesis used to jump-start the strategy discussions. This draft thinking is developed with Cecilia Lynch and your CEO or other senior leadership. The strategic hypothesis sets the stage for the right discussions and gives the leadership team confidence to lead these discussion areas in a group setting.Our creative strategy sessions are designed to include up to 60 participants. To effectively manage the engagement so many participants, we utilize all the traditional meeting disciplines such as pre-reading materials, presentations, and handouts, but Focused Momentum® adds expert group facilitation and the artistry of real-time visual creation with Graphic Recording. At the end of this session, the high-level strategic direction is drafted, and the top three to five areas are identified for deeper strategy development for the next phase.
  • The Initiative Development phase takes each of the areas identified at the end of the Strategy Creation Session and fleshes them out in a very structured manner so they can be quickly evaluated and integrated during the last phase, the Strategy Integration Session. During Initiative Development, smaller strategy development teams are formed and given a custom charter to develop a full recommendation that will deliver on the objectives defined during the Strategy Creation Session. These Initiative Teams (I-Teams) use strategy development frameworks provided by Focused Momentum ® We support each team’s leader throughout the duration of their team’s work to ensure they are well prepared to make a recommendation at the Strategy Integration Session.
  • A Strategy Integration Session is the final stage of the Strategy Summit™ process.  This session is one and a half to two full days and is a reconvening of the same group that participated in the Strategy Creation Session. It may also include a few additional people added by the I-Teams. In this session, the high-level strategic direction from the Strategy Creation Session is reviewed, and each I-Team makes a presentation. These presentations add much more specificity to the strategic direction and provide a deeper understanding of the role each recommendation plays in the success of the strategy. Before the end of the Strategy Integration Session, a new, more in-depth plan has taken shape and is staged and phased over the strategic planning time frame. The final deliverable for each Strategy Summit™ is to define an implementation plan for the first strategic milestone clearly. This step ensures that the strategic plan is approved and a process for embedding its new objectives into operational plans is in place.

Each phase of this approach produces a level of strategic clarity. By the end, you have a very thorough understanding of what you believe is most important to do to achieve your next stage of growth. The time is taken to engage a large stakeholder group pays off in the speed with which you not only execute your plan but also in how quickly you can respond to changes in the environment and still achieve your goals.

Strategy Boost™ provides a level of alignment and clarity for a team or an organization, albeit not with the depth delivered in a Strategy Summit™ engagement. Teams within a corporation, smaller businesses, and smaller nonprofits don’t always need such an in-depth process. They need a lift to align their thinking and create a common focus. We deliver that lift in our one-day strategy development workshop.

Not sure which approach is best for your organization’s desired outcomes?  Contact us; we are happy to help think through the right planning solution for you.

Who needs to be involved?

For a business, strategy development is the role of the executive team typically with a presentation to their Board of Directors for approval. The sponsor for strategic planning is always the CEO; the executive team or senior leadership team drives much of the strategy development. However, we highly recommend including as many of your brilliant minds in strategy development as possible. Our process thrives on broad strategy discussions and we will always make these productive and useful for planning.

We do ask a subset of the stakeholder group to act as process designers for a Strategy Summit™ engagement; we call this group the Design Team. A Design Team has five or six people, the sponsor or CEO, and four or five others from the executive team or management roster.

For a nonprofit, strategic direction is best developed hand in hand with the Board of Directors. In the nonprofit sector, sponsorship is shared by the senior staff person (CEO, president or executive director) and the president or chair of the Board of Trustees. Participants in the process include all senior staff, all voting members of the Board of Trustees and other significant individual contributors on staff or at a volunteer level. Typically, donors not holding board seats are not involved in strategy development other than during the assessment phase.

We use a Design Team of six to eight people for nonprofit clients comprised of the co-sponsors, a few senior staff and a few highly-involved board members – typically members of the governing or executive committee.

Want to figure out the right group to engage in strategic thinking for your organization?  Contact us, we can help you bring all the right people into your next planning process.

When is the best time of year to start?

For entrepreneurs or small business owners, the best time to start is now!

For businesses that have an annual planning cycle we recommend starting in the 3rd quarter of the current fiscal year.For larger corporations, you should have a strategic planning cycle that provides direction to your annual budgeting process. Typically, a strategic planning process starts in Q2 of the fiscal year. We recommend reexamining your assumptions every three years and using the other two years to identify, evaluate and integrate responses to emerging issues so you stay vision driven AND market responsive. A complete strategic plan should be created every six to eight years or when there is a leadership change.

For larger corporations, you should have a strategic planning cycle that provides direction to your annual budgeting process. Typically, a strategic planning process starts in Q2 of the fiscal year. We recommend reexamining your assumptions every three years and using the other two years to identify, evaluate and integrate responses to emerging issues so you stay vision driven AND market responsive. A complete strategic plan should be created every six to eight years or when there is a leadership change.

Not sure if your planning process is optimally aligned to your business needs? Contact us, we’ll help you think through it.

What if we have a strategic plan but want to update it?

We are often asked to assist teams in staying strategically aligned as they work to achieve their long-range plans.

This can be the year after we complete an intensive Strategy Summit™ project for an existing client or when a new client is preparing to engage in their annual planning retreat within a few years of completing a strategic plan.

These follow up planning sessions can be tricky if not well designed and facilitated. The risk is that a great strategic direction can be overshadowed as new ideas, opportunities and threats take center stage. If not well planned, your annual retreat can result in less clarity on what to do next. It is critical to strike a balance between progress made to achieve long-range goals AND exploring emerging issues.

We have a wonderful track record of conducting annual planning retreats that strike just the right balance.  We work with you to clarify progress and update commitments to long-range goals (deliberate strategies) as well as to design strategy development discussions that explore new issues or opportunities. We are careful to complete the planning retreat by integrating the emerging strategies into your existing commitments so tradeoffs are clear and everyone has a common view of what is important to focus on over the next year.

Challenged thinking through how to do this for your organization?  Contact us, we have a variety of ways to help.

What our Clients are Saying...

"I’ve learned more from Cecilia than from many other business experts and gurus. Whether you’re just starting out in a leadership role or a longtime executive, you’ll find tremendous value in reading Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking. I love the way she has taken the tools and exercises she has used with me and my team and packaged them for anyone to use. Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking is filled with simple steps you can put to use immediately. If you are want to engage in brilliant planning with your team, this book is a must-read! With Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking, Cecilia has demonstrated how to think more strategically and provided a great service for those of us in leadership positions that rarely provide the time we need to prepare and package our thoughts.. If you are serious about wanting to shape your entity’s long-term success read this book and apply what you learn. You will discover a whole new level of success."

"This book is a definite must-read for people running a small business, for people that need to get back to the basics of their business or for anyone that wants to learn the basics of how to think about their business development strategy in a more comprehensive way. Cecilia cuts through the fluff and gets down to the details of how to craft your thinking to really excel. Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking eliminates excuses and provides real tools and exercises to get you moving on an excellent plan for growth. She explains it so well, you just know you can do it too!"

"Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking will introduce you to a unique approach to your strategic planning and help you discover just how you can think about your market to break through new strategic direction. Cecilia writes about thinking through the foundational elements of strategy in such a simple way that the insights you gain will make a profound difference in your planning. If you’re ready to make a commitment to make something great happen, Cecilia Lynch’s book, Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking, is a great place to start."

"As a serial entrepreneur, I am always looking to make a business out of an idea. The tools and exercises Cecilia has provided in Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking have been invaluable to me in vetting my ideas before I jump in to bring them to life. The critical steps she shows in her book have helped me invest wisely and of even more value to me — walk away from an idea that wasn’t going to work. Where was this book 25 years ago when I started my career? It would have saved me from some costly missteps."

"Great strategic framework! Cecilia has the best strategic mind I have ever worked with."

"Cecilia brought tremendous expertise that she’d gained from other similar, and dis-similar assignments. She was quick to understand the nature of the assignment, to break it into manageable parts, and to give it better direction, purpose, and output. She added value in ways that we didn’t even anticipate when we first contacted her.

"I give a lot of credit to you and your program to help us transform from a mom and pop, to a focused and results generating organization."

"Working with you has been a wonderful learning experience for me and I was so impressed at how you kept us on track and continued to challenge our thought process without shutting things down. Emily is amazing as well, so talented and able to take all of that “speak” and illustrate it in a way that is clear and concise. It is clear why you are so successful."

"Focused Momentum took this assignment on short notice and in mid-stream, and Cecilia and her team excelled. I can’t even imagine the ways in which anyone could have done better in this assignment. Maybe Wonder Woman, but short of a super-hero, I’ll take Cecilia."