4 Strategic Planning Exercises That You Should Do Annually

Start with a SWOT framework for every department. That's short for 'strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.'

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By David Ciccarelli


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Strategic planning, carried out by senior members of a company's leadership team, is typically used to reaffirm corporate objectives and establish new ones, set goals, align resources and articulate in detail the direction, tactics and activities that the entire organization will engage in.

Related: A SWOT Analysis Provides a Full Picture When Looking at a Product and a Brand

The strategic plans that result are common to established organizations with a few years under their belts; they differ from the business plans startups use as they work to get off the ground.

Indeed, strategic plans draw on their companies' historical data, institutional knowledge and their employees' collective experience. In the end, these factors result in a robust and clear vision for how the upcoming year will play out.

If you yourself have completed a strategic plan of your own, one of two things likely happened. Either the plan was completed, with everyone seemingly buying into it before it was stored somewhere in the depths of your company where it collected dust.

Or else the plan became a living document and was referred to at monthly and quarterly meetings, then at year's end, when it was revisited during another annual strategic review.

It's the latter kind of plan that is obviously more effective. To achieve it, here are four exercises you can engage your leadership team in, and if appropriate, loop in more members from the rest of your organization.

1. SWOT analysis, on a department-by-department basis

Time: 30 minutes x number of departments

Who: executive team

It's possible that you got your own first exposure to business management tools with the SWOT framework (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), a two-by-two grid where strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are put under the microscope.

In order to not miss vital details, you should conduct a SWOT analysis for each department. For instance, a SWOT analysis, seen through the lens of the finance department will differ greatly than that of the IT group. As you can imagine, the opportunities available to your sales department vary from those being explored by your customer service people.

By engaging the entire executive team, you'll create a venue for a healthy dialogue about every individual department.

Related: Add This Dimension to a Traditional Business Analysis for a Fuller Marketing Plan

2. Start, stop, continue

Time: 60 minutes x number of departments

Who: Small groups in each department

In most organizations, there's an intuitive sense of what's working and what isn't. To capture this sentiment in a safe environment, try a Start, Stop and Continue session. This session is best kept to an hour, with 20 minutes dedicated to each section.

Begin with the "Start," a brainstorm of all those activities you should start doing, and add the tools and technologies that you should at least start investigating. You'll likely hear requests for upgraded technology, cutting-edge software tools and new positions. All suggestions are valid.

Since time is finite, you'll need to make room for these new initiatives, which leads to "Stop," a list of those activities, bad habits and other issues that everyone agrees should stop immediately. This can even include declaring that a project once and for all is dead and that everyone will stop wasting time discussing it. End the session on a brighter note by identifying those activities that people are actively engaged in and are most meaningful.

During the "Continue" portion of the working session, management should express appreciation for all the great things everyone is doing, but put out the challenge for all staffers to raise their game.

At our company, we've identified excellence as a core value, and as such have embraced the notion of continuous improvement. It's this idea that encourages us to strive for greater heights.

3. Employee engagement survey

Time: 60 minutes per person

Who: entire company

Each year, we request feedback across the entire company in an anonymous employee engagement survey. This CORE Strategy assessment (CORE = climate, organization, relationships, employees) was developed to facilitate a strategic-planning process.

This particular survey includes more than 100 questions, asking participants to rate how likely they agree or disagree with a statement. Questions are grouped by themes, such as training, equipment, management, financial health, career opportunities and more.

Knowing the perceptions of the employees and leadership team will provide incredible insight to your company's operations. It's also imperative that you discuss the findings, summarize the key takeaways and commit to improving those issues clearly identified by all those who completed the survey.

Never be afraid to discuss a matter revealed in the survey, especially if it comes up multiple times. Your employees know you're struggling in that area because it was their words that identified it in the first place.

So, acknowledge the issue and set about making positive change.

4. Updating of your plan

Finally, it's time to launch your strategic plan, whether this occurs by way of a Word document, Google Doc or Apple Pages file. Go to the source document and start typing. Expect to dedicate 40 to 100 hours to do it correctly. What's crucial is that you put your ideas down in writing.

Own your organization's strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities. Commit to starting new initiatives, stopping others and renewing efforts in well-performing areas. All the while, consider vital input from employees.

By repeating these processes annually, you'll transform your organization from one where the status quo is acceptable to one that involves everyone and embraces the change that has been presented, discussed and committed to.

Related: Use These 3 Analysis Tools to Prepare a Killer Business Plan

David Ciccarelli

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Founder and CEO of Voices

For the last decade, David, with the help of his team, has grown Voices to become the leader in the voice-over industry. As CEO, David is responsible for setting the vision, executing the growth strategy, creating a vibrant culture and managing the company on a day-to-day basis.

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