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Why Long-Term Strategic Planning is the Lifeline Your Business Needs Right Now Five steps to creating a strategic plan that will keep you from managing from crisis to crisis

By James Goodnow Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • Successful leaders have to keep multiple plates spinning.
  • Long-term planning is a continuous process, one that requires grit, determination and resilience.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Business leaders have faced extraordinary challenges over the past several years. Pandemic-related demand changes, workflow shifts, persistent inflation and a tight labor market have left business leaders zigzagging through crisis after crisis. The pace has been unrelenting.

But we risk getting swept away if we're constantly hopping from one precarious rock to another across a fast-flowing river of challenges. We risk moving in inches, not miles. We stagnate. What's worse, we can become enticed by taking the easy path of mirroring competitors' strategies and being just another company that doesn't stand out.

Aspirations alone won't cut it. For businesses to excel, it's essential to be intentional in formulating short-, medium- and long-term plans. These blueprints will help future success.

Related: The 5 Pillars of Thriving Teams and Extraordinary Workplace Cultures

Step 1: Pinpoint your X-factor

Every brand has its own X-factor — its unique value. What's yours? Is it groundbreaking technology, a service that rivals none, or maybe unparalleled cost efficiency? Identifying this competitive edge isn't just about self-awareness. It's about amplifying this edge in everything you do. It's what ensures you're not just another player on the field, but one recognized, sought-after and admired.

Finding your X-factor is not a top-down exercise. You might have identified your X-factor, but unless the wider team shares this view, you're working against the tide. Engaging your team to align with this understanding is crucial. Remember, leadership isn't about dictating direction but about cultivating a shared vision. You've missed the mark if the X-factor only resonates with the C-suite and not the broader team.

To build an organization that's resilient and progressive, every team member, from entry-level to senior executives, should have a say in the direction and future aspirations. When everyone sees where the ship is sailing and why, they not only paddle in rhythm but often faster and more efficiently. If it's just senior leadership dictating the vision, the plan is destined to fail. On the other hand, a collective vision strengthens resolve, determination and commitment.

If you're struggling to find your special sauces, ask yourself a series of questions. Why are customers choosing you? What resources do you have or can you access that others cannot? Where is the market saturated, and where is the open lane? Knowing and using your strengths wisely is one of the most critical factors to business success.

Related: 5 Proven Tips for Better Defining Your Business' Unique Value Proposition

Step 2: Chart the course with tangible milestones

With your X-factor identified, the next challenge is progressing toward defined goals. The concept of OKRs, "Objectives and Key Results," proves invaluable here. It's about setting objectives, the motivation behind your goals and then determining specific Key Results to achieve them within a set timeframe. This methodology enables businesses to measure success more tangibly.

For instance, if a substantial portion of your revenue comes from a single product, you'll likely want to diversify your income stream to ensure stability. Using the OKR methodology, an objective could be to bolster economic security. A corresponding Key Result might involve boosting business from various products or sources, thus reducing dependency on a single one.

This method isn't complicated, but it requires a focused approach to the factors that truly drive a business's growth and success.

Step 3: Consider your plan at every major decision point

A dirty little secret of the business world is that many strategic plans fade into obscurity. Employees generate them with enthusiasm. People are inspired. Then, the next crisis emerges, consuming leadership's time and attention. By the time they survive one — another arises. All the while, the plan ends up collecting dust.

Successful leaders have to keep multiple plates spinning. What's more, when responding to an urgent issue, they do so with express reference to the goals and their OKRs. At Fennemore, we relentlessly focus on pursuing our plan's vision and whether decisions support our broader objectives. Keeping your plan front and center will keep you and your team on course.

Related: How to Achieve Long-Term Success by Slowing Down Your Business and Creating a Strategic Plan

Step 4: Recalibrate along the way

Just as no war plan survives the first contact with the enemy, no strategic business plan remains untouched by the realities of a shifting market. The global landscape is not static. External forces — from market dynamics and technological advancements to geopolitical shifts — can render tactics obsolete. Flexibility, therefore, is not just a value-add but a necessity. This doesn't mean you deviate from your goals or abandon your X-factor.

Instead, it's about reassessing, recalibrating and tweaking the plan to ensure it remains relevant, effective, and aligned with your overarching objectives. Consistent check-ins and feedback loops internally within teams and externally with market trends will help your strategy evolve while remaining anchored to your business's core purpose.

Step 5: Embrace the power of resilience

The journey of strategic planning isn't a one-off event. It's a continuous process, one that requires grit, determination and resilience. Challenges will arise, and crises will interrupt, but with a clear strategic direction, such obstacles become surmountable. And here's the beauty of resilience: it's contagious. When leadership showcases determination in the face of adversity, it trickles down, motivating every echelon of the organization. By fostering a culture of resilience and tying it directly to your long-term strategic planning, your business can navigate the crises of the day and be better prepared for any that may arise in the future.

Related: 5 Ways to Adapt to Change and Build a More Resilient Business Model

Stop winging it

In today's world, winging it won't work. Businesses are complicated, and leaders need to adapt to new challenges constantly. Every decision requires thought, strategy and an honest assessment of where your organization is and needs to go.

If you already have a long-term plan, it's time to refine, recalibrate and set bolder metrics. If not, the journey of crafting one should start today.
James Goodnow

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO at Fennemore

James Goodnow is the CEO of Fennemore, the fastest-growing law firm in the US. In 2018, at age 36, he became the youngest known leader of a major law firm in US history. He holds a JD from Harvard Law School and a master's degree in entrepreneurship from Cambridge University Business School (UK).

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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