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Article No.: 10-1

Article Title: The Basics of Strategic Planning

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., SPHR, CEQC

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About this time every year, many of my clients ask me to help them with strategic planning for the year or so ahead.  I’ve found that it’s often necessary to first clarify the different components of a strategic plan before moving into the actual planning.  In this article, I’ll describe the components of a strategic plan and outline a strategic planning framework that will help you get started on the new year ahead.
First, let me clarify the different parts of a strategic plan presented in the model below:

Mission Statement: 

This is a statement defining why the organization exists.  A typical Mission Statement is “We are in business to manufacture electronic process controls for the plastics industry.”  This statement should be very short and concise, and serves as the foundation for the remainder of the strategic plan.  In short, if an activity or decision does not support the organization’s Mission, why do it?!

Vision Statement: 

This is a future-oriented statement that describes how the organization would like to position itself in the coming year or years.  It isn’t a description of the current state – the idea is to have an ideal that is inspiring.  A sample Vision Statement is “We will be the premier provider of electronic process controls to the plastics industry in North America by 2011.”
Potential Barriers and Potential Supports:  These are components of what is often called a “SWOT” analysis, or a description of an organization’s strengths and weaknesses, both internally and in the world outside its doors.  A typical barrier is the economy or restrictions in the labor force.  A typical support mechanism is a strong, knowledgeable executive team or strong customer base.  The barriers can get in the way of achieving the Mission and Vision, and the Supports provide the impetus for achieving the Mission and Vision.  This discussion is a necessary part of the strategic planning process so that tactics for leveraging support mechanisms and minimizing barriers can be developed.
These next three components are often confusing for people and can be the barrier that prevents successful completion of a strategic plan.  A great Vision Statement provides direction; however, unless there are concrete action steps for achieving the Vision, a company could fail miserably.


These are overarching statements of what will be necessary to achieve in order to meet the Vision and Mission Statements.  An example of an Objective is “We will expand our marketing efforts into Canada.”  This is not specific; it is simply a business imperative that will drive concrete goals and action steps.  I recommend that organizations have 5 to 7 objectives, or key result areas.  If there are more, it’s very difficult to set priorities and accomplish what truly needs to happen for an organization to be successful.


This is where we start getting very specific.  A goal is quantifiable; it’s time sensitive.  A sample goal for the objective described above would be “We will complete a market analysis of the Greater Quebec Metropolitan Area by June 30, 2010.”  Although this statement describes something that people can measure, it still doesn’t describe how this will be achieved; that’s the next component.


This is where most organizations fail – in carrying out the action steps necessary to achieve the Vision and Mission.  Given the barriers and supports, what has to occur in order to meet each specific goal?  An example of a tactic for the goal set out above would be “Linda will locate three market analysts who specialize in our industry in the Quebec marketplace, no later than January 30, 2010.”  Tactics spell out what will happen and who has accountability – they are very concrete.
Now that you know the basic components of a strategic plan, let me share one piece of advice.  Don’t expect to pull together a strategic plan in two hours.  If you’re starting from scratch with no Mission or Vision, set aside a full day for the executive team to meet to iron these out, along with an open discussion of the barriers and supports.
In a second day, you can establish key result areas, or objectives, with specific goals.  To prepare specific tactics, you’ll want each executive to have separate meetings to bring in team members responsible for carrying out the action steps. Because these folks are on the front line, they know what will need to happen to ensure successful completion of the goals. 
This may sound like a slow process to you.  Let me leave you with my favorite advice that I give my clients:  you have to go slow to go fast.  Time well spent now can keep you and your staff focused throughout the coming year.

If you have any questions or need more information about this article, please complete our Contact Form, or contact Dr. Gravett by telephone at 513-753-8870.

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