IAN FERGUSON: The model strategy for good planning

MOST businesses begin their planning process three to six months before the start of a new financial year. This identifies its immediate and long-term objectives, and develops and monitors specific strategies to achieve this. Strategic planning used in today's corporate environment is designed to set priorities; focus energy and resources; strengthen operations; ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals; establish agreement around intended outcomes/results; and assess and adjust the company's direction in response to a changing environment.

There are different templates for strategic planning. While there are no 'absolute rules' regarding the right framework, most follow a similar pattern and have common attributes. Typically the stages include:

  1. Analysis or assessment, where an understanding of the current internal and external environments is developed.

  2. Strategy formulation, where high-level strategy is developed and a basic organisation-level strategic plan is documented.

  3. Strategy execution, where the high-level plan is translated into more operational planning and action items.

  4. Evaluation or management phase, where ongoing refinement and evaluation of performance, culture, communications, data reporting and other strategic issues occurs.

Strategic planning involves considering potential internal and external impacts on the company, then mapping out an approach to deal with these impacts.

There are a number of tools they can use to ensure the strategies and tactics developed are appropriate, and that plans can be effectively put into action. Three of the more commonly-used tools include:

  1. Basic SWOT Analysis: The SWOT analysis is a tool used in strategic planning to identify and prioritise the company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

The process involves a brainstorming session where participants create a list for each of these areas based on previously-gathered data and information. Once the lists are created, a ranking process is used to prioritise the items.

The top items in each category can be used to provide a basis for the development of objectives, strategies and tactics.

  1. Vision Casting: This is the process used to brainstorm, then develop, a desired long-term vision for the company. It answers: "What do we want to achieve?"; "What will we look like?"; "Who will our customers be?"; "How are we equipped to serve them?" and many more similar questions.

The vision is one of the key foundation pieces that guides the planning process. The vision process is critical in helping leadership design a statement that is a realistic stretch for the company. The end result should be a statement that not only challenges the leadership team but also inspires them to move forward with enthusiasm.

  1. Comprehensive Business Plan: Many view business planning as essential only for company start-ups, or for small and medium-sized enterprises looking to grow their businesses. Despite this common and prevailing viewpoint, any company can benefit from engaging the senior leadership team in business planning. Here is a standard template of headings for plans that work: Executive Summary; Company Description; Product or Service Analysis; Market Analysis; Marketing Strategy; Management Strategy; Financial Strategy and Appendices.

Through an integrated approach and level of flexibility, planning ultimately helps the company reach a desired, economically viable and profitable objective. If the plan is implemented correctly, the results will always be desirable

• NB: Ian R. Ferguson is a talent management and organisational development consultant, having completed graduate studies with regional and international universities. He has served organsations, both locally and globally, providing relevant solutions to their business growth and development issues. He may be contacted at tcconsultants@coralwave.com

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