Simplifying Strategic Planning

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As you may already know there any many methodologies developed by various schools of thought about how strategy should be developed. There are those who think that we should develop the vision statement before we consider the realities of our situation and those who think that it should be done the opposite way. Similarly, there is disagreement on whether we can use goals and objectives interchangeably, on how we arrive at our key success factors and on what is considered short, medium and long term objectives.

However the one thing that many agree on is the fact that strategic planning is useful. It helps individuals and organizations to take an honest assessment of their situation and it requires that they think clearly about what needs to be done to move forward.  To simplify strategic planning for those I work with I generally describe it as a process where we are simply asking three questions.

  • Where are we now?

In this aspect of the planning, we look at the current situation in which we find ourselves. What are the external factors that are having an impact on us? What is driving us to change? Are there opportunities we can exploit or threats that can have an impact on us? What are the internal realities that we face? What strengths and capabilities do we have? What weaknesses or areas for improvement are there? How are we performing now? What is encouraging or slowing down our current performance level?

  • Where do we want to go?

In this stage of the process, we identify the future state that we want to have. What is our vision for the future? What role do we envision being able to play in it?  We also identify the milestones along the way that we want to achieve to ensure that arrive at our destination by the time that is intended.  What are the objectives we would like to achieve? Objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. This is usually summed up by the acronym SMART.

  • How will we get there?

This phase of the process is concerned with identifying how we will work to achieve the vision, in light of the realities, positive and negative, of our internal and external environment. This is where you identify what you will do in order to achieve your objectives by the identified deadline. This also includes outlining the action plan or specific detailed steps that will enable the rolling out of the plan to take place.  It should also include an identification of who will be responsible for the actions, how progress will be measured, what resources will be required and how any variance from expectations will be handled.

It is important to note that strategic planning is only one part of the strategic management process.  Developing the plan for where the individual or organization wants to go and how they are going to get there, is easy. The much more difficult part and the area where many people have challenges, is the implementation.  Coming up with ideas can be easy.  Making them happen is a lot harder.

Therefore, it is critical to spend adequate time during the planning stage when the strategy is being developed to ensure that the finances, manpower and time being allocated are realistic, given the anticipated outcomes.   It is also critical to ensure that there is an easy to use mechanism which will provide information that will allow the person or business to course correct as needed. If the measurement and evaluation system is too complicated or provides useless information then it will not be used as intended.

In the same way that we have to be specific when we are trying to implement change in our personal lives, we have to be clear about the details when we are developing strategic plans.  In the same way that it takes time to build new habits in our personal lives that support a new behaviour or mindset, it also takes time in an organization to implement new strategies and have new processes and systems  become a part of the organizational culture.


Marjorie Wharton is a trainer, facilitator and coach who works with individuals and organizations to help them improve their performance.  She is based at the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business in Barbados. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.  For more of her writing visit



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