Strategic planning sessions can be fun ways to engage and build your team, away from the day to day tactical stuff that commands our attention. Effective planning however, also involves being prepared to make difficult decisions and choices. Many of the familiar tools for strategic planning such as SWOT Analysis focus on brainstorming and filling in squares but are more useful for stage setting than actual plan development. The harder part of creating any strategic plan worth having, is answering the question, “So, what?”

Here are some basic “so what” answers that your strategic planning efforts should deliver:

  1. Exactly how do we want our future state as an organization to be different? (As compared to where we will land given our current path).
  2. What new, specific things will we measure to determine if we are on the right track as we go? And have we identified ways to deal with less-then-ideal news?
  3. What are we going to stop doing? What are we taking off the list to ensure we have the team resources to focus on what we care most about ?

One way to look at the first question is to start with your organization’s vision and either reaffirm it or scratch it and create a new one. The answer is then the detailed description of what your vision will look like from both the inside out and the outside in when you finally arrive.  Take the time to describe it in recognizable terms that speak to people, scale, resources, and impact. This makes tackling the second question less daunting and more evident. The measures you agree upon also bring your strategic plan a notch closer to a living reality because you are committing to regular re-examination of your plan’s progress. By doing so in ways that can be quantified and bounded by time, you set the stage for course corrections and re-examination of the plan as circumstances evolve. And they always evolve. What has made strategic planning most “real” for me however, is coming to grips with question 3. Many organizations set their hopes on laudable goals and wonder a year or two later what went wrong. By insisting your team not only set goals, but agree to stop doing others, tests the group’s buy-in like nothing else. Making strategic plans can be seen as mostly “free,” but implementing them successfully never is.