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Pave the Way to a Successful Strategic Plan

Many very successful business owners may never have had a formal strategic plan. Some think, "Why do we need to do strategic planning? We're doing great just like we are."

It's not unusual for a small business owner to have the following questions:

? Why do I need to have a strategic plan? Can't I just tell everyone what our goals will be?

? How do I get started?

? Can I facilitate the planning sessions, or do I need to hire a professional facilitator?

? Will this be like other plans which, after spending time and money, just sat on a shelf?

If you've determined that you are indeed ready to begin a strategic planning process there are several steps to pave the way and ensure the plan gets executed.

Step One: Get Ready

We recommend using a professional facilitator for the initial part of the planning. The role of the facilitator will be to:

o Lead the group in an objective/neutral way.

o Make sure ideas and decisions are not lost.

o Make sure the desired outcomes are kept in front of the group.

o Be more objective and therefore handle difficult situations.

o Challenge assumptions.

o Encourage equal participation.

After you've decided you're going to create a plan, you'll need to think about who to include in the group. Everyone who will be affected by the decisions or the information should be represented.

o Whose input do you need?

o Who is needed to make a decision?

o Who must buy into the plan?

Those in management positions often think they know what's going on with the business, but the people in the ranks are the ones that really know. They can offer honest feedback on what's working, what's not working or what's missing. The more input you have, the stronger your decisions will be.

If you involve everyone affected by the plan, you'll build a company understanding and commitment to see it through. Everyone will feel a sense of ownership in carrying it out.

Step Two: Plan the Meeting

What you do before a meeting and how you follow up after a meeting are equally important to what happens during the meeting. When planning the meeting, clarify your desired outcomes. "What do we want to accomplish?" For example, at the first meeting you might determine company values, brand promise and vision. At the second meeting you might set goals, determine key numbers and develop your action plan. We recommend using a facilitator for these two meetings.

Let everyone know what to expect. Be clear with the group about how the meeting will run and about the decision-making process. The best way to create commitment and participation is to be clear about why you're meeting. This is important because nothing hurts morale more than a misunderstanding about why people are there, and what their role will be in the meetings and in the decision making.

Get the appropriate people involved early in planning the meeting. This will reduce their resistance. You'll be less likely to hear comments like, "We're too busy. Why do we need a plan? Aren't we doing okay as we are?" If you get the right people involved early, commitment will be higher which will lead to the plan being effective.

Step Three: Conduct the Meeting

Spend some time at the beginning of the sessions with what is called "inclusion" or "group building". If you spend time getting everyone on the same page, it will be time well spent. This is crucial, so don't cut it too short.

Pay attention to the content and the process of the meeting. The content is the agenda and decisions to be made. The process is how the discussion happens and how decisions are made. Be assured, paying attention to process increases the likelihood that the tasks get done and will go a long way toward making the meeting more effective and productive.

Listen to everyone. Make sure everyone has a chance to speak ? the more involved everyone is, the more accountable they will be to the decisions made in the strategic planning session. When people are involved in making decisions they are much more likely to carry them out. This builds a sense of ownership ? they are more invested in the outcome

Step Four: Don't Let it Sit on a Shelf

Don't just write up the plan, pat yourself on the back and put it away. Write it up and then make sure everyone gets a copy. Develop a system for reviewing and tracking the plan.. Whatever system you choose, make it consistent. Have weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings. Verne Harnish, in his book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits talks about developing a "rhythm" that will help keep everyone focused and consistent on knowing how they fit in to the company goals and plans. They will be performing at a higher level. There will be better alignment around the strategic decisions made in the planning session.

Communication will be more effective. Regular meetings give the opportunity to ask important questions such as, "Are we doing the right thing?" If not, then you have the opportunity to stop and re-think the decisions. Regular meetings give the opportunity to make the best decisions you can as you progress, and manage the plan as a team. By keeping your plan dynamic, you can relate it to the issues that come up on a daily basis. You can use your judgment and intuition to strategize about new issues in relation to the plan. It helps you keep the priorities clear.

The plan needs to be solid yet flexible enough that when new insights and ideas emerge you can be open to them. You want to have the freedom to keep your meetings creative.

Step Five: Celebrate!

Whatever you do, don't forget this step. Although your strategic plan doesn't have to be perfect, you and your team deserve to celebrate your hard work and accomplishments.

?2005 Julane Borth

Julane Borth is co-founder of EWF International?, an Oklahoma based firm providing peer advisory groups for women business owners and executives. EWF International?franchises are available throughout the Southwest.

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