By Erica Olsen
Strategic Planning Process – Agree on Priorities

Okay, so far we’ve addressed the first three steps in the strategic planning process on the way to making strategy a habit – 1) Getting ready for the strategic planning process, 2) Articulating your mission and vision, and 3) Reviewing your strategic position. Once you’ve made it to this point, it’s important now that you get everyone involved in the strategic planning process to agree on priorities.

Since you should have already identified your strengths and weaknesses as part of reviewing your strategic position in step 3, this next step should be fairly easy. But don’t underestimate the value of consensus. The one concept that most business owners, executives, and managers forget is that the lack of a decision results in more derailments of the mission than any other cause.

I encourage you to not get caught up in a search for a single method of evaluating all the strategic choices that may be in front of you. In my experience, there is no single fail-safe method. Instead, set some parameters or rules that are specific to your operating environment and use them to evaluate your strategic choices. Some categories of rules might include the following:

PRIORITY RULE: You may prioritize some opportunities over others based on their connection to reaching your vision.

TIMING RULE: You may prioritize opportunities based on how much money you want to see returned in a set time period.

BOUNDARY RULE: You may prioritize every opportunity based on whether it is aligned with your organization’s core mission and values.

HOW-TO RULE: You may qualify opportunities by first sketching out potential implementation strategies before committing to them. If you can’t clearly define an action plan, you know that trying to execute it will likely go poorly.

At this point, you will also need to divide your choices into two groups – those that have internal implications and those that have external implications. Internal priorities include everything related to productivity improvement such as employees, operations, technology, and anything else that deals with the internal operations of your organization. External priorities, meanwhile, include everything that’s related to revenue generation such as entering new target markets, new product lines, and partnering with other organizations. Grouping your priorities like this helps you to compare similar things when making trade-offs which are likely as you proceed. For example, choosing between investing in new technology or hiring new people are both expense decisions with similar outcomes, while choosing between entering a new market or implementing a succession plan aren’t directly related.

Finally, you’ll also need to pare your options down to a select few. I recommend that you strive for three to five internal and external priorities. If you have too many, you may lose focus as your plan becomes too big. If you find it hard to limit your priorities, consider creating a “someday” list of priorities that are important and deserve attention some day.

Now, you should be ready to starting organizing your plan which we’ll tackle next time. In the meantime, keep in mind that agreeing on priorities is all about maintaining focus. There are a lot of bright shiny ideas and trends out there in the business landscape to distract your attention, but successful strategic planning requires focus.