Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Strategic Planning

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” 
- Sun Tzu

With the end of the year approaching, it’s time to take a good look at where we are as a company and where we want to be in the coming year… There are many different perceptions of what a successful “Strategic Plan” should be, and so many methods to develop such a plan.

I Googled it just to see if I could find any new ideas for our brainstorming session… Do you know what I found? I found hundreds of articles that talked about developing a successful strategic plan, I found a ton of websites that offered help in developing a successful plan, and I found a million methods of developing a successful strategic plan… With so much information, how do you decide what is best for your company and what method to use?

There is no one right or wrong way to develop a Strategic Plan. We base our process on trial and error. Every year, we add something to the process, or change a step in the process, to tailor it to our current needs as a company. We have evolved, and we believe we now have a method that works for us.

At TranzAct we start planning for the coming year in the early fall. Every good plan begins with input from the people who are directly affected by our actions as an organization – our employees and customers. We develop a survey based on the current business environment and invite them to tell us what they really think; give us their ideas on where we should head and what we can do to change the dynamics of our organization.

When we collect this information, we aren’t just looking for fluff.  We want to get to the heart of the company and hear ideas that could improve service to our customers, enhance our core product offerings or even change the nature of our existence. There are always ideas sitting out there, most that have not yet found a voice. We hope that by asking the right questions, these great ideas will surface, and then it is our job as management to implement them.

Once the surveys are complete, we choose an outside location and have a brainstorming session. Our primary focus during this meeting is to review the feedback we have been given by our staff and our customers, add ideas and suggestions from management, and perform a SWOT analysis. We collaboratively analyze all the data and ideas that we have gathered and start to make decisions on what we think is first, important and second, achievable. When that process is complete, we are able to form a list of our possible Strategic Initiatives for the coming year.

The next step in our planning starts out with a draft of the Strategic Initiatives. Each initiative is assigned to a specific management team member for Risk Planning Evaluation. They complete a worksheet for each tactic and address the following areas: If we invest in this, how small or large of an investment will it be? What is the reward for our company and for our customers if we do this? What kind of resources will we need? Is this something that can be done internally or externally, or both? What kind of time frame will this require? Is this something that will involve multiple departments? How complex is this idea?

Once complete, and the initiative is reviewed in a final evaluation, we make our decision on what will be addressed in the coming year. We then prioritize, assign project teams and breathe life into our Strategic Plan.

Follow Through
The development process is lengthy, detailed and we put a lot of effort into it, however the responsibility does not end there. On a continual basis, we refer back to our Strategic Plan as a measurement tool and a guide.
We meet monthly to make updates to the document and reorganize priorities as it becomes necessary. Every time we meet, each person on our team is required to provide updates on the tactics assigned to them. Accountability is important in keeping our Strategic Plan on track.

Communication is another key to keep life flowing into our plan. Understanding that we are all a part of this document and we are all responsible for its implementation and success, keeps us determined and focused in the right direction.

This method works for us. As I stated earlier, each organization has its own culture and goals, and therefore may drive a different development pattern for their plan. Across the board though, your Strategic Plan should be a living and breathing document that you refer to on a consistent basis throughout the year. It’s not something you create and then set aside until the next meeting. In order to make it work, you have to work with it.

Execution is the key to reaching your strategic goals. Without a well executed plan, you are left with a worthless piece of paper. Remember, good Strategic Plans do not come to life by chance, but by planning, execution and by the dedication of individuals to one common goal.