What is strategic planning?

There are many strategic planning models, frameworks and systems. While such models provide a basis for process, each strategic planning framework should be adaptable to the needs of the organization. Best practices for strategic planning support a model based on inputs and outputs that deliver results:Research- In the Research phase, we discover the current state in terms of the market and the client’s positioning.

Analyze- In the Analyze phase, we consider what external forces may impact future demand, the competitive environment in which the client operates, and internal data that may inform decisions.

Plan- In the Plan phase, we work with the management team (usually 7 to 12 people) to agree on what markets to pursue, with what products and services, supported by what infrastructure (people, processes and technology). These decisions are formalized in a strategic planning document (download example here).

Act- In the Act phase, the client focuses on executing their strategic plan, meeting regularly to update market conditions and hold each other accountable to performance outcomes.

Measure- Aligning KPIs (key performance indicators) to the business strategy is central to the execution of a strategic plan. As consultants, we help managers choose relevant KPIs and implement a process for holding their teams accountable to them.

Certain components are typically included in a strategic plan:

  • Mission
  • Values
  • Vision
  • Executive Summary
  • Market Analysis
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Value Proposition Statement
  • Financial Projections
  • Key Objectives
  • Action Plan
  • KPIs

After a cycle of strategic planning is completed, well-run companies create a muscle in which they repeat the cycle every year, creating momentum for the business.

Why strategic planning?

There are significant benefits to the process of strategic planning. Management teams who engage in strategy:

  • Clarify their company’s strategic priorities.
  • Establish a clear path for growth.
  • Unify their team around a common vision.
  • Set clear goals for managers to which they can be held accountable
  • Improve business development results.
  • Prioritize investments such as implementation of an ERP or opening a new office.
  • Create a foundation for key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Promote fact-based decision making.
  • Build infrastructure including human capital, improved processes and technology.
  • Provide a foundation for departmental and individual goal-setting and incentive plans.

Managers often rationalize that they don’t have time for planning. As Stephen Covey used to point out, we spend part of our time planning and part of our time reacting. When we are reacting, we are often doing the wrong things for clients and experiencing lost time in waste, poor decision-making and defects. Covey claimed that when we increase the proportion of planning to reacting, we save a lot of time.

Having a clear vision provides greater certainty for employees and facilitates better decision-making. Void of a clear roadmap for the future, companies make poor choices about product development, hiring, capacity, marketing and so forth. A clear strategy brings into focus which investments need to be made, and in what order.

In our consulting experience, sales and marketing are far more effective when there is alignment around a company’s value proposition and competitive advantage. When a value proposition can be boiled down to a clear statement, sales and marketing can speak a common language and focus on delivering more value.

In an environment where younger employees seek connection with a broader purpose, the vision communicated to them is critically important. The rate of change requires companies to plan more often, and be in a position to pivot when market conditions change. It is well understood that plans may be irrelevant shortly after they are written, but the process of planning creates unity in a management team and provides awareness of what will need to change.

What will the process look like?

Every client is different, and we adapt based on their business, team and circumstances. Below is a snapshot of our typical process:


Over the course of four to eight weeks, we will help your team prepare for the strategy meeting. The consultant will:

  • Conduct executive interviews
  • Launch an organizational survey
  • Review company information such as marketing and product development plans
  • Assist in pre-meeting preparations
  • Create a custom agenda

Strategic Planning Meeting

There will be a strategy meeting (usually off-site) with your management team. As a function of time and fees, most of our clients plan for two days.

The meeting will begin on a broad level with discussion about what kind of company you want to be. This includes mission, values and vision. We will discuss your market, and how your company can deliver unique value. We will set high-level corporate goals, usually for a three-year horizon, based on the preferences of the group.

This broad strategic dialogue will turn into a discussion about your company’s value proposition, as well as sales and marketing plan. This defines which customers you should target, under what circumstances, and with what capabilities and messaging.

After the broader strategy discussion, we will get into presentations about functional departments (such as accounting and product development), where we talk about what infrastructure will be required to support growth. Infrastructure refers to people, processes and technology.

We view our work as 70 percent strategic and 30 percent tactical, as one is of little value without the other. Every session results in the formation of an action plan with deliverables, champions and dates.

Please note that there is a lot of “noise” going into strategy meetings, especially if your company has done this formally with a professional facilitator. There is often trepidation about using a consulting firm, and fear about what their agenda might be. We have no agenda other than to provide an environment where your team can make the best decisions. We will offer advice, but the discussion and resulting plan belongs to you.

As experts who do this all the time, we are not the variable in this equation. The real question is, how will your team show up?

For advice on how you might approach the strategy meeting, see this guide.

About the meeting

We usually recommend that we meet with your team at an off-site hotel venue, or somewhere out of the office that will inspire clear thinking free from distractions.

What will be the output from this meeting?

Our goal is to serve you. We will strive to ensure your team walks away with actionable insights and a vision for your company’s future. See these sample documents to get an idea of the tools we will provide.

We typically provide clients with three documents:

  1. Vision Map (a visual summary of the strategy)
  2. Action Plan (a detailed list of tasks with champions and dates)
  3. Strategy Plan Document (or strategic plan outline)

See our sample (Vision Map on pages 5-6 and 19, and Action Plan on page 19)

What should I wear?

Dress comfortably; feel free to wear whatever you normally would in your office. Jeans are acceptable. Be aware that some conference rooms are chilly.

What about food?

The final agenda will indicate whether a hot or cold breakfast will be served. Lunch will also be provided.

What is going to be expected of me?

This depends on your role. The consultant will typically interview the leader of each functional area (such as HR or sales). All strategic planning participants will have the opportunity to offer their input in the organizational survey.

You may be asked to make a presentation at the strategy meeting. Please understand that because we have a limited amount of time, not everyone may be asked to present. Your CEO may also assign a reading.

Click here to view our sample presentations by department.

We will ask that you set your electronic devices aside during the meeting, but there will be plenty of breaks throughout the day to check email, etc.

What should I read?

Unless your company assigns reading, none is required. However, these are some of our favorite strategy books:

Momentum: How Companies Decide What to Do Next by Marc Emmer

The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross

The Second Machine Age by Brynjolfsson and McAfee

The Challenger Sale by Dixon and Adamson

The Organizational Survey

You may be asked to complete an organizational survey. We typically include the participants of strategic planning in the survey. No preparation is required. It is about 50 questions, and will take no more than 20 minutes to complete. Once you begin taking the survey, you should complete it in one sitting so you do not lose your work.

Responses are completely anonymous. The results of the survey may or may not be debriefed at the strategy meeting. This depends on the agenda and how much time we have.

How will we communicate with you?

Soon after our project is launched, you will receive an email initiating the project (you have likely already received it if you are reading this page).

After the executive interviews, presentation assignments will be provided well in advance of the meeting. We won’t know what will be in the presentations until after interviews are completed.

What should I expect in executive interviews?

Some (but not necessarily all) strategic planning participants will be interviewed by the consultant. There is no preparation required. The consultant will want to understand your role, the challenges you face, and what topics you think will be important at the strategy meeting.

These interviews are on the same day, face-to-face in your corporate office and are usually 30-60 minutes.

If you are out of the office on the day of his visit, your interview may be conducted over the phone.