7 Elements of a Strategic Plan

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A strategic plan is a document that establishes the direction of an organization. It can be a single page or fill up a binder, depending on the size and complexity of the business and work.

Most managers can benefit from having a strategic plan. The process of developing a plan helps the manager (and the team) step back and examine where they are, where they want to go, and how to get there. In the absence of a plan, work still gets done on a day-to-day basis but often lacks a sense of purpose and priority.

There are seven basic elements of a strategic plan. While there can be much more included in the plan, these seven elements will help you get started.

 © The Balance 2018

Vision Statement

A vision statement describes the way you envision your business. As such, it should communicate that dream to your employees and customers in an inspirational manner.

A vision statement should be reviewed continuously to ensure it is still aligned with the way you see your company.

Harley-Davidson's vision statement focuses on keeping its brand internationally known and valued, using the combined power of its stakeholders and employees to drive value and innovation: 

Harley-Davidson, Inc. is an action-oriented, international company, a leader in its commitment to continuously improve our mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders (customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, government, and society). Harley-Davidson believes the key to success is to balance stakeholders’ interests through the empowerment of all employees to focus on value-added activities.

Mission Statement

While a vision describes how you view your business to your customers and stakeholders, a mission statement describes what you do currently. It often describes what you do, for who, and how. Focusing on your mission each day should enable you to reach your vision. A mission statement could broaden your choices, and/or narrow them. 

RedHat has been a provider of Linux operating systems for over 25 years. It has a simple mission statement:

To be the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners creating better technology the open source way.

A vision and mission can also be combined in the same statement. The Walt Disney Company does this: 

The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling, reflecting the iconic brands, creative minds and innovative technologies that make ours the world’s premier entertainment company.

Note that the statement is both aspirational (“is to…”) and descriptive of what they do and how they do it ("through the...").

Core Values

Core values describe your beliefs and behaviors. They are the beliefs you have that will enable you to achieve your vision and mission.

The Coca-Cola Company lists it's core values as:

Leadership: The courage to shape a better future

Collaboration: Leverage collective genius

Integrity: Be real

Accountability: If it is to be, it's up to me

Passion: Committed in heart and mind

Diversity: As inclusive as our brands

Quality: What we do, we do well

SWOT Analysis 

SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A SWOT analysis provides businesses a situational investigation into their position in the market. It allows you to spot and name the important aspects, happenings, and adversaries of your business.

A business' strength could be its ability to attract local customers, while its weakness might be an inability to break into a non-local consumer base. A local competitor with ties to non-local customers could be facing a financial situation, giving this business an opportunity.

However, the other business remains a threat if it pulls out of the crises. If another competitor is trying to expand its customer base, it is a threat as well.

Long-Term Goals

Long-term goals are statements that drill down a level below the vision and describe how you plan to achieve it. This set of goals usually starts three years out and extends to around five years into the future, directly aligning with the mission and vision statements.

Long-term goals are the milestones a company sets to guide operations toward their far-reaching objectives. Some examples of long-term goals could be for a business to strengthen its hold on the local market, increasing profits or expanding its operations and sales.

Yearly Objectives

Each long-term goal should have a few one-year objectives that advance your goals. Each objective should be as SMART as possible: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based.

After you make your yearly objectives, you might break each one down further into short-term goals, which define the actions and objectives for the next three months to get you to your yearly goals. The plans for achieving your short-term goals are your action plans.

Action Plans

Each objective should have a plan that details how it will be achieved. The amount of detail depends on the amount of flexibility you want your managers and team to have. The more detail there is, the less flexibility those that follow it have.

It’s been said that “A vision without a plan is just a dream. A plan without a vision is just drudgery. But a vision with a plan can change the world.” Creating a plan to achieve your business objectives may not change the world—but it is possible. Some of the most successful corporations started in garages, and through planning became industry giants.