Perhaps the most challenging part of strategic planning is figuring out “how” to achieve all the goals that were identified. This step requires critical thinking and creativity. It also requires getting outside normal thought patterns to new ideas. Sometimes this can be facilitated by group exercises, site visits, or some carefully-selected brainstorming techniques.
Selecting which strategies to pursue often requires making difficult choices among competing strategy ideas. The task is to develop and then prioritize strategies for achieving each goal. This step involves thinking about how to deliver on the promises implicit in the goals.
Strategies answer questions such as:
♦ How will we achieve our goals?
♦ What actions should we take?
♦ What programs should we launch?
♦ What partnerships are needed?
♦ Where do we need to innovate our current processes?
♦ Where do we need to change our existing thinking?
Each goal should have at least one strategy. The number of goals must be manageable for this to occur. No more than 10 goals should be permitted, and a smaller number is much better. Ideally, three to seven goals is best.
Initial brainstorming is effective when done by the entire strategic planning group. Using one or more of the questions above is a good way to start. The strategic planning manager, or the team, should look at all previous strategic plans or related documents to see if there are strategies that were identified previously but not yet implemented. These can be helpful if the group gets stalled.
Brainstorming can be done either on a goal-by-goal basis or on the group of goals. Ideally, a preliminary list of strategies will be developed by the entire group, and then smaller teams will add to the list.
Developing the details can be done with a large group, but it is often more effective with small teams. Inter-disciplinary teams work well because each brings a different perspective to the task. Teams of four to six participants are ideal for allowing everyone to have a role and providing sufficient diversity of perspectives. Larger or smaller groups can lose effectiveness or focus. Each team should work on one or more strategies. Teams should flesh out some of the details of the strategy, such as the key roles and responsibilities of individuals and organizations for taking on the task, the estimated resource requirements for the strategy, and the timeframe in which the strategy can be achieved. They should also come up with performance indicators that will determine if the strategy has been successful. Strategies should be spelled out in enough detail that all have a common understanding of what is to be done, but not so detailed as to become quickly outdated. Descriptions of strategies should avoid jargon and acronyms so that they are easily understood by all.
Once the strategies have been identified and described by the teams, the entire strategic planning committee should set the top priorities.
If teams worked to flesh out the strategies, it may make sense to have the teams briefly present their work before the strategies are prioritized. This will allow for clarification of any issues related to the strategies as they are developed. This is also the time to invite any challenges to the credibility of the strategies. If an idea is not feasible, it should be identified quickly and not brought forward for further development or funding.
When each participant is clear on what each of the strategies entails, they are ready to do the rankings. As mentioned before, the two options are public or private voting.
In some cases, it may be helpful to establish criteria for ranking strategies. Some possible criteria for ranking strategies include – feasibility, cost, speed of implementation, degree of fit with mission, and likelihood of success.
Once the strategies have been developed and ranked you can begin thinking about the final written strategic plan. The mission and vision, and the goals and objectives make a good introduction to the written summary of top priority strategies. This is a good time to share with the strategic planning committee a written document as it keeps the momentum going. The key task is simply to pull together all of the work of the strategic planning committee into one document. This is a good way to celebrate the success achieved so far and to build excitement for the homestretch to come.