Update a Strategic Plan for Business Growth

How do you implement your company’s strategic plan? When was the last time you did a pulse check to see where strategic deliverables stand? How closely aligned are employees with the broader mandate of your company? Business leaders should ask themselves these questions regularly, but many are so caught up in the ongoing demands of their roles that they don’t effectively manage a strategic plan.

One challenge to sustainably growing a business is the continual development and maintenance of a strategic plan.

While most businesses say they have a strategic plan in place, or they’re following a mandate, or they know their objectives, the reality is that most people don’t reflect on how these plans align with the day-to-day situation of the company or how they’ve been modified as the business has changed.

Recognize When Your Strategic Plan Needs Updating

Many of our clients are heads-down in their approach to business. Company owners are involved in micro-level decisions and support multiple areas of the business, so can’t look objectively at the direction they’re going in. Similarly, senior leaders and C-level execs of larger firms work diligently to meet the expectations of the board/owners. Both cases result in gaps between a high-level plan and the actual operating experience of the business.

These gaps could result in misinterpreting strategic goals, wasted efforts working towards the wrong objective, or other harmful company impacts.

In both the smaller and larger business, these problems are symptoms of a wider disconnect throughout the organization As individual contributors move farther away from the larger strategic direction of the company, there’s a higher likelihood of additional problems – from disengaged employees leading to retention problems (and costs), to lost productivity and profitability, and to longstanding impacts on the company’s ability to deliver on the strategic plan.

These problems all cost time and money, lead to frustration, and could have damaging impacts on the way clients perceive you.

For these reasons, it’s important to have a relevant strategic plan that clearly articulates the goals and mandate of the business while matching the current operating environment. This can help align the organization with the larger strategy, drive productivity improvements, and keep your team engaged.

How to Review a Strategic Plan

The first step to addressing the disconnect between your plan and operational reality is to formalize a review of your strategic plan. This should occur on an ongoing basis with frequency determined by several factors, including how complex the organization is, how long the sales/product cycle is, how quickly your market and competition are moving, etc.

A general guideline for updating a strategic plan (at a minimum) is to complete an annual comprehensive review followed by semi-annual or quarterly mini-reviews.

Bring people together from across the organization to review the plan and provide feedback on how accurately the plan fits current operations, managerial direction, and deliverables needed to satisfy the plan. I always recommend bringing people together from all levels of the organization regardless of their role. One mistake businesses make is to avoid including people without traditional decision-making authority. In many cases, the people who are most impacted by the strategic plan or are closest to the product and customer are the ones without wider strategic decision-making authority.

It’s important to include voices from throughout the business to get a diverse range of opinions.

After completing the review, you can compile all the feedback and determine if the company is on-course or if a pivot is required. How much change is based on how far off-course the company is operating from the strategic plan. In some cases, deviation from the strategic plan highlights that the plan isn’t relevant anymore.

Strategic Plan Course Correction: Updating the Plan

The insights gathered from your plan review will likely show one of three things:

  1. The company is on-course and delivering as planned;
  2. The company is off-course and the deliverables/mandate is still relevant; or
  3. The company is off-course and the deliverables/mandate are not relevant anymore.

Strategic Plan is On-Course

For the first case, only a minor update is required to reflect progress towards the goals or any important factors to note. For the second and third case, however, a major update to the strategic plan is required.

Strategic Plan is Off-Course With a Relevant Company Mandate

When the company is off-course, but the mandate of the strategic plan is still relevant, then course correction needs to occur. This can mean that companies need to look at their processes and resource allocation to determine why they’re off-course and how to bring them back into line. In cases such as this, the broader strategic mandate is still relevant, but the team has not been delivering towards it.

Course correction doesn’t necessarily mean significant change; in some cases it implies re-aligning the team’s focus on current goals.

Changes here could be related to process, resources, or structure. Ultimately, the business needs to diagnose why the organization is off-course and deploy new strategies to get them back on-course.

Strategic Plan is Off-Course Without a Relevant Company Mandate

In some cases when a company is off-course from the strategic plan, it’s because the mandate is no longer relevant. This tends to happen with the strategic plan is old and outdated or doesn’t reflect changes in the organization (either internal structural changes or external changes to the operating environment). In these cases, course correction is mostly focused on updating the strategic plan to be reflective of current operations and goals that address changes in the operating environment.

This type of change commonly occurs when a product or service has evolved, there are new competitive/external factors in the market, there’s a changeover in the organization, structural change to the company, or new regulations.

In practice, this type of misalignment of strategy to actual operations reflects incremental deviations that take place over time.

Unless there’s a sudden disruptive change to an organization, companies slowly move off the strategic plan over time. In many cases this can lead to positive outcomes for the business, especially when the strategic plan was limiting new opportunities. An updated strategic plan better reflects current operating conditions and realigns stakeholders across the organization on its mandate and short- to long-term goals.

Updating the Strategic Plan

Once you have the feedback and direction on what types of changes need to be made, it’s time to update the strategic plan. If you’re doing a comprehensive review and update, then you need to proceed section-by-section and modify as needed. You may only need to update key sections of the plan if it’s a smaller review.

The end goal of updating a strategic plan is to have a document that can be shared widely throughout the organization. It needs to accurately reflect the current operating environment and the short- to long-term goals of the organization.

Support for Updating Your Business’ Strategic Plan

Developing a clear and concise strategic plan can help ensure your team is moving towards shared goals. Does your business need a business plan, sales plan, or marketing plan to confidently accomplish its growth goals? Does your current strategic plan need to be refreshed to align your team? Developing and maintaining strategic plans can be an overwhelming task for many businesses.

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Rob holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Western University, and has published articles in international journals as well as given presentations throughout Canada and Portugal. His area of expertise lies in advanced manufacturing, international development, export market development, and automotive manufacturing. As a Program Manager at Mentor Works, Rob works with business owners to obtain funding to meet their growth strategies. Prior to joining Mentor Works, Rob worked extensively in various academic roles, software and ICT sales and development roles, and in quality control roles in the automotive industry.

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