8 Tips to Writing a Strategic Plan That Works

Succulent Pod Wall Sculpture Tile by Dilly Pad

Succulent Pod Wall Sculpture Tile by Dilly Pad

Strategic plans both ground us and free us to move forward. Developing a plan creates a common understanding of where we're going so that we can tell others and invite them to join in. Plans provide a ready answer to the daily question that pops ups, "This is cool. Should we do it?" Without plans, we wander.

Plans are often very good things, but writing plans down can be a tremendously onerous and frustrating process for organizations. Why? Because we worry about whether we're doing the right thing, what other people will think, whether it will work, or if we have what it takes. We often don't know how to articulate and incorporate the input received from our teams in a way that makes them feel included and inspire ownership. It's also hard to know when to start planning or when to stop.

Traditional approaches to strategic planning are process-laden and lengthy. The typical process for strategic planning has, in fact, earned a bad rap for precisely these reasons. Such plans require a tremendous amount of time and, in the end, no one is really sure what they got out of the process. What's worse is when those plans we agonized over sit in a network folder and are rarely referenced.

The alternative is an ultralight approach to discovering and documenting a strategic objective and pulling out the key actions needed to achieve that goal. An objective many teams strive for is to develop an actionable plan that allows them to move together toward a common goal. Here are 8 ways to inspire action with your strategic plan:

  1. Include as many people and as many diverse perspectives as can reasonably be accommodated in the physical space.
  2. Tell the group developing the plan that they own the process, the plan, and the outcome. Planning and completing strategic activities is everyone's job.
  3. Avoid writing or refining mission and vision statements. It's a waste of time.
  4. Ask participants to articulate their own purpose in doing this work and what excites them about the future of the business.
  5. Conduct an exercise to list and generally agree on what you (the organization) do, as well as what you don't do.
  6. Stop writing when you hit 3. Fewer words have more power--if for no other reason than the likelihood of someone actually reading them going up.
  7. Know that good enough is actually pretty good. Make this point as often as needed. The Atlantic's article entitled "The Power of 'Good Enough'" hit home for me.
  8. End on a high note. Generating a feeling of community, collaboration, and being a team builds momentum and creates and eagerness to reconnect.

The difference in this ultralight approach to strategic planning is in its ability to inspire. Its duration is deliberately short, and efforts to wordsmith and smooth over the language to the point of meaninglessness are eliminated. All participants are involved, and the team leaves clear, motivated, and energized around a common objective.

Robin Camarote

I'm the co-founder of Federal MicroConsulting and strategic planning consultant based on Falls Church, VA. I am intent on helping leaders get more done with fewer headaches by outlining clear, creative strategies and solutions that build momentum and buy-in at all organizational levels. In addition to consulting, I write regularly for Inc.com, GovExec.com, and Bloomberg Government on leadership and how to increase your positive impact at work. She is the author of a best-selling book on organizational behavior entitled, Flock, Getting Leaders to Follow and Own It: Drive Your Career to a Place of Happiness and Success. I live with my husband and three children in Falls Church, Virginia.