Basics of Strategic Planning
The objectives of strategic planning including understanding the benefits of strategic planning; understanding the products of strategic planning; and learning the keys to successful planning and implementation.
Many organizations spend most of their time reacting to unexpected changes instead of anticipating and preparing for them. This is called crisis management. Organizations caught off guard may spend a great deal of time and energy "playing catch up". They use up their energy coping with immediate problems with little energy left to anticipate and prepare for the next challenges. This vicious cycle locks many organizations into a reactive posture.
It does not have to be that way. A sensible alternative is a well tested process called strategic planning which provides a viable alternative to crisis management.
Strategic planning is a step by step process with definite objectives and end products that can be implemented and evaluated. Very simply, it is a process by which we look into the future, paint a picture of that future based on current trends, and influence the forces that will affect us.
Strategic planning looks three to five years ahead. It charts a definite course based on strong indicators of what the business environment will be like in those years.
Indicators include census demographic statistics, economic indicators, government policies, and technological advances. They reveal strong trends regarding changes in lifestyles and the economic and political climates, which are important factors influencing the facilities planning and management industry. Some of these trends are potential opportunities, some potential threats, and some are both. Examining the possibilities and formulating strategies to meet the challenges can help the organization take full advantage of opportunities and minimize threats. In short, we can take control of the future. We can use our energies and resources more effectively and conduct our business more successfully, despite changes in the environment.
Why Strategic Planning?Besides the personal satisfaction of taking charge of the organizations future, strategic planning offers at least five compelling reasons for its use:
- Forces a look into the future and therefore provides an opportunity to influence the future, or assume a proactive posture.
- Provides better awareness of needs and of the facilities related issues and environment.
- Helps define the overall mission of the organization and focuses on the objectives.
- Provides a sense of direction, continuity, and effective staffing and leadership.
- Plugs everyone into the system and provides standards of accountability for people, programs, and allocated resources.
In summary, strategic planning is the key to helping us collectively and cooperatively gain control of the future and the destiny of our organization.
Five Products of Strategic Planning
The overall goal of strategic planning is to produce a workable plan. Along the way, we will develop, evaluate, and refine these five products:
- Environmental issues and trends: Factors that may impact the organization and the way it conducts business. Internal issues include staff, services, skills, resources, and needs. External factors include such things as threats of outsourcing. A strategic planning committee compiles an environmental scan, a body of information about the environment. Broad issues, singled out as potentially having significant effect on the facilities planning and management industry, are referred to as mega issues.
- Needs Survey: Provides information from clients and peer institutions. The prioritized needs and expectations resulting from the survey are crucial as a basis for setting objectives.
- Mission Statement: Defines the organization's fundamental reason for existence and establishes the scope of its business.
- General Objectives: Broadly describe the results of what the organization wants to achieve in light of needs and relevant issues.
- Strategies: Specific, measurable actions and directions designed to reach the objectives established. Strategies are fulfilled through creation, continuation, change, or elimination of programs.
The mission statement, general objectives, and strategies are the meat of the plan. The issues and results of the needs survey are the input into the plan, and they provide the basic assumptions for developing a realistic and feasible plan.
Keys to Successful Implementation
Suppose our organization thoroughly develops all five products of strategic planning, completes the process, and comes up with a strategic plan. Everyone has the best intentions but when we get back to our units, we are overwhelmed with daily details. Soon it's "business as usual," the plan sits on the shelf, and before we know it, another year has passed. However, this need not happen.
The three major keys to successful strategic planning and implementation are commitment, credibility, and communication.
Up-front commitment by the leaders must include an adherence to the full and thorough process of strategic planning. There must also be a commitment to implementing the strategies recommended by the strategic planning committee.
The leaders should implement programs and services and commit allocations to meet the objectives of the strategic plan at a level that is "doable" for the organization and level of activity. As one person has put it, "To commit to plan, is to commit to change."
A strategic planning committee researches, collects input, and makes recommendations. But, it is up to member of the organization to implement the recommendations.
Credibility is created and maintained by following these three guidelines: representative participation, adherence to the complete process, and clear documentation.
The strategic planning committee should have representatives from all areas of the organization and adhere to the steps of the process. While the actual logistics of research and implementing the plan can be tailored to the available resources, all five products should be carefully developed and evaluated.
The committee should document all of its research and activities to serve as the basis for the strategic plan and its background materials. It will also serve as a clear record of the committee's activities open for all to see and evaluate. There should be nothing exclusive or secret about strategic planning. It should be open to all for review and input.
Input, feedback, and understanding are crucial at every step. A key concept to remember is that strategic planning is a cooperative and participatory process. Everyone should have input and, ideally, everyone should feel a sense of ownership over the final plan. Such personal commitment will facilitate the implementation process.
It is important to explain the principles and goals of strategic planning to everyone in the organization. We need to assure each person that although he or she may not be on the committee, everyone can have input and evaluate the recommendations. It is up to the staff and committees to determine how to fulfill each objective. The strategic planning committee makes general recommends on what they think should be done. The leadership, operating committees, and staff determine how it will be done.
An additional aid to implement the strategic plan is to create an integrated system by which the strategic plan becomes the "benchmark" (measuring stick) for progress in our organization. It then becomes a system of accountability.
The best way to set up an integrated system is for the directors to accept the strategic plan and make the mission statement part of the directives. The strategic plan can then become the context from which programs and services flow.
Strategic planning is the key to assuring that our organization is prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.
Chris Ahoy, Associate Vice President
Facilities Planning & Management
Iowa State University
From Facilities News, September 1998