The objective of strategic planning is many times confused with that of a business plan. Whereas the strategic plan may be a part of a complete business plan, the timeframe and purpose are different and distinct. A strategic plan constructs a concept of the future of an industry or business and provides a roadmap to successfully guide the company to a set of goals at a defined point in time in that future.
Normally, the decision to develop a new strategic plan is triggered because some area of the business is not achieving the results the ownership has hoped or something new and unexpected has changed in the marketplace. Traditionally, the approach for developing a strategic plan was to define the market size, customer profile and competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
Then, the preparer would review the company’s past financial performance, determine its key customers’ characteristics, calculate its market share and access how the company stacked up against its existing known competition. Using the past rate of growth to project the future, some optimistic, usually unrealistic, goals were established without a clear method of measuring whether they were ever obtained. The process usually involved only a small group of top executives and resulted in a document that quickly became obsolete. Because it was designed to meet yesterday’s needs, this type of strategic plan was eventually placed on the bookshelf beside all the others that preceded it.
Strategic planning in today’s rapidly changing environment must not be constrained and limited by the past definitions of the industry, market, products/services, customers or competition. To be successful and usable as a functioning guide to the future, the strategic plan must be adaptable, sustainable and comprehensive. The entire organization must accept it intellectually and emotionally. In other words, the strategic plan becomes the essence of the vision and direction of the company to the ownership, the employees and the public.
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