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Strategic Planning Should Be More Than Just an Annual Event

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If the planning process only happens once a year, planning then becomes a barrier to good decision making instead of a catalyst.

October is International Strategic Planning Month, and while that typically signals the onslaught of annual strategic planning retreats, Erica Olsen, a veteran strategic planning facilitator and author of Strategic Planning for Dummies, cautions that, "If the planning process only happens once a year, planning then becomes a barrier to good decision making instead of a catalyst." She advises her clients to stop thinking of strategic planning only as an annual event and instead embed the strategic planning process into the culture and day-to-day activities of your company.

According to Olsen, "Holding meetings helps focus your goals on accomplishing the organization's top priorities and accelerating the growth of the organization." Although the meeting rhythm structure is relatively simple, she says it does require a high degree of discipline. While she recommends the meeting rhythm begin with the annual strategic planning session, Olsen also stresses the importance of quarterly standalone meetings and monthly strategy meetings.

The annual session ideally should be at least two days in length and be held offsite in order to better shut out distractions. During this session, the team reviews how well existing business strategies are being executed and if targets are being achieved. It is also a good idea to review the mission, vision, and values of the organization to make sure these are current and still relevant. Conducting a traditional SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) is another good planning activity because it provides a current understanding of the marketplace and the true capabilities of your organization. With this information in hand, you can identify the long-term strategic objectives of your organization, and set short-term goals and action items to be included in a single final document.

Monthly strategy meetings should involve key team members who report on the progress of their assigned goals and report on any metrics in the scorecard they have been assigned. While these meetings need only last from 30 to 60 minutes, they are an essential part of embedding the strategic planning process into your organizational culture because they keep the strategy conversation current. Likewise, quarterly sessions, which may last anywhere from 2 hours to half a day, require planners to take a critical look at what is currently working and what needs to be revised in order to continue moving the organization closer to attaining its envisioned future. The strategic plan manager should update the strategic plan and distribute any revisions accordingly after these sessions.

Olsen and her company, M3 Planning, have developed an award-winning online strategic planning system that alleviates the administrative burden of the strategy management process and includes both strategic plan development and implementation features. MyStrategicPlan is an easy-to-use software application that enables any organization, regardless of size and budget, to build a comprehensive plan, effectively and easily track goals, create professional reports for every stakeholder, and monitor implementation all year long.

Erica Olsen has developed and reviewed hundreds of strategic plans for organizations across the country through M3 Planning's online client base and on-site strategic planning facilitation work. She has also authored several strategic planning books and was named Entrepreneur of the Year by The Business Report of Northern Nevada in 2007. M3 Planning has established itself as a source for everything related to strategic planning. In addition to their online strategic planning system, the company is also a resource for other strategic planning tools, books, articles, workshops, and facilitations.

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ERICA OLSEN
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