Successful Strategic Planning
by Robert Silverman

When approached correctly, an integrated strategic planning process can become the critical driver of sustained success for companies at all levels of maturity. However, when done wrong, strategic planning can be a colossal waste of time that drains corporate resources and focus away from critical priorities. How, then, can executives be sure to make the process successful?

What a Strategy Is NOT

Many firms make the mistake of believing that they have a strategic planning process when, in fact, they are doing something very different. It is important to clarify what a strategy is not.

  • A strategy is NOT an operating plan. Operating plans tend to be short term (1 year) in nature and most often focus primarily on financial and other quantitative measures. Operating plans are valuable, logical extensions of a strategic plan but, without the context of a balanced, aligned strategy, they run the risk of driving organizations to do the wrong things well.

  • A strategy is NOT a business plan. Business plans are usually geared toward assessing the approach, resource requirements and ROI for investing in new markets or businesses and tend to be more market focused and less holistic than integrated business strategies.

  • A strategy is NOT just a vision or mission statement. These are important and valuable as a start but, if not taken down to the next level, communicate insufficient guidance to the organization trying to execute.

  • A strategy is NOT an analytical model, technique, tool or matrix du jour. There are dozens of very valuable analytical models and tools available but these are merely guiding tools, not the strategy itself.

  • A strategy is NOT just a sales and marketing plan. These address only one dimension of the business and usually do not achieve traction without alignment to the rest of the business.

  • A strategy is NOT merely a set of initiatives. Initiatives are valuable activities that are a means to an end. However, it is the balanced, aligned strategy that defines that end and, without that context, even well-executed initiatives can become empty envelopes.

Characteristics of a Successful Integrated Business Strategy

When done right, the integrated strategic planning process can take a business to the next level or, at a minimum, protect it from running off a cliff. A successful integrated business strategy needs to be:

  • Balanced, holistic and long-term in its scope.

  • Developed with involvement and engagement from the entire management team.

  • Built around a shared and well-communicated vision.

  • Based on clear assessments of the organization and the dynamics of the evolving market and ecosystem.

  • Balanced and strategically mapped across financial, customer, operational and organizational business drivers.

  • Aligned across business units and lines of business.

  • Explicit and well communicated.

  • Driven down to objectives and performance measures that will become the roadmap and fuel for execution.

  • Accomplished in a manner that builds a shared vision, ownership and cohesiveness amongst the leadership team that will need to execute it.

But most importantly, strategy needs to be a process that is engrained into the fabric of the organization as a core business practice that helps keep the company continually focused on its strategic direction.

The Core Underlying Foundation: Strategy is a Process

Underlying all of these pillars is the core principle that is the foundation of successful strategic planning: strategy is a process. Strategy is much more than a deliverable. It is process that must be engrained into the fabric and business of the organization. The value of going through an integrated strategic planning process comes from bringing the management team together to define and embrace the vision, roadmap and milestones that will fundamentally guide the company into a successful future. More than the deliverable, an important product of the strategy process should be a cohesive management team with a shared vision and direction and the ability to think strategically about the decisions they make.

Robert Silverman is CEO and Founder of ReachSolutions (, a management consultancy providing strategic, organizational and operational consulting to Fortune 500 firms. He can be reached at .

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Copyright 2006 by Robert Silverman. All rights reserved.

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