Many organizations understand the importance of strategic planning, and they’ll invest a great deal of time and money coming up with the strategic plan itself. But once the strategic planning process is complete, it’s really common for that plan to just… well, sit there. Maybe it gets reviewed once a year–an obligatory thing your company or organization simply “has to do.” Or worse, it becomes a glossy (and expensive) document that sits gathering dust on the shelf.
Well, as the leading provider of strategic planning and execution software, we disagree! A strategic plan is the compass for your goals, and we’re here to re-ignite that strategic planning spark. To get you started, you can grab our Free Strategic Plan Template, which you can download as a PDF.
In this post, we are going to look at five of the major benefits of a strong strategic plan, the purpose of strategic planning in the first place, and how it will improve virtually every aspect of your operations – from employee engagement, to plan execution, to leadership.
“If you don’t know where you are going, you are certain to end up somewhere else.” – Yogi Berra
A strategic plan is so much more than words on a page (or a shelf!)
If you have a strategic plan that you (and your employees) reference regularly, then it becomes a living document, a dynamic process that guides, responds to, and helps actualize large-scale dreams.
Here are five benefits of strategic planning.
1. It makes your organization proactive rather than reactive
Why is strategic planning important?
A strategic plan allows organizations to anticipate things that are most likely to happen and prepare accordingly. Through strategic planning, companies can anticipate certain unfavorable scenarios before they happen and take necessary precautions to avoid them. And, if something unfortunate–whether a small scale mishap, or a full blown crisis–does happen, then you already have something in place to ensure you’re able to get back on track.
When a crisis hits, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, having a strategic plan versus not having one can make a huge difference. For example, instead of having to halt construction plans, further disrupt learning, and be stuck in a pattern of only reacting during the pandemic, White Bear Lake Area Schools, MN, leaned on their strategic plan:
“We’ve completed projects already. Construction continued throughout the pandemic, which was really exciting for us. And through it all, our strategic plan has continued to inform our decisions about what type of learning environment we’re building for our students. That’s been invaluable. We’ve had to make decisions on learning models, remote work, distance learning… we’ve been able to root those decisions in asking what does our strategic plan compel us to do, and what opportunities have emerged along the way?” – Dr. Alison Gillespie, the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with WBLAS.
Of course, the importance of strategic planning and being proactive is not just for catastrophe prevention, or mitigating poor outcomes. Another benefit of a strategic plan is it also gives you a competitive edge.
When you make being engaged with your strategic plan a habit, an integral part of how your organization operates, it means your overall vision, and the steps required to be there, are front of mind. This will keep your team alert, attentive, and able to keep up with changing trends.
While other strategic plans for other organizations may sit on the shelf, excellent strategic planning is enough to maintain a competitive edge. Staying one step ahead of what everyone else is doing requires a clear idea of what exactly you are doing. Rather than just always reacting to the trends, you want to be anticipatory. Better yet, be the trendsetter.
A strategic plan gives you this ability to be truly proactive – and, therefore, flexible – in your vision.
A strategic plan helps to define the direction in which an organization must travel, and aids in establishing realistic objectives and goals that are in line with the vision and mission charted out for it. But it also creates a sense of collaboration and collective responsibility.
The key to successful strategic planning is to engage everyone with the plan as early as possible in the planning process, and build in measures and implementation steps that allow you to monitor the results at regular intervals. When you do this, goals become stepping stones to even greater goals, and everyone becomes familiar with the aspirations and pain-points of your overall vision, and their contribution to it.
When everybody has a sense of purpose in their role within the greater organization, they are going to care about the outcomes. Everybody wants to feel important, needed, valued, and heard. One benefit of a strategic plan is that it formalizes this process. It’s really important to make sure everyone implementing a plan feels responsible for their part in it; when people are intrinsically motivated to complete their tasks, this creates energy and momentum on all organizational levels.
For the people involved in the actual strategic planning process itself, it creates a sense of democratic engagement. People are able to bring their own perspectives, thoughts, and ideas to the table, and will be encouraged when they see their strategies and actions come to life. For people carrying out those actions, they will feel more encouraged to be responsible for those outcomes when the goals are attainable and clear. A strategic plan makes those actions clear.
A strategic plan offers both the much-needed foundation from which an organization can grow, but also helps establish the roles and boundaries for everyone, thus improving efficient decision making and creating a greater sense of overall momentum and direction.
Ensuring employees feel engaged and responsible is one of the most important strategic planning benefits.
3. It increases operational efficiency among leadership
When discussing the importance of strategic planning in an organization, we need to consider leadership. One way that an organizational vision can fall short in its implementation is when there isn’t a clear enough idea of what change is needed where, and how complex that level of change needs to be. That’s where we can really see the value of strategic planning. In terms of strategic management, a plan provides leaders with the roadmap to align the organization’s functional activities to achieve set goals.
At Envisio, we aren’t afraid of complex plans. In fact, we love them. Because we exclusively work with publicly accountable organizations, such as local governments, our clients frequently have really complex plans that can span years (sometimes even decades)!
What we’ve learned is that there is no need to shy away from a grand vision; what matters is making sure the strategy to get there is clear.
People in leadership roles are often juggling many different priorities and ideas, and they are overseeing the entire operation. Management discussions, meetings, and decision making can sometimes suffer from not being able to see the forest from the trees–meaning, everyone is capable of losing perspective. A strategic management plan helps carry some of that load for leadership.
A strategic plan also increases operational efficiency in that it helps determine those important, practical, company-wide leadership considerations, such as budget requirements to accomplish set objectives. These practical, operational considerations illustrate why strategic planning is important.
4. It improves staff satisfaction and retention
Research has shown that over the course of COVID-19, local government employees are feeling as though they lack autonomy in their jobs, are feeling burnt out, and are experiencing disconnection from their work and colleagues.
As previously mentioned, a strategic plan can help empower your employees to feel responsible and engaged with their work, but it can also be used to plan initiatives like improved career advancement, perks and benefits, and improving workplace culture.
The reality is that public sector workplaces (local government and beyond) need to find ways to empower and support employees, otherwise these sectors will experience high turnover. Incorporating improved onboarding processes, feedback processes, and building in a process for positive recognition are all things that can be formalized in a strategic plan. Having a strategic plan can also reduce the experience of being “micro-managed,” which can increase senses of autonomy, and therefore satisfaction, in the workplace.
5. It manages expectations and bolsters trust
A strategic plan increases transparency, which helps build trust and eliminate ambiguity–both inside the organization and among key stakeholders. Strategic planning done well is beneficial because it creates more opportunities for collaboration across teams. Working together to see what each department is doing, rather than having disjointed groups, improves trust in the overall direction of the organization. Because so much of strategic planning refers to determining organizational goals, this helps set expectations across the different areas of your organization, and improves the overall functioning of the company.
Public sector work requires a lot of passion and care; it tends to attract value-driven people. Ensuring that the values of the organization are built into the strategic plan communicates to staff a sense of openness, and helps assure them (and remind them) about the overall mission.
One of the other benefits of having a strategy is it shows how information is being managed, in a modernized, quantifiable, secure manner. Being able to back up decisions using data, for example, is an objective, non-partisan way to communicate the rationale behind the moves your organization is making. All of this goes a long way in improving trust – both internally, and externally, to the community being served.
And if you really want to boost trust with your external stakeholders, consider sharing your organizational progress against your strategic plan via a public strategic plan dashboard.
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Ready to start your strategic planning journey? Check out our strategic planning template!