Every year businesses and organizations everywhere set aside time for strategic planning sessions. It is the perfect occasion to put a shine on the business’ vision and adjust its direction. In some cases it is little more than an afternoon in the conference room with coffee and cookies. In other cases it’s an off-site weekend away affair complete with break-out sessions and social activities.
Regardless of the event structure, strategic planning is an important function for all the stakeholders of a company. Stakeholders are everyone who benefits from, or is concerned with, an enterprise. Even a home-based business owner needs to set aside time to come to accounts with past and current functions and weigh those against future needs and aspirations.
Strategic planning sessions or retreats should involve both big picture overview as well as detailed action planning. These exercises are necessary in order to set goals and milestones that are real and achievable. These sessions are as valid for a non-profit philanthropic organization as for a for-profit company.
- goal: objective or target – has specific language and target date
- milestone: sub-objectives that indicate where you are on the road to the goal
In all cases there are basic questions that should be addressed in 4 key categories:
- the business itself
- the business’ offerings
- the business’ customers
- the business’ future
1. Questions to ask and consider about The Business:
- Who is your company? Who are the principle players? The stakeholders?
- What is the declared purpose of your business? Are you a for-profit enterprise? Are you a non-profit organization with a philanthropic base? Is the purpose at the core of your vision larger than its details?
- What do you hope to achieve?
- What differentiates your business from another that is similar? What is your uniqueness?
- Is your business small? Independently owned? Relatively low volume of sales?
- Is your business large? Multiple layers of organization? Board of directors? Stock holders?
- Do you know how big (or small) you want or desire your business to be? Do you want a business large in annual profit margin? Large in philanthropic outreach? Big in the numbers of people it touches?
- Is your business a manufacturer? Distributor? Supplier? Service provider?
- Are you meeting the needs of your employees? How do you know? What do you have in place that tells you?
- Who benefits from your business’ daily operations and in what ways?
2. Questions to ask and consider about the Business’ Offerings:
- Can you describe your products and services? Do you know when to add improvements? Do you know when to retire a product or service?
- Who benefits from your products or services? Do you know what your products/services’ intrinsic values are? Their perceived value from your customers’ points of view?
- Who are your competitors?
3. Questions to ask and consider about the Business’ Customers and Clients:
- Does your business have non-profitable users? – these are people/entities that use the services of your business but do not pay for the service. There is no profit realized from users. Do you know why this would be an advantage for your business?
- Who are your paying customers? Do you know where they are? Do you know all the ways in which you can communicate with them?
- How do you know you are meeting your customers’ needs?
- Can your customers find you easily? Communicate with you easily? Is it time for an internet presence? Is it time to offer both in-person point-of-sale and online website purchasing?
- Are your customers aware of all your purchasing policies (everything from delivery and shipping issues to refunds and returns)?
- Why should your customers/clients care about your products/services? Your company as an entity?
4. Questions to ask and consider about the Business’ Future:
- Where do you want to go? Do you have an ideal picture of what your business or organization can be?
- Is growth part of your plan? Does your business have the ability to grow from small to large? How would this be measured? Is the risk worth the expanse plans?
- How will you take the next step of growth?
- Is it time to downsize? To diversify?
- Do you have a road map of strategies to get you where you want to go? Simplistically, do you know where you want to be in one year’s time? – in terms of staff? In terms of profitability? In terms of marketplace position?
- What does your company give back? To its employees? Its other stakeholders? The community-at-large?
- How do you measure/celebrate milestones?
- How do you know you are on track with your business plan?
Knowing which questions to ask in a strategic planning session can help facilitate the expectations and goals of the session and make the entire process more valuable to all participants. It’s also good to be reminded that every part of a business needs to be assessed and dusted off periodically…life doesn’t stand still and neither should your business.