Setting Solid Strategy: The Simple Process for Developing a Strong Strategic Plan
There’s an (overused in my opinion) adage: “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” While culture is core to successful companies (and no one knows this better than the team at evolvedMD), it’s most effective when that culture is anchored by a solid strategy.
Strategic planning isn’t just a luxury reserved for the Fortune 500 with an enormous budget, it’s crucial for growth-stage companies to thrive.
As Head of Strategy for evolvedMD, I was the company’s first non-clinical hire. Our Founders Steve Biljan and Erik Osland had the foresight to put strategy first with the realization that it’s not a “nice to have” but a necessity for success, that strategy and a subsequent annual plan are must-haves and non-negotiable for a thriving company at any stage.
A self-proclaimed strategist, I have had the great privilege of serving organizations either as a member of a leadership team or as a trusted advisor to facilitate strategic planning sessions, drive organizational clarity, and ultimately build capacity. With over 10 years of strategic planning and capacity-building experience, I have seen firsthand, in organizations ranging from $1M — $200M, how organizations simply cannot scale successfully without strategy and a plan.
Recently, evolvedMD completed and unveiled our 2022 strategic plan, a continuation of our 2021 plan but optimized for our audacious ambition of achieving exponential revenue growth in revenue in 2022. Speaking with peers and colleagues in other companies who helm strategy, I realized that memorializing the process and sharing best practices could provide immense value, so I decided to write a simple process for developing a strong strategic plan.
While the outlined process is agnostic of timeline and time horizon, it is important to note that with an ever-changing and rapidly moving landscape, our current approach is to develop a strategic plan annually. For your company, you will need to decide if your strategic planning process should drive towards three-to-five-year goals but ultimately, no matter what, your long-term and short-term strategies should intersect with a cohesive annual plan that implements the outlined framework.
Over the last six months, our leadership team convened and used the process outlined below to create the plan that has become our roadmap to boundless opportunity since 2020.
· Drive Consensus — For any plan to be successful, it’s crucial and critical to drive consensus among key stakeholders. In Inc. Magazine’s “How to Drive Consensus” Steve Tobak writes, “Make the team feel like it’s their process by sharing with them exactly what you plan to do, solicit feedback, and explain why it all makes sense to do it this way. That’s your first test. If you can’t get them to agree on the process, you’re going to have one hell of a time getting them to agree on a decision.”
· Set Goals — With consensus on the process, before putting together your strategy, you will want to align with key stakeholders and leaders on the goal the strategy is working towards. Whether it’s a sales target, a revenue goal, a milestone for number of customers or people served by your product (or a combination), gain consensus on your company’s focus and galvanize around those goals. The goals will of course need to be actionable, measurable, and realistic — you can learn more on developing these goals in this insightful article from Forbes: Become A Pro At Setting Business Goals.
· Strengthen the Basics — While there are several verticals (read: pillars) you can focus on and numerous roads that lead to success, I like to approach strategy from a capacity building standpoint to build on fundamentals, the pillars that companies should always have top of mind including:
- Infrastructure + Operations — Initiatives that will increase the infrastructure within the organization (think: IT, finance, project management, SOPs, etc.).
- Sales + Marketing — Initiatives that directly drive revenue (think: go-to-market strategy, business development plan, customer experience framework, marketing plan, etc.).
- Product Development + Refinement — Initiatives focused on launching or optimizing a product (think: product/services innovations, enhancements, strategic collaborations, etc.).
- People — Initiatives to strengthen your #1 asset, your people (think: recruitment and retention strategies, professional development, setting and elevating culture, etc.).
- Brand Awareness — Initiatives to elevate your company’s brand (think: content marketing plan, executive branding, strategic partnerships, etc.)
Grounding not groundbreaking, the above, while ostensibly basic, are powerful lenses to view the pillars of your company strategy.
· Ask Questions — Taken from Stratechi.com: “The simplest and often most powerful strategy framework is also the oldest. Asking or answering the Who, What, Why, When, Where and How can provide the context people need to better understand a situation.” Simply put, strategy is all about asking the right questions. For evolvedMD, we looked at each of the above pillars aligned with the appropriate departments and asked these questions:
- High Level — What impact do you want your department (pillar) to have on evolvedMD and the industry as a whole? What are the individual initiatives that will drive success in that pillar? What risks will you need to mitigate and manage?
- Tactical — What are the specific deliverables, key objectives, and milestones for each initiative? Where and how will you prioritize? What is everyone’s specific role?
While not an exhaustive list, the questions you ask will be specific to your company and should always help you better understand the Who, What, Why, When, Where and How. Find some examples here: How to Ask the Right Questions in Business & Strategy (stratechi.com).
· Present to the Larger Team — With the goal(s), the pillars, and the initiatives identified, present what you have to a larger team (depending on the size, structure, and culture of the organization this could be the board, executive leadership, management, or frontline workers) and have them go through another facilitated conversation using the following questions:
- What initiative(s) will be the most impactful?
- What initiative(s) require additional clarity?
- What deliverable, KPI, milestone, and/or partner(s) is missing from each initiative?
- What is missing from this pillar overall?
- What are you most excited for in this pillar?
This exercise not only helps “poke holes” but invites commentary and collaboration to ultimately drive consensus, a theme you will find throughout this piece.
· Prioritize Initiatives — From clarity provided by the previous exercise, you should be able to prioritize the initiatives within each pillar and my recommendation is a maximum of five (5). While you will want to do more, you must know you can’t do everything. At this point in the process, within the five (5) “fundamental” (basic) pillars you will now have five (5) supporting initiatives for each. Choose those that will provide the most impact with the least amount of resources using a framework like this by KaleidoVenture: Prioritizing Strategic Initiatives.
· Convene Again — Put key stakeholders and contributors together in a room again to ensure consensus. This step is crucial in validating the work that’s been done thus far, verifying that you have effectively captured the initiatives and prioritization, and further illustrates the value of collaboration.
· Finalize Plan — Once you have all the inputs, make sure to package them in a way that is easy to read and accessible by everyone in your organization as well as external partners. We collaborated with our agency of record, Ideas Collide, to highlight our ambition and goals while succinctly articulating the strategy and initiatives to get there.
· Operationalize — Helpful to us moving this from a PDF that sits in inboxes to a dynamic document that we reference often, we developed a granular operations plan that contains initiatives, desired outcomes, tactics, KPIs, milestones, key owners, and deadlines. My recommendation is to make sure every leader in the organization not only understands this plan but understands their role in it.
· Assign Owner + Reference Often — Hinted above, strategic plans can sometimes be static; something that is birthed from a great process (like this one) only to create a product that no one does anything with. To avoid this becoming the reality of your company, assign the plan and ultimately its momentum, to someone in your organization who will not own everything in the plan but will own the plan itself. The plan and operations document should be the basis of every executive-level meeting, should be constantly referenced, and should have progress measured throughout the year.
Depending on the stage of your company, what was outlined here can be more robust or scaled back but the fundamentals should remain. For instance, within our strategic plan was an initiative to refine our go-to-market strategy including customer targeting by type, size, and geography, segmentation for prioritization, with bottom-up activities and top-down approaches for effective execution — essentially creating another mini strategic plan for our sales team.
As Dorie Clark notes, “Good strategy is about making choices” and strategic planning will help put those choices into focus. I would go further and say good strategy is about providing clarity to create guardrails to help leaders understand what they will do and perhaps more important, what they will not do.
While straightforward, I hope this plan will help provide you and your organization the clarity and direction it needs to thrive.