Strategic Planning Primer

Sections of this topic

    When developing strategy, managers are often called upon to interview executives and other managers on a variety of issues facing an organization. Questions often arise concerning the organization’s vision, or its critical success factors, or key strategies, objectives or goals. “What is a strategy? How does it differ from a goal or an objective? How is mission different from vision, or are they really the same?”

    The more managers understand strategy, the more effective they can be in driving to the critical questions for a business.

    Through my years as a Certified Master Facilitator, and CEO of Leadership Strategies, I developed the Drivers Model, a method for taking a strategic approach to addressing a business situation. The model provides a simple communication tool for helping organizations construct a business strategy. It is fully scalable and applies to all sizes of organizations: Fortune 500 companies, non-profit organizations, a field office, an individual department, a work team, etc.

    There are four major steps in the Drivers Model.

    Step 1: Where are we now? (Situation Assessment)

    Understanding the current situation is vital to identifying the approaches needed to drive success. A full understanding of the current situation includes an analysis of several areas. The list below shows a sample of assessment areas and one or two of the key questions to be answered for each.

    • Customers – What are their current and future needs? What are their perceptions of our performance
    • Competitors – How do we compare against our competitors? What are their recent and anticipated initiatives?
    • Industry trends – What have been recent shifts in the industry? What shifts are anticipated for the future?
    • Performance trends – How are we performing by product, by market, by channel?
    • Recent goals and initiatives – How are we achieving against our plan? How successful have we been with recent initiatives?
    • Employees – What are their perceptions of our organization and how we can improve? How can we make them more effective in their roles?
    • Organization profile – What are our strengths and areas for improvement with regard to our organization structure, processes, technology, culture, etc.?

    Often, planning teams summarize the current situation information into a SWOT: a summary of the organizations key strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

    Step 2. Where do we want to be? (Strategic Direction)

    The heart of strategic direction setting is this second step. In the Drivers Model, the information from the situation assessment is combined with the understanding of future trends to formulate a series of trend and positioning statements. These statements, which outline the overall future direction of the organization, are structured as: “We believe (trend)…Therefore we must (positioning)…”

    Positioning statements outline specific directions. However, the full business strategy must take a comprehensive approach to addressing goals (broad aims) and objectives (specific, measurable targets). Therefore, the second step in the strategy development process includes several other activities as well:

    • Vision statement
    • Mission statement
    • Goals
    • Objectives
    • Positioning statements

    Step 3 – How do we plan to get there? (Implementation Planning)

    Once the strategic direction is established, the next step is to develop the road map for achieving the direction. For the road map to be viable, however, it must focus on three areas in particular.

    • The barriers to achieving the vision indicate those challenges which the organization must overcome to achieve its strategic direction. Barriers answer the following questions: “Why haven’t we achieved our vision already? What is standing in our way?”
    • While barriers address the challenges, the critical success factors identify those key conditions that must be met to achieve the vision. Critical success factors, typically no fewer than two and no more than seven, serve as a guide for determining the strategies to be developed.
    • The strategies that are undertaken (i.e., the road map) must drive achievement of the strategic direction by controlling the critical success factors and overcoming the barriers.

    Step 4 – How will we monitor progress? (Monitoring)

    Many organizations benefit simply from going through the process of creating a strategy. At this point, everyone is clear on where we are going and how we plan to get there. However, the key value to strategy development comes in the implementation of the plan. Unfortunately, much too often, strategic plans become space fillers on an executive’s bookshelf. To prevent this from happening, we recommend a structured monitoring process every 3 to 6 months. The structured review involves assessing progress on strategies and grading the current and projected performance against the quantified objectives. While often a sobering process, this detailed level of monitoring provides a method for ensuring that long-term strategy stays on the front burners, despite the pressures of the day-to-day business operation.


    More and more organizations are learning the value of a well-communicated and executed strategy. Human resource managers well-grounded in the language of strategy can provide key insights into where a company is going, and where it might be going wrong.


    Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc., “The Facilitation Company” and author of Amazon best-seller “The Secrets of Facilitation”, “The Secrets to Masterful Meetings”, and the brand new “The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy.” Leadership Strategies is a global leader in facilitation services, providing companies with dynamic professional facilitators who lead executive teams and task forces in areas like strategic planning, issue resolution, process improvement and others. They are also a leading provider of facilitation training in the United States.