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How to update a strategic plan

The plan is a living document that should be continually reviewed and brought up to date

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A strategic plan is a must-have for building a strong business. It tells you where your company is going and the steps to get there.

But strategic planning isn’t a one-off project. To fully benefit from it, you have to integrate the plan into your daily activities, monitor implementation and regularly revisit and update your strategy.

“A strategic plan is a living document that you should continually update,” says Jivi Cheema, a Senior Business Advisor with BDC’s Advisory Services who helps businesses create and implement strategic plans. “You want to keep reviewing it so you can stay in front of the game as markets shift, team members come and go, and your industry changes.”

Cheema offers four tips for updating your strategic plan.

1. Discuss the plan regularly

It’s often said that no plan survives first contact with reality. It’s crucial to meet regularly with your team to discuss progress on the plan. Monthly meetings are ideal to see if implementation is on track, monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) and consider any needed corrective action.

A deeper look is useful each quarter to look at whether tweaks are needed in goals, projects, KPIs, timelines and resources allocated to initiatives. This can also be a good time to adjust for any changes in the internal or external environments.

Toward the end of the plan’s first year, you should do a more in-depth review to create an action plan for the next 12 months. During the strategic plan’s final year, you’ll need to create a new plan for the next two- or three-year planning period. The new plan should be in place as the existing plan draws to a close, to ensure the transition is seamless.

2. Look at your accomplishments

When you review your progress or start work on a new plan, take a close look at what worked and what didn’t. What did you do to make your vision happen? Did your mission propel your vision? “Revisit your corporate values to make sure you walked the talk,” Cheema says.

Next, look at whether you executed the projects in your plan and stuck to your timeline. Pat yourself and your team on the back for your successes. If some items were delayed or not done at all, figure out why and how you can address blockages. It’s common for a strategic plan to need adjusting because of delays or noncompletion of projects.

“Businesses often accomplish less than they expected,” Cheema says. “Bring blockages to the forefront and discuss them. The problem is usually capacity, human resources or time. An external disruption may have occurred. You may need to recruit a new executive or bring in outside advice to identify blockages or help with implementation.”

Your review may require updates to parts of your plan. That could be the timeline, allotted resources or who is responsible for a project. You may also need to reconsider your KPIs. Are they relevant to your objectives and understood by your team? Are they simple and easy to gather information about?

“It’s common for businesses, even sophisticated ones, to develop a strategic plan with KPIs, but six months later no one is collecting the data because they don’t understand the indicators,” Cheema says.

“A KPI doesn’t mean anything unless you have dialogue on it. If you never have a conversation about it, why are you measuring it? If you’re falling short of your targets, what are you doing to reach them? Many companies don’t do a good job of mining data and using it to make decisions.”

Another common, even more fundamental problem with some strategic plans: They don’t include any concrete projects and clear steps to follow to attain the company’s goals. In this case, the plan needs a major overhaul because it’s missing core elements: well-articulated strategic priorities and an action plan.

3. Update your company’s current state

Look at how your plan describes your company’s current state to see what may need updating. Are your markets and products or services the same? What about your business model, organizational structure, key competencies, mission and values?

Once a year, you should work with your team to do a new strategic analysis of your internal and external environments and SWOT analysis (an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). “Ask yourself what has changed in your company and externally,” Cheema says.

4. Update your goals and priorities

Also review and update where you want your company to go. Look at your vision and high-level goals, then as your plan comes to an end, brainstorm to identify a new set of high-impact ideas to prioritize to achieve your goals. “Ask yourself what three to five things would skyrocket your business,” Cheema says.

She lists eight common growth strategies to consider:

  1. Selling the same products to more customers
  2. Selling new products to existing customers
  3. Expanding along your value chain
  4. Building a new unrelated business
  5. Acquiring new companies
  6. Using new channels to improve delivery
  7. Targeting a new customer segment with a similar product
  8. Targeting new geographies with similar products

Cheema also suggests looking at internal opportunities, such as improving operational efficiency, boosting human resources capacity and investing in technology or equipment. “Think beyond what you currently do,” she says.

Once you identify projects to prioritize, map out specific steps to complete them in a new action plan covering the next 12 months. This should include a timeline, KPIs and who will carry out each initiative. “Roll forward your strategic plan every year, validating it as you go along,” Cheema says. “Continual updates keep your plan relevant and alive.”

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