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A Comprehensive Guide to Strategic Planning for Success
Every organization has grand goals on their business agenda. However, there’s a long way between formulating those goals and seeing the results of their successful accomplishment. A lot of things can happen in-between – the project can get side-tracked, the timeline may change and new threats may emerge. To get a better sense of what needs to be accomplished and how? most managers regularly engage in strategic planning (short and long term).
Table of Content
What is Strategic Planning?
Why is strategic planning important, benefits of strategic planning, business plan vs. strategic plan: what’s the difference, when strategic planning should occur, strategic planning models, strategic planning frameworks.
- A Vision Statement
- The Mission Statement
- Core Values
- SWOT Analysis
- Long-Term Goals
- Shorter-Term Goals
- Action Plans
How to Create a One-Page Strategic Plan (OPSP)
A strategic plan is a document that reflects how a company plans to function and grow over a significant period of time, usually three-to-five years. It is based on a mission/vision statement, stated core values, and goals.
A strategic plan also includes all the steps an organization needs to take in order to get where it needs to be. Why is strategic planning important? Because it focuses on an entire organization on long-term goals and allows managers and supervisors to develop plans that will work toward meeting them.
Strategic planning serves as the foundation for an organization’s success by providing a clear roadmap for achieving its goals and objectives. It offers several essential benefits that contribute to its significance:
- Proactive Approach: Strategic planning allows organizations to be proactive rather than reactive. By anticipating future challenges and opportunities, organizations can position themselves to capitalize on favorable circumstances and mitigate potential risks.
- Alignment of Efforts: A well-developed strategic plan aligns all departments and functions of an organization toward a common purpose. This alignment fosters unity, reduces silos, and promotes collaboration among teams.
- Resource Allocation: Strategic planning enables organizations to allocate resources effectively by directing investments toward initiatives that align with the overall strategy. This prevents the wastage of resources on unrelated or redundant projects.
- Informed Decision-Making: With a strategic plan in place, decision-makers have a clear framework to guide their choices. This ensures that decisions are consistent with the organization’s long-term goals and vision.
- Performance Measurement: Strategic plans provide measurable goals and objectives, allowing organizations to track their progress and measure success. This measurement provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of strategies and the need for adjustments.
- Engagement and Buy-In: Involving stakeholders in the strategic planning process fosters engagement and ownership. When employees understand the organization’s goals and how their roles contribute, they are more motivated to work toward its success.
- Adaptability: A strategic plan equips organizations with a structured approach to adapt to changing environments. Whether facing disruptions or opportunities, organizations with strategic plans can adjust quickly and effectively.
- Clear Direction: Strategic planning provides a clear direction for the organization, ensuring that everyone is working towards the same goals.
- Improved Decision-Making: Strategic plans guide decision-making by aligning choices with long-term objectives, reducing uncertainty, and fostering better choices.
- Enhanced Resource Allocation: By identifying priorities and allocating resources strategically, organizations make the most of their available resources.
- Increased Accountability: Clearly defined goals and action plans make it easier to hold individuals and teams accountable for their contributions.
- Better Communication: A strategic plan serves as a communication tool, conveying the organization’s mission, vision, and objectives to stakeholders.
- Cohesive Teamwork: When everyone understands the big picture, collaboration and teamwork improve, leading to more effective outcomes.
- Effective Performance Measurement: Strategic plans provide measurable benchmarks for tracking performance and success over time.
- Flexibility and Adaptability: Strategic plans are designed to be adaptable, allowing organizations to respond to changing circumstances effectively.
- Stakeholder Alignment: Engaging stakeholders in the planning process fosters alignment and commitment to the organization’s goals.
- Competitive Advantage: A well-executed strategic plan positions an organization ahead of competitors by capitalizing on strengths and seizing opportunities.
Strategic plans should not be confused with business plans. A business plan is a document that is developed when launching a business describing the business model and its components, explaining the business potential and attempting to raise capital (loans or investment). Once a company is established (up and running), it is time for a detailed strategic plan that would outline growth and perhaps digital transformations .
There is no single time that is right for all businesses, but, rather, it depends on the company’s unique situation and its industry. But there are certain times when it’s worth to think about it:
- If the industry is evolving quickly and competition is becoming brisk.
- At the time of product launch, if the products/services are fully developed, as part of the go-to-market strategy.
- At the beginning of a new fiscal year.
- If government regulations are causing a change in process, production, etc.
- If the company itself is contemplating a new initiative.
- If a previous strategic plan is old and in need of re-evaluation.
So, how does a manager go about designing a strategic plan? The first step would be to choose the right model or framework.
The Basics of Strategic Planning: Models and Frameworks
All strategic plans sit atop of a model and a framework. A model is a structure that you design for your plan, while the strategic planning frameworks are the details that you place within that model to achieve and evaluate progress toward the goals of your plan – for example, specific objectives, action plans, resources, and evaluative process.
Over the years, a number of models and related frameworks have been developed. So, let’s take a look at some of the most popular ones, along with several strategic planning templates.
The Basic Plan : Open up with a mission statement, formulate the mid-range goals, and specify strategies for achieving these. Sometimes, loftier goals may be divided into smaller strategic objectives. In any case, however, there should be action plans for each objective, spelling out what is to be done, when it will be done, and who will be responsible for each task.
The Cascade Strategy Planning Model : The model begins with a vision statement, much like the mission statement in the model above. It states why the organization is in existence. Beyond this, the structure includes value statements/core beliefs, areas for focus (goals), and then specific objectives that are translated to action plans or projects. The model includes lists of KPI’s and how those will be measured.
The Scenario Model : The idea behind this model is to construct a variety of scenarios that could occur due to external events or changes – regulations, demographics, etc. – and make plans for addressing those issues. The business identifies its vulnerabilities or threats, including the best and worst-case outcomes, and then develops a series of action plans for each one. Usually, the scenario model attempts to anticipate issues that might be faced over a long period of time, generally three-to-five years.
The Goal-Based Model : As the title implies, organizations establish prioritized goals/objectives, and then align them with respective action plans. Some goals will be short-term, some – intermediate, and some long-term. The structure is created after goals a prioritized and followed by action plans for achievement. This model also includes monitoring and assessment of progress at stated intervals.
Remember, frameworks are the actions you will take as you develop your strategic plan and the details that will go into its structure. Here are some of the popular ones in strategic management:
SWOT stands for strengths , weaknesses , opportunities and threats . Strengths and weaknesses are internal conditions; opportunities and threats refer to external forces. Identifying each of these elements will point out to the organization their areas for growth and improvement are and will assist them in developing the goals for their strategic planning.
SWOT Diagram for PowerPoint by SlideModel.
PEST is an acronym for Political, Economic, Socio-cultural, and Technological . These are all external factors that could impact a business, for good or bad. They are identified and plans then made to respond to each factor.
PEST Analysis Template for PowerPoint by SlideModel
Gap Planning : As the name implies, the gap planning framework allows an organization to identify where it is now and where it would like to be at some point in the future. This framework is generally used when internal, not external, conditions can be changed/improved. Check our separate post about how to perform a gap analysis for more insights.
Gap Analysis PowerPoint Template by SlideModel
Blue Ocean : Organizations often live in a red ocean – an environment in which there is lots of competition, and strategic goals must relate to competing in an existing marketplace, beating that competition, and working to gain more of an existing customer base. The goal of this framework is to determine how an organization can move into a blue ocean of new marketplaces and new customer bases.
Blue Ocean Strategy PowerPoint Template by SlideModel
VRIO stands for “value, rarity, imitability, organization.” The framework allows a company to identify opportunities for growth, how to become more competitive with products/services that cannot easily be imitated, and how an organization can be structured to take advantage of the value and rarity it has planned for.
VRIO Model PowerPoint Template by SlideModel
Now that you have some tools and editable strategic planning templates at your disposal, let’s take a closer look at the key strategic planning steps.
How to Write a Strategic Plan Using The 7 Elements Technique
Strategy development and planning are complex tasks and it’s easy to approach them from the wrong angle. The easiest way to approach this task is to base your strategic planning outline around the following 7 elements.
1. A Vision Statement
This is your “big” statement, taking into account what the ultimate goal for your business is. It’s what you want when you finally can say, this organization is a great success.
Here are several inspiring vision statements for reference:
- Teach for America: One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
- WWF: We seek to save a planet, a world of life.
- Toms Shoes: The responsibility of providing for the comfort of children in impoverished regions worldwide.
2. The Mission Statement
A mission statement is one of the key elements of a strategy. It helps to formulate and formalize what your organization does, why it does what it does, and who it does it for. What value does your product or service bring to your target customers? What gap in your niche/industry are you filling? How will you improve people’s lives through your product or service? Brainstorm answers to these questions as part of your strategy development session.
3. Core Values
These relate to how you intend to do business and usually reflect a larger picture . Are you committed to product quality? How about diversity? Are environmental sustainability and social responsibility a part of your company’s actions and behaviors? Is full customer satisfaction an abiding focus? Sit down with your team and come up with values to which everyone should commit – three or four that will guide everyone’s behaviors. To complement this section, you can use one of the core values slides for presentations.
4. SWOT Analysis
Performing a SWOT analysis will help you understand how you currently stand out in your niche, what will it take to grow your business further and what vulnerabilities and risks you should address. A standard SWOT analysis accounts for both internal and external factors . To complement this section, you can reuse one of our SWOT slide templates for PowerPoint and Google Slides.
5. Long-Term Goals
Looking beyond just the next year is critical for a business that intends to grow. These may not necessarily be included in your current strategic plan, but you must have those in mind as you develop annual goals/objectives. And you may want to develop a three or five-year strategic plan and then strategic sub-plans on an annual basis.
6. Shorter-Term Goals
These should usually be annual in nature, and they may relate to various parts of an organization, depending on its needs. You might have an annual sales increase goal; you might develop a goal that relates to bringing technology up to date to streamline supply chain management or customer service.
7. Action Plans
Next, for each goal you’ll have to develop an action plan that accounts for the following:
- What activities will occur to bring about the change?
- Who is responsible for the activities that will take place?
- What is the timeline for the completion of the activities?
- What resources (money, staff, etc.) will be required?
- What stakeholders need to be kept informed of activities and progress?
Once you’ve developed a draft, ask the following questions:
- Is the plan clear, and do all participants understand exactly what their roles are?
- Have any outside participants been included (e.g., are there regulatory agencies that must be involved or communicated with)?
- Does the plan anticipate potential events that could have positive or negative progress?
- Is there an activity in place to evaluate progress and success?
These 7 elements are sufficient for creating a detailed 3- to 5-year strategic plan. However, you can also settle for a shorter, more agile version – a one-page strategic plan.
Can this even be done, given all that must-go into a strategic plan? The short answer is yes. Verne Harnish, CEO of Gazelles consultancy, originally popularized this concept. His main idea is that if you want to ensure that all people in your company are on board with the new strategy, you should be able to fit it into just one page.
There are plenty of OPSP templates that a manager can use to develop this type of plan, and here are a few tips as one is completed:
- Include mission/vision statement(s) and goals (targets) – include long-term goals and from those the focus goals for the next years.
- Answer the questions who, what, when, where, how, and why relative to goals/action plans.
- Ask and answer the challenging questions: Should We do this? Why? These identify the core values.
- List action plans and responsibilities, as well as time frames.
Note : Full action plans will obviously include much more detail than space will allow on the OPSP. These can be developed separately, including stakeholders in the process, and available for anyone to view if and when they wish.
Strategic planning is a complex process. It involves many steps and many key elements of a plan, no matter what specific frameworks or templates are chosen for the design and development. To recap, the keys to successful planning are the following:
- Involve as many stakeholders as possible, especially those who will be responsible for managing the implementation and the action plans.
- Involve representatives from top to bottom of an organization, so that there is much buy-in and sense of ownership as possible.
- If a business is new to this process, it may be wise to bring in a strategic planning consultant for the initial plan development.
- Without the element of measuring progress and achievement, a strategic plan is just a document to go into a file. Focus and accountability will just not happen.
Most of all, remember this: strategic plans are not inflexible documents. Internal and external environments change; things just happen. Re-visiting, modifying, and updating will always be necessary.
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One Response to “A Comprehensive Guide to Strategic Planning for Success”
An excellent summary of how a strategic plan is done. A must have for business administration students.
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Essential Guide to Strategic Planning
Strategic planning maps the initiatives and investments required to achieve long‑term strategic objectives. Here’s how to do it well.
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Strategic planning that works — even in volatile times
Just 29% of strategists say their organizations change plans fast enough to respond to disruption. What’s the problem? Most often, unclear objectives, poor strategic planning processes and disengaged business leaders.
Use this guide to:
Turn your strategy into action faster
Combat 7 mistakes common to strategic planning
Capture and communicate your plans with an exclusive one-page template
4 critical things to know about strategic planning
Especially in times of disruption, it’s key to understand what strategic planning is and does, what assumptions you need and how to leverage the value of adaptive strategy and scenario planning.
- What Is Strategic Planning?
- Strategic Assumptions
- Scenario Planning
- Adaptive Strategy
Strategy and strategic plans: How they are different and why it matters
Strategy creates a common understanding of what an organization wants to achieve and what it needs to do to meet its goals. Strategic plans bridge the gap from overall direction to specific projects and day-to-day actions that ultimately execute the strategy. Job No. 1 is to know the difference between strategy and strategic plans — and why it matters.
Strategy defines the long-term direction of the enterprise. It articulates what the enterprise will do to compete and succeed in its chosen markets or, for the public sector, what the agency will do to achieve its mission.
Strategic planning defines how the enterprise will realize its strategic ambitions in the midterm. Too often, strategic plans are created and then forgotten until the next planning cycle begins. A well-done strategic plan turns an enterprise strategy into a clear roadmap of initiatives, actions and investments required to execute the strategy and meet business goals.
Functional strategic plans document the choices and actions needed for the function to move from the current state to the desired end state, and contribute effectively to the enterprise business model and goals.
Business unit strategic plans define and finalize business unit goals, objectives and initiatives, while cognizant of enterprise priorities and external trends.
Operational plans deal with the short-term execution of specific projects and changes, as well as any operational tasks not contained in the strategic plan.
If you’re responsible for functional strategy, such as IT , create strategic frameworks focused only on what’s material — critical assumptions, relevant metrics and the key initiatives your function needs to contribute effectively to organizational goals, even as those goals shift.
Look out for key trends and disruptions, and test strategic assumptions
It’s critical to scan and respond to trends and disruptions that could impact your strategy and strategic plans — and change your strategic assumptions. Strategic planning cycles should incorporate some mechanism to vet assumptions for relevance (also see “Scenario Planning”).
Ignoring or devaluing trends and disruptions can leave critical gaps in both your strategic assumptions and your strategic planning process, because you may be overlooking both threats and opportunities for your value proposition and competitive positioning.
One Gartner survey found that only 38% of organizations have a formal process for this type of trendspotting. Gartner scopes the seven key areas of disruptive change as a “TPESTRE” of interconnected trend areas (see figure).
Executives across functions and teams can use the TPESTRE construct to identify key trends at any time — from augmented human experience to purpose-driven organizations and digitally enabled sustainability — and analyze their impact. From there, they can build strategic assumptions around the trends as they begin to map what actions might be needed in terms of business models, people/capabilities, IT systems and resources.
After sudden humanitarian or geopolitical disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a framework like TPESTRE can help you identify and monitor a range of risks that may affect your enterprise or function and that you may need to include in scenario planning.
Scenario planning as a strategic planning tool for functions
Scenario planning enables executives and their teams to explore and evaluate plausible alternative futures to make strategic plans more robust and resilient. Pandemic-related disruption and volatility showed the importance of leveraging a range of scenarios to reset business strategy and strategic plans.
Commonly used by strategists at the organizational level, scenario planning at the functional level is just as valuable. Many functional leaders have little experience with strategic scenario planning, even though they may regularly work with their CFO to build budget and forecast scenarios. Those who can learn and apply scenario planning in strategic planning can help their organization navigate volatile and dynamic conditions more effectively, especially in areas like supply chain , where disruption remains high.
Exploring scenarios enables you to determine suitable action plans or strategies for different possible futures. It reveals how to react to a specific future and which set of actions would make sense no matter what conditions ultimately unfold.
For leaders of functional teams, developing scenarios and their underlying assumptions is in itself a useful exercise to corroborate or challenge strategies and keep them current.
The objective of scenario planning is to secure the best immediate outcome while preparing suitable alternative action plans, depending on how a situation unfolds. Proactively agreeing on both near-term operational decisions and long-term strategic plans will reduce the time it takes you to respond to emerging risks and opportunities. This can help your function preempt, rather than reactively control for, the negative effects of a major event or disruption.
Guide to Scenario Planning for Functional Leaders
Scenario Planning for Supply Chain Leaders
Scenario Planning Ignition Guide for Marketing
Strengthen Your R&D Portfolio With Scenario Planning
Use adaptive strategic planning to enable a dynamic response
In an increasingly volatile and uncertain world, strategy can rapidly become out-of-date. To address this challenge, strategic planning must be adaptive. The faster the rate of change in operating conditions and the more disruptions you need to integrate into long-term strategy, the more adaptive your strategy models must be.
An adaptive strategy approach is what ensures your organization can spot new opportunities earlier and respond more quickly than your competitors, making you most likely to succeed in a dynamic digital world.
A truly adaptive strategy approach is consistent with four core practices (see figure) designed to move the enterprise from a rigid, top-down, calendar-based process to a more event-driven strategy approach. Functional strategy can incorporate the same principles. While a truly adaptive approach will be based on all four core practices, functional leaders can initially focus on the practices that address their immediate strategy challenges.
Rather than requiring perfect or complete information to execute, adaptive strategy uses available information to identify immediate actions required for an enterprise or function to be successful. These actions may range from focusing on high-priority areas to making foundational investments or conducting experiments to test ideas. You can use insights from these actions, along with any new information and analysis, to identify your next set of actions.
Adaptive strategy requires you to review strategy whenever new (and relevant) information becomes available, so it’s important to continually scan the business context to identify changes and review — and, where necessary, adjust — strategy in response to changes. (Also see “Strategic Assumptions.”)
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Frequently asked questions
What is strategic planning.
Strategic planning is the process through which enterprises, functions and business units identify the roadmap of initiatives and portfolio of investments that will be required in the medium term to achieve long-term strategic objectives.
What are the four types of strategic planning and the three levels of strategic planning?
Strategic planning starts with setting strategy at the enterprise level, but that strategy must then be turned into action. The three levels of strategic planning typically refer to corporate versus business unit and functional. The four types of plans are typically strategic, operational, tactical and contingency.
What steps are involved in the strategic planning process?
To build a successful strategic plan with a consistent and sequential process, functional leaders should:
Ensure consistent usage of terms to minimize confusion in strategic planning and set a baseline for collaboration
Build a strong foundation for more detailed planning by setting or pressure-testing mission, vision and goal statements first
Streamline stakeholder input by limiting mission, vision and goal setting to senior leadership, and leaving objective, action plan, and measure and metric development to managers with execution expertise
What are the key elements of strategic planning?
The key elements of a successful strategic plan include:
Mission and vision. The organization’s mission articulates its reasons for being, and the vision lays out where the organization hopes to be. The strategic plan, which links the two, must be adaptive enough to respond if the context changes during execution.
Strategic assumptions. To build a successful strategic plan, leadership should scope for trends and disruptions, and assess their potential impact on enterprise goals.
Strategic plan design. A rigorous strategic planning design effectively translates the strategy into plans that can and will be executed. Poor plans lead to poor execution.
What are the key terms in strategic planning?
Mission: Organization’s purpose
Vision: Desired future state
Objective: How to reach goals
Action plan: What’s needed to achieve objectives
Measures and metrics: To track progress toward goals
How do we design a strategic planning system?
Strategic planning “systems” refer to the tools used to document strategic plans. Gartner urges organizations not to focus on strategy in terms of the document they’re creating, but instead focus on turning strategy into an easily communicated action plan.
What is a strategic action plan?
The strategic action plan is a formal document that serves as the primary source of information for how objectives will be executed, monitored, controlled and closed. Many organizations also deploy an associated but separate “action plan” for achieving the operating model.
What are strategic measures and metrics?
Measures are observable outcomes that allow organizations to evaluate the efficacy of their action plans. Metrics quantify those observed changes to enable an organization to concretely quantify its progress and stay aligned to its chosen measures.
What are the 7 key success factors involved in strategic planning?
These seven success factors are key to producing high-quality strategic plans that will be successfully executed yet responsive to change:
Focus on designing a minimally viable strategy.
Customize planning efforts to meet participants where they are.
Sketch out initiative design before prioritizing strategic actions.
Be clear about who owns what.
Cascade plans side to side, not just top-down.
Focus performance measures on key assumptions.
Pressure-test plans against a narrow set of future scenarios.
Drive stronger performance on your mission-critical priorities.
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- Section 1. An Overview of Strategic Planning or "VMOSA" (Vision, Mission, Objectives, Strategies, and Action Plans)
Chapter 8 Sections
- Section 2. Proclaiming Your Dream: Developing Vision and Mission Statements
- Section 3. Creating Objectives
- Section 4. Developing Successful Strategies: Planning to Win
- Section 5. Developing an Action Plan
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- Section 7. Identifying Action Steps in Bringing About Community and System Change
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- 7 strategic planning models, plus 8 fra ...
7 strategic planning models, plus 8 frameworks to help you get started
Strategic planning is vital in defining where your business is going in the next three to five years. With the right strategic planning models and frameworks, you can uncover opportunities, identify risks, and create a strategic plan to fuel your organization’s success. We list the most popular models and frameworks and explain how you can combine them to create a strategic plan that fits your business.
A strategic plan is a great tool to help you hit your business goals . But sometimes, this tool needs to be updated to reflect new business priorities or changing market conditions. If you decide to use a model that already exists, you can benefit from a roadmap that’s already created. The model you choose can improve your knowledge of what works best in your organization, uncover unknown strengths and weaknesses, or help you find out how you can outpace your competitors.
In this article, we cover the most common strategic planning models and frameworks and explain when to use which one. Plus, get tips on how to apply them and which models and frameworks work well together.
Strategic planning models vs. frameworks
First off: This is not a one-or-nothing scenario. You can use as many or as few strategic planning models and frameworks as you like.
When your organization undergoes a strategic planning phase, you should first pick a model or two that you want to apply. This will provide you with a basic outline of the steps to take during the strategic planning process.
During that process, think of strategic planning frameworks as the tools in your toolbox. Many models suggest starting with a SWOT analysis or defining your vision and mission statements first. Depending on your goals, though, you may want to apply several different frameworks throughout the strategic planning process.
For example, if you’re applying a scenario-based strategic plan, you could start with a SWOT and PEST(LE) analysis to get a better overview of your current standing. If one of the weaknesses you identify has to do with your manufacturing process, you could apply the theory of constraints to improve bottlenecks and mitigate risks.
Now that you know the difference between the two, learn more about the seven strategic planning models, as well as the eight most commonly used frameworks that go along with them.
1. Basic model
The basic strategic planning model is ideal for establishing your company’s vision, mission, business objectives, and values. This model helps you outline the specific steps you need to take to reach your goals, monitor progress to keep everyone on target, and address issues as they arise.
If it’s your first strategic planning session, the basic model is the way to go. Later on, you can embellish it with other models to adjust or rewrite your business strategy as needed. Let’s take a look at what kinds of businesses can benefit from this strategic planning model and how to apply it.
Small businesses or organizations
Companies with little to no strategic planning experience
Organizations with few resources
Write your mission statement. Gather your planning team and have a brainstorming session. The more ideas you can collect early in this step, the more fun and rewarding the analysis phase will feel.
Identify your organization’s goals . Setting clear business goals will increase your team’s performance and positively impact their motivation.
Outline strategies that will help you reach your goals. Ask yourself what steps you have to take in order to reach these goals and break them down into long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals .
Create action plans to implement each of the strategies above. Action plans will keep teams motivated and your organization on target.
Monitor and revise the plan as you go . As with any strategic plan, it’s important to closely monitor if your company is implementing it successfully and how you can adjust it for a better outcome.
2. Issue-based model
Also called goal-based planning model, this is essentially an extension of the basic strategic planning model. It’s a bit more dynamic and very popular for companies that want to create a more comprehensive plan.
Organizations with basic strategic planning experience
Businesses that are looking for a more comprehensive plan
Conduct a SWOT analysis . Assess your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with a SWOT analysis to get a better overview of what your strategic plan should focus on. We’ll give into how to conduct a SWOT analysis when we get into the strategic planning frameworks below.
Identify and prioritize major issues and/or goals. Based on your SWOT analysis, identify and prioritize what your strategic plan should focus on this time around.
Develop your main strategies that address these issues and/or goals. Aim to develop one overarching strategy that addresses your highest-priority goal and/or issue to keep this process as simple as possible.
Update or create a mission and vision statement . Make sure that your business’s statements align with your new or updated strategy. If you haven’t already, this is also a chance for you to define your organization’s values.
Create action plans. These will help you address your organization’s goals, resource needs, roles, and responsibilities.
Develop a yearly operational plan document. This model works best if your business repeats the strategic plan implementation process on an annual basis, so use a yearly operational plan to capture your goals, progress, and opportunities for next time.
Allocate resources for your year-one operational plan. Whether you need funding or dedicated team members to implement your first strategic plan, now is the time to allocate all the resources you’ll need.
Monitor and revise the strategic plan. Record your lessons learned in the operational plan so you can revisit and improve it for the next strategic planning phase.
The issue-based plan can repeat on an annual basis (or less often once you resolve the issues). It’s important to update the plan every time it’s in action to ensure it’s still doing the best it can for your organization.
You don’t have to repeat the full process every year—rather, focus on what’s a priority during this run.
3. Alignment model
This model is also called strategic alignment model (SAM) and is one of the most popular strategic planning models. It helps you align your business and IT strategies with your organization’s strategic goals.
You’ll have to consider four equally important, yet different perspectives when applying the alignment strategic planning model:
Strategy execution: The business strategy driving the model
Technology potential: The IT strategy supporting the business strategy
Competitive potential: Emerging IT capabilities that can create new products and services
Service level: Team members dedicated to creating the best IT system in the organization
Ideally, your strategy will check off all the criteria above—however, it’s more likely you’ll have to find a compromise.
Here’s how to create a strategic plan using the alignment model and what kinds of companies can benefit from it.
Organizations that need to fine-tune their strategies
Businesses that want to uncover issues that prevent them from aligning with their mission
Companies that want to reassess objectives or correct problem areas that prevent them from growing
Outline your organization’s mission, programs, resources, and where support is needed. Before you can improve your statements and approaches, you need to define what exactly they are.
Identify what internal processes are working and which ones aren’t. Pinpoint which processes are causing problems, creating bottlenecks , or could otherwise use improving. Then prioritize which internal processes will have the biggest positive impact on your business.
Identify solutions. Work with the respective teams when you’re creating a new strategy to benefit from their experience and perspective on the current situation.
Update your strategic plan with the solutions. Update your strategic plan and monitor if implementing it is setting your business up for improvement or growth. If not, you may have to return to the drawing board and update your strategic plan with new solutions.
4. Scenario model
The scenario model works great if you combine it with other models like the basic or issue-based model. This model is particularly helpful if you need to consider external factors as well. These can be government regulations, technical, or demographic changes that may impact your business.
Organizations trying to identify strategic issues and goals caused by external factors
Identify external factors that influence your organization. For example, you should consider demographic, regulation, or environmental factors.
Review the worst case scenario the above factors could have on your organization. If you know what the worst case scenario for your business looks like, it’ll be much easier to prepare for it. Besides, it’ll take some of the pressure and surprise out of the mix, should a scenario similar to the one you create actually occur.
Identify and discuss two additional hypothetical organizational scenarios. On top of your worst case scenario, you’ll also want to define the best case and average case scenarios. Keep in mind that the worst case scenario from the previous step can often provoke strong motivation to change your organization for the better. However, discussing the other two will allow you to focus on the positive—the opportunities your business may have ahead.
Identify and suggest potential strategies or solutions. Everyone on the team should now brainstorm different ways your business could potentially respond to each of the three scenarios. Discuss the proposed strategies as a team afterward.
Uncover common considerations or strategies for your organization. There’s a good chance that your teammates come up with similar solutions. Decide which ones you like best as a team or create a new one together.
Identify the most likely scenario and the most reasonable strategy. Finally, examine which of the three scenarios is most likely to occur in the next three to five years and how your business should respond to potential changes.
5. Self-organizing model
Also called the organic planning model, the self-organizing model is a bit different from the linear approaches of the other models. You’ll have to be very patient with this method.
This strategic planning model is all about focusing on the learning and growing process rather than achieving a specific goal. Since the organic model concentrates on continuous improvement , the process is never really over.
Large organizations that can afford to take their time
Businesses that prefer a more naturalistic, organic planning approach that revolves around common values, communication, and shared reflection
Companies that have a clear understanding of their vision
Define and communicate your organization’s cultural values . Your team can only think clearly and with solutions in mind when they have a clear understanding of your organization's values.
Communicate the planning group’s vision for the organization. Define and communicate the vision with everyone involved in the strategic planning process. This will align everyone’s ideas with your company’s vision.
Discuss what processes will help realize the organization’s vision on a regular basis. Meet every quarter to discuss strategies or tactics that will move your organization closer to realizing your vision.
6. Real-time model
This fluid model can help organizations that deal with rapid changes to their work environment. There are three levels of success in the real-time model:
Organizational: At the organizational level, you’re forming strategies in response to opportunities or trends.
Programmatic: At the programmatic level, you have to decide how to respond to specific outcomes or environmental changes.
Operational: On the operational level, you will study internal systems, policies, and people to develop a strategy for your company.
Figuring out your competitive advantage can be difficult, but this is absolutely crucial to ensure success. Whether it’s a unique asset or strength your organization has or an outstanding execution of services or programs—it’s important that you can set yourself apart from others in the industry to succeed.
Companies that need to react quickly to changing environments
Businesses that are seeking new tools to help them align with their organizational strategy
Define your mission and vision statement. If you ever feel stuck formulating your company’s mission or vision statement, take a look at those of others. Maybe Asana’s vision statement sparks some inspiration.
Research, understand, and learn from competitor strategy and market trends. Pick a handful of competitors in your industry and find out how they’ve created success for themselves. How did they handle setbacks or challenges? What kinds of challenges did they even encounter? Are these common scenarios in the market? Learn from your competitors by finding out as much as you can about them.
Study external environments. At this point, you can combine the real-time model with the scenario model to find solutions to threats and opportunities outside of your control.
Conduct a SWOT analysis of your internal processes, systems, and resources. Besides the external factors your team has to consider, it’s also important to look at your company’s internal environment and how well you’re prepared for different scenarios.
Develop a strategy. Discuss the results of your SWOT analysis to develop a business strategy that builds toward organizational, programmatic, and operational success.
Rinse and repeat. Monitor how well the new strategy is working for your organization and repeat the planning process as needed to ensure you’re on top or, perhaps, ahead of the game.
7. Inspirational model
This last strategic planning model is perfect to inspire and energize your team as they work toward your organization’s goals. It’s also a great way to introduce or reconnect your employees to your business strategy after a merger or acquisition.
Businesses with a dynamic and inspired start-up culture
Organizations looking for inspiration to reinvigorate the creative process
Companies looking for quick solutions and strategy shifts
Gather your team to discuss an inspirational vision for your organization. The more people you can gather for this process, the more input you will receive.
Brainstorm big, hairy audacious goals and ideas. Encouraging your team not to hold back with ideas that may seem ridiculous will do two things: for one, it will mitigate the fear of contributing bad ideas. But more importantly, it may lead to a genius idea or suggestion that your team wouldn’t have thought of if they felt like they had to think inside of the box.
Assess your organization’s resources. Find out if your company has the resources to implement your new ideas. If they don’t, you’ll have to either adjust your strategy or allocate more resources.
Develop a strategy balancing your resources and brainstorming ideas. Far-fetched ideas can grow into amazing opportunities but they can also bear great risk. Make sure to balance ideas with your strategic direction.
Now, let’s dive into the most commonly used strategic frameworks.
8. SWOT analysis framework
One of the most popular strategic planning frameworks is the SWOT analysis . A SWOT analysis is a great first step in identifying areas of opportunity and risk—which can help you create a strategic plan that accounts for growth and prepares for threats.
SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Here’s an example:
9. OKRs framework
A big part of strategic planning is setting goals for your company. That’s where OKRs come into play.
OKRs stand for objective and key results—this goal-setting framework helps your organization set and achieve goals. It provides a somewhat holistic approach that you can use to connect your team’s work to your organization’s big-picture goals. When team members understand how their individual work contributes to the organization’s success, they tend to be more motivated and produce better results
10. Balanced scorecard (BSC) framework
The balanced scorecard is a popular strategic framework for businesses that want to take a more holistic approach rather than just focus on their financial performance. It was designed by David Norton and Robert Kaplan in the 1990s, it’s used by companies around the globe to:
Align their team’s daily work with their company’s strategy
Prioritize products, services, and projects
Monitor their progress toward their strategic goals
Your balanced scorecard will outline four main business perspectives:
Customers or clients , meaning their value, satisfaction, and/or retention
Financial , meaning your effectiveness in using resources and your financial performance
Internal process , meaning your business’s quality and efficiency
Organizational capacity , meaning your organizational culture, infrastructure and technology, and human resources
With the help of a strategy map, you can visualize and communicate how your company is creating value. A strategy map is a simple graphic that shows cause-and-effect connections between strategic objectives.
The balanced scorecard framework is an amazing tool to use from outlining your mission, vision, and values all the way to implementing your strategic plan .
You can use an integration like Lucidchart to create strategy maps for your business in Asana.
11. Porter’s Five Forces framework
If you’re using the real-time strategic planning model, Porter’s Five Forces are a great framework to apply. You can use it to find out what your product’s or service’s competitive advantage is before entering the market.
Developed by Michael E. Porter , the framework outlines five forces you have to be aware of and monitor:
Threat of new industry entrants: Any new entry into the market results in increased pressure on prices and costs.
Competition in the industry: The more competitors that exist, the more difficult it will be for you to create value in the market with your product or service.
Bargaining power of suppliers: Suppliers can wield more power if there are less alternatives for buyers or it’s expensive, time consuming, or difficult to switch to a different supplier.
Bargaining power of buyers: Buyers can wield more power if the same product or service is available elsewhere with little to no difference in quality.
Threat of substitutes: If another company already covers the market’s needs, you’ll have to create a better product or service or make it available for a lower price at the same quality in order to compete.
Remember, industry structures aren’t static. The more dynamic your strategic plan is, the better you’ll be able to compete in a market.
12. VRIO framework
The VRIO framework is another strategic planning tool designed to help you evaluate your competitive advantage. VRIO stands for value, rarity, imitability, and organization.
It’s a resource-based theory developed by Jay Barney. With this framework, you can study your firmed resources and find out whether or not your company can transform them into sustained competitive advantages.
Firmed resources can be tangible (e.g., cash, tools, inventory, etc.) or intangible (e.g., copyrights, trademarks, organizational culture, etc.). Whether these resources will actually help your business once you enter the market depends on four qualities:
Valuable : Will this resource either increase your revenue or decrease your costs and thereby create value for your business?
Rare : Are the resources you’re using rare or can others use your resources as well and therefore easily provide the same product or service?
Inimitable : Are your resources either inimitable or non-substitutable? In other words, how unique and complex are your resources?
Organizational: Are you organized enough to use your resources in a way that captures their value, rarity, and inimitability?
It’s important that your resources check all the boxes above so you can ensure that you have sustained competitive advantage over others in the industry.
13. Theory of Constraints (TOC) framework
If the reason you’re currently in a strategic planning process is because you’re trying to mitigate risks or uncover issues that could hurt your business—this framework should be in your toolkit.
The theory of constraints (TOC) is a problem-solving framework that can help you identify limiting factors or bottlenecks preventing your organization from hitting OKRs or KPIs .
Whether it’s a policy, market, or recourse constraint—you can apply the theory of constraints to solve potential problems, respond to issues, and empower your team to improve their work with the resources they have.
14. PEST/PESTLE analysis framework
The idea of the PEST analysis is similar to that of the SWOT analysis except that you’re focusing on external factors and solutions. It’s a great framework to combine with the scenario-based strategic planning model as it helps you define external factors connected to your business’s success.
PEST stands for political, economic, sociological, and technological factors. Depending on your business model, you may want to expand this framework to include legal and environmental factors as well (PESTLE). These are the most common factors you can include in a PESTLE analysis:
Political: Taxes, trade tariffs, conflicts
Economic: Interest and inflation rate, economic growth patterns, unemployment rate
Social: Demographics, education, media, health
Technological: Communication, information technology, research and development, patents
Legal: Regulatory bodies, environmental regulations, consumer protection
Environmental: Climate, geographical location, environmental offsets
15. Hoshin Kanri framework
Hoshin Kanri is a great tool to communicate and implement strategic goals. It’s a planning system that involves the entire organization in the strategic planning process. The term is Japanese and stands for “compass management” and is also known as policy management.
This strategic planning framework is a top-down approach that starts with your leadership team defining long-term goals which are then aligned and communicated with every team member in the company.
You should hold regular meetings to monitor progress and update the timeline to ensure that every teammate’s contributions are aligned with the overarching company goals.
Stick to your strategic goals
Whether you’re a small business just starting out or a nonprofit organization with decades of experience, strategic planning is a crucial step in your journey to success.
If you’re looking for a tool that can help you and your team define, organize, and implement your strategic goals, Asana is here to help. Our goal-setting software allows you to connect all of your team members in one place, visualize progress, and stay on target.
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Strategic Planning 101
How do you create a strategic plan for your company that will lead to transformational results? What type of strategic planning is the most impactful? In this short guide, we will cover what strategic planning is, the importance of strategic planning , 8 common strategic planning frameworks, characteristics of successful strategic plans, and the best strategic planning tools . Before we dive into the types of strategic planning, let’s take a moment to look at one of the many strategic planning examples .
Related reading: The 7 Steps of Strategic Planning
What Is an Example of Strategic Planning?
A very common one is the 5-year strategic plan example. A five-year strategic plan is a living document that gives a high-level view of goals for the upcoming years. Notice the emphasis on “living”—this is because strategic plans tend to evolve and change. Strategic plans can be made for any length of time, although the most common time frames are 12 months, three years, and five years. They typically have three major sections:
- A mission statement with a major goal.
- A list of initiatives to meet the goal.
- A financial plan to show how money will be spent and where revenue will be generated.
This isn’t a rigid framework, but rather more of a roadmap that helps you get to the right destination (even if that destination isn’t exactly what you originally envisioned).
Related reading: What is a Strategic Plan Example?
What Are Strategic Planning Frameworks?
When it comes to strategic planning techniques , there is different terminology that is used: models and frameworks. These terms are typically used interchangeably, although some think there are shades of difference. In general, both frameworks and models provide you with a process for how to develop a strategic plan that is unique to your business.
Related reading: 4 Steps to Build and Roll Out Your Strategic Plan
What Are the Types of Strategic Planning?
There are many different types of strategic planning, running the gamut from informal to formal. It’s important to note that many of these frameworks can be used in combination with each other. Let’s take a look at the most common 8 types of strategic planning:
Sometimes referred to as a “SWOT Matrix” or “SWOT Matrix Analysis,” the name is drawn from the four components: S trengths, W eaknesses, O pportunities, and T hreats. This comprehensive analysis takes into account internal and external factors in addition to current and future potential.
The main benefits of the SWOT Analysis are that it generates a fresh perspective and actionable data about the company. Additionally, this framework is very cost-effective. In fact, anyone who is familiar with the organization can conduct one. However, the limitations of this framework include inaccurate information, as preconceived notions can influence the data, and SWOT Analysis may not be the right fit for complex, multifaceted planning.
PEST stands for P olitical, E conomic, S ocial, and T echnological. This model is typically used by businesses to study and understand the external market they operate in. The PEST Model is particularly useful when attempting to enter a foreign market. A major limitation is obviously the fact that the model only examines external factors and does not take into consideration any internal variables.
This model is a good candidate for using in combination with other frameworks.
OKRs (Objectives and Key Results)
Objectives and Key Results , informally known as OKRs, is a collaborative goal-setting methodology that is widely used within software companies today. OKRs originated at the computer company Intel and was quickly adopted by other tech companies.
In his book Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs , John Doerr shared why this method was so transformational at Google: “Contributors are most engaged when they can actually see how their work contributes to the company’s success. Quarter to quarter, day to day, they look for tangible measures of their achievement. Extrinsic rewards—the year-end bonus check—merely validate what they already know. OKRs speak to something more powerful, the intrinsic value of the work itself.”
Using this method is simple—choose an objective and three to five key results. The objective should be a significant, ambitious goal that is clearly defined. The key results should be easily measurable in order to determine success.
OKRs are an excellent tool that companies can use to set challenging goals and push themselves further than might have been thought possible. However, if too many OKRs are set and followed, it can lead to a lack of prioritization and objective overload.
Porter’s Five Forces
Businesses who are seeking to increase their competitive advantage often use the Porter's Five Forces framework. By looking at five competitive forces that are present in the marketplace, companies can understand what factors influence their profitability. The five competitive forces are:
- Competition in the industry
- Potential of new market entrants
- The power of suppliers
- The power of customers
- The threat of substitute products
A few of the benefits of Porter’s Five Forces are that you can easily identify opportunities to expand and that the information gathered will help you create the most value with your strategic plan. A significant limitation is the fact that there are more than five forces that impact companies, like technological advancements or changing governmental regulations to name just a few. This framework may not be practical for companies that are operating in several industries.
V alue, R arity, I mitability, and O rganization are the four prongs of this framework, helping businesses to understand their competitive potential and plan accordingly. By looking at the four components and asking questions, the VRIO framework allows companies to identify and leverage their specific advantages. Because this method focuses on resources that you actually possess, rather than more general strengths, tangible solutions often surface rather than intangible suggestions. Limitations of the VRIO Framework are that smaller, less established companies may struggle to use it and that it only focuses on internal factors, excluding external variables.
Where are you going with your business? Where do you want to be? By asking these two questions, you can identify the gap and start addressing it. There are four steps in Gap Planning, also known as Gap Analysis . These steps are:
- Analyze your current state
- Identify your ideal future state
- Find the gap and analyze potential solutions
- Create and implement a plan
Gap analysis can give a comprehensive view of a company and help to prioritize strategies. However, gap planning can be costly and time consuming, as external consultants are often brought in to perform the analysis.
Balanced Scorecard (BSC)
The Balanced Score , or simply BSC, draws from four different perspectives to provide a “balanced” and high-level view of performance. This framework is used to communicate goals, align day-to-day work towards those goals, and measure and monitor progress. Characteristics of the balanced scorecard include a focus on strategy, a defined set of measurements to monitor performance, a mixture of financial and non-financial perspectives, and a portfolio of initiatives.
The four perspectives that BSC examines are:
- Financial stewardship - how the company uses financial resources
- Customer/stakeholder - looking at performance from the perspective of customers and key stakeholders
- Internal process - examines the quality and efficiency in internal workflows
- Organizational capacity - encompasses the resources that impact growth, like human capital, infrastructure, and culture
A balanced scorecard is a great tool for facilitating alignment and connecting each employee to the overall goals. However, this approach requires a lot of data and can quickly get complicated.
Blue Ocean Strategy
Written in 2004 by professors from the international business school INSEAD, Blue Ocean Strategy has influenced many companies to great success. In fact, Nintendo used this framework to develop the Nintendo DS and the Wii, specifically incorporating a touch screen interface and motion controls to reach people who may have never thought to pick up a controller . That’s what Blue Ocean is all about: new markets and uncontested spaces.
In the book, the authors define the terms ‘red ocean’ and ‘blue ocean.’ The red ocean is the known market—the boundaries are clear and everyone is playing by the same competitive rules. Everyone is jostling for the same customers and attempting to corner the market, leading to fierce competition and cutthroat strategies (thus the term ‘red ocean’). However, the blue ocean represents the unknown market—industries that don’t exist yet, where demand must be created rather than fought for. There is no competition because there is no industry! When Nintendo released the Wii, there weren’t any similar products on the market, leading to the creation of an entirely new way of gaming.
The Blue Ocean Strategy provides a step-by-step approach that builds execution into the strategy. The six steps in one part of this strategy are to examine:
- Alternative industries
- Strategic groups within your industry
- Buyer groups
- Complementary product and service offerings
- Functional-emotional orientation of an industry
- Historical trends
The benefits of the Blue Ocean Strategy are clear: having an entirely new market space with no competition gives huge advantages. On the other hand, there are great risks like arriving too early or not identifying the right idea for a new product or service.
What Are 5 Characteristics of an Effective Strategic Plan?
No matter what framework(s) you choose to formulate your strategic plan, the final outcome should reflect these five characteristics:
- A Central Vision - Your strategic plan should communicate to every employee and stakeholder the big picture and the central vision for the business.
- Clear Values - Values impact everything that companies do. Your strategic plan should clearly spell out what the company’s values are to encourage buy-in.
- Long-term Thinking - Strategic plans should prioritize outcomes and objectives for the long-term rather than focusing on the present.
- Accountability - While it may not be spelled out in the strategic plan itself, it is still important to dictate who is responsible for updating and executing the plan.
- Built-in Measurement - Whether you decide to use KPIs or other metrics, measurement and analysis are vital for evaluating the success of the strategic plan.
Interestingly, a 2021 survey by McKinsey found the companies who experienced the most transformational results from their strategic planning were those that:
- Assessed their company’s present situation rigorously.
- Identified the current state of corporate capabilities as well as problems and the underlying mind-sets that must change for the transformation to succeed.
- Broke down the process of the transformation into specific, clearly defined initiatives.
Essentially, this study shows that it doesn’t particularly matter which frameworks you choose as long as you are meeting these characteristics.
What Are the Best Strategic Planning Tools?
The best strategic planning tools are ones that are flexible, integrated, and accessible. They also should include:
- Data integration that ensures your team is not posting to several different places
- Seamless alignment of your company's vision with plan execution
- A flexible space where you can set, prepare, review, and take action on the top priorities
Here at Elate, we have created the leading strategic planning software that covers all of these factors. No matter what framework(s) you use, when it comes time to create, communicate, and quantify your strategic plan, we can help. In fact, we even wrote the playbook on strategic planning !
With 61% of senior executives reporting that their companies often struggle with the day-to-day implementation of strategy, it’s important to have the tools that can help bridge this gap. With Elate, you are empowered and enabled to do just that. You can easily communicate your vision, create alignment, and track performance all in one place. Ready to see Elate in action and experience the difference that the best strategic planning tool can make? Try a free demo or contact us today to take your strategy to the next level.
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The 2023 COO & CFO Forum: Law firm strategic plans should be actionable and data-driven
Zach Warren Manager for Enterprise Content for Technology & Innovation / Thomson Reuters Institute
8 Nov 2023 · 7 minute read
While many law firms try to ‘future proof’ themselves through strategic planning, panelists at this year's Thomson Reuters Institute Law Firm COO & CFO Forum revealed how those plans can have more immediate impact
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Whether you’re a firm, a company or just in daily life, it’s good to have a plan. The future is impossible to predict, after all, and a plan can help provide direction in uncertain times. However, is it really possible — especially in the law firm context — to “future proof” firm operations? A panel at the recent Thomson Reuters Institute’s 22nd annual Law Firm COO & CFO Forum revealed that while it’s impossible to know the future, there are ways law firms can use their strategic plans to help ensure better odds of success.
Best laid plans
At the session, David Schaefer, Co-Chief Operating Officer and Managing Director at legal consultancy Calibrate, noted that sometimes law firm strategic plans can be like New Year’s resolutions: nice platitudes, but ultimately empty. He noted that successful strategic plans have a few common elements.
First, Schaefer said, they should an actionable anchor point for the firm. When changes in law firms occur, “they’re often not anchored to their mission or values. …When things are disruptive, they can drift a little bit.”
Also, he added that strategic planning should not have a beginning and endpoint. “It’s a little bit like trying to be healthy, you have to do it all the time,” Schaefer explained, adding that law firms should thus approach strategic planning knowing that it has to happen periodically, over and over again. Otherwise, “that’s not a strategic plan. That’s just a document that people spent a lot of time and money on.”
Jeffrey Connor, Chief Financial Officer at law firm McGuire Woods, agreed, noting that many law firms need to learn how to properly evaluate those strategic plans during periodic review. “Your strategic plan should evolve, but it can also serve as a backboard to make sure things are still working,” he said.
Connor also provided two initiatives through which firms can evaluate their own strategic plans by evaluating both their highly skilled staff and their technology implementation success. For example, with business development personnel, he proposed measuring not just by RFP wins, but losses that still received positive client feedback, as well as engagements that have fully formed budget and plans, productivity, and more. Regarding technology, Connor suggested not only measuring how tech works, but also keeping track of what’s not working and being prepared to drop those tools. He also noted that when efficiencies are gained through technology, it’s important to track how attorneys are re-filling their plates.
These sorts of measurements may take more up-front thinking, but several panelists noted that these plans will not only guide firm strategy, but firm employees’ own direction as well. Kate Stonestreet, Global Chief Operating Officer at Baker McKenzie, noted that especially when measuring skilled staff, firms need clearly defined expectations of people before they can be measured. “It’s the accountability to deliver against expectations, because if you don’t know what expectations are, you’re never going to deliver against them,” said said.
New tech can still be planned for
Of course, even the best planning cannot account for every outcome. Take the emergence of a technology like generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI), for instance, which within the past year has thrown into flux everything from how associates are trained to how business development work is done throughout the firm.
Schaefer acknowledged that Gen AI has the potential to change a lot within law firms, but also noted that AI itself is not new to firms. There should be an expectation within the planning process that technology could change how firms operate, because it’s happened before. “AI is not the last stop, it’s just the next stop,” Schaefer explained. “There will be something after AI that means everybody will be telling us the legal industry is going to end.”
At Baker McKenzie, Stonestreet said her firm has adopted the “fast follower” mentality — not wanting to be too far out in front of a technology to the point at which it’s not fully developed, but able to react quickly when use cases develop. With respect to Gen AI, she has three main goals: to get data in order, train people, and make tough decisions around which technologies to purchase or wait on. Ultimately, she said, it is all done “with the view of how is it going to help us serve our clients better.”
Schaefer called familiarizing themselves with technology “an important first step for most law firms.” (That’s particularly true when undergoing data cleansing as Stonestreet suggested.) Attorneys “go to pull data and find they have five different systems that don’t talk to each other,” Schaefer said, adding that the result often is a seven-figure job for large firms to clean up that data. And while some firms may balk at having to undertake such an onerous task, even saying they believe that AI is not worth the squeeze, Schaefer countered by asking, “If not now, when?”
Indeed, the panelists all agreed that AI and other related technologies will be an important part of strategic planning moving forward, so for reticent firms, it’s important to take action now. That’s doubly true because, as Stonestreet explained, AI systems aren’t plug-and-play but instead take work to train and maintain. “Unless we can organize and maintain data,” she said, “it’s not going to deliver the value that it should.”
The looming effects of AI
Earlier in the Forum , Gretta Rusanow, Head of Advisory Services in the Law Firm Group at Citi Global Wealth, noted that law firm leaders are acutely aware of the pending impacts of Gen AI on the legal market, yet it is not something they anticipate having a dramatic impact before 2025.
However, over the next decade, more than half of respondents to a Citi survey said that they expect Gen AI will have an impact on their firm’s overall leverage model, including the potential to hire fewer junior associates and the development of new skills and roles within the firm. Accordingly, data scientists were the number one role law firm leaders anticipated needing to hire in the coming years.
While Gen AI thus far has had a relatively minimal effect on the practice of law, over the next decade, firm leaders expect widespread adoption of AI technologies to lead to increasing commoditization of certain types of legal work, with a premium being placed on higher-value strategic and advisory work.
This will also potentially change the way firms price and staff matters, as well as the amount of work clients are able to absorb in-house, Rusanow acknowledged, noting however that the full scope of the long-term effects of this new technology is difficult to discern at this point as much of the future impact of Gen AI is “too soon to tell.”
Thomson Reuters Institute’s William Josten added to this post.
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