Full of energy and hope with a new strategic plan and then wonder what ever happened to it a year later? Tired of seeing your organization’s strategic plan get derailed by the crises of the day? There are six key steps in a strategic planning process that will define your strategic goals and establish doable action steps to achieve those goals.

Step 1 –  Obtain staff and management input – Obtaining input to the plan from all levels of the organization increases the realism and ownership of the planning process.

Example: Even if the planning is done at the management level, staff input can be obtained through surveys and group meetings and synthesized by group managers prior to the planning sessions.

Step 2 – External Research (if needed) – Ideas that emerge from Step 1 may require some research before an informed decision about their viability can be made.

Example: If a new area of business is being proposed, initial research on market potential, geographical area, competition, etc. prior to the planning session enables informed decisions to be made.

Step 3 – Strategic Planning Retreat – The next step is a strategic retreat with the people who will be leading the organization. The retreat is held away from the office. The lack of clarity about goals and unworkable long lists of goals are two common pitfalls in the strategic planning process. The retreat defines a few (usually around five) critical goals that provide specific areas of focus and include measurements that can be used to determine the degree of progress and success. The resources needed, schedule and assignments for tasks that will advance toward the goals are established.

Example: The criteria and process for prioritizing the critical goals should be defined early in the planning process to minimize over-commitment to too many goals due to high enthusiasm or attempting to meet everyone’s wish list.

Step 4 – Prepare Strategic Plan – Following management review of a draft plan, the staff has an opportunity to comment on the draft plan to provide a reality check and reinforce broad ownership of the plan.

Example: The rubber meets the road when resources are allocated to the action plans. Reality sets in. Do you really have the resources and time to do everything on the planned schedules? If not, then it’s time to adjust the plan before it starts.

Step 5 – Implementation of the Strategic Plan – Monthly goals should be set for each action plan so that progress can be readily measured. Successful implementation will require a strong champion who is passionate about the plan to lead the effort. Success requires structured follow-up and tracking of progress against schedules and budgets, just like a project. It is important to actively support the staff in accomplishing their assigned action items and to hold people accountable.

Example: There’s nothing like a squeaky wheel to keep the plan from gathering dust on the shelf! The champion has to be the program manager monitoring progress, providing resources, making adjustments and publishing results to keep the plan alive and moving towards its goals!

Step 6 – Monitor and Adjust – Five months into the plan, the objectives for the first year should be reviewed and monthly goals for the next six months revised as necessary. Eleven months into the plan, the planning process should be repeated and appropriate changes made in the plan for the remaining years.

Example: The strategic plan is not chiseled in stone. The world is changing quickly. The best use of resources to advance the plan may shift. Two six-month reviews each year along with tracking of monthly goals allows changes in the marketplace to be incorporated in the plan. It also creates a stronger focus, leaves less room for procrastination and creates a greater sense of urgency to hit the established targets.