The article was originally published on Forbes.

By Michael Gunther

Guess what? Most strategic plans — those labor of love documents that the C-suite spends hours upon hours debating — are actually notstrategic plans. So, if what we think of as a strategic plan actually isn’t one, then what is it?

The short answer: It’s probably an implementation plan.

Before you fret too much, don’t throw away any plans that you do have. Know that both strategic plans and implementation plans are integral to a company’s success. Both types of plans complement each other to achieve internal and external goals. In short, strategic plans guide the company’s overall strategy, while implementation plans provide the road map for how to get there.

Before sitting down in your next strategy planning session, plan for a productive meeting by considering the following.

Strategic plans don’t solve problems.

Leaders are natural problem solvers and tend to subconsciously shift to tactical plans in order to solve issues. There’s a certain level of comfort in trying to solve problems versus determining what types of risk your company needs to take to achieve the next level of financial performance. Instead of focusing on solutions during strategic planning, focus on increasing the company’s odds of success.

Ensure the strategic plan is outward-focused.

Strategic plans should determine how the organization wants to play in the marketplace based on what the target customers desire. The plan should address concerns of customers, clients and audiences outside of the organization itself.

Determine where your company exists.

Who is your target customer or market? Once that’s figured out, strategize ways to precisely acquire and retain those customers. Include conversations on how to roll with an evolving marketplace, how to fill unmet needs of key stakeholders, which market dynamics will impact the company, and identify opportunities in the market for the company’s products/services.

Establish achievement goals.

Create a compelling value proposition for the target audience. This is the stage when leaders must not create tactics, but goals that a later developed implementation plan will achieve. So, consider the drivers and barriers of acquiring new business, determine customer perspectives on the company versus its competitors, establish a positional stance and decide which best practices can be implemented.

Stay straightforward.

Strategic plans are not dissertations. Keep it to one page and focus only on the key choices that will influence the company’s revenue drivers — i.e., the customers.

Use clear logic.

Write down what the organization must change to achieve the strategic goal. Determine what is known about the customers, the industry’s evolution, the competition and your company’s capabilities.

Now that the strategic plan is in place, develop an implementation plan through tactics such as determining growth opportunities, improvements, or enhancements to the team, infrastructure and other internal functions. The implementation plan should answer the following questions (note that this is the stage when leaders can finally create action plans and find solutions to the problems and direction outlined in the strategic plan!).

  • What do we hope to accomplish and why?
  • How will we plan to accomplish this task?
  • How can we incorporate measurement tools to ensure the goal is achieved?

These questions should be answered for each of the four business cornerstones, which are sales and marketing, finance and legal, management and human resources, as well as operations and production.

Bottom Line

Strategy is a strict focus on the company’s customers to ultimately increase the company’s revenue. A strategic plan will only be as good as the people, systems and culture allow it to be. Be clear about how strategic goals will be achieved, and involve the right people in the process. Strategic plans support the company’s growth by understanding its customers.

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