One of the services we offer at Strategic Results is to help agencies and institutes develop their strategic plans. Strategic planning is among the most fundamental processes in executing an organization’s missions and realizing its broader vision for the future. In the corporate world, the advantages yielded through strategic planning are well-documented, as study after study have linked the formal planning process to improvements in company performance and organizational productivity. We ourselves swear by the plans we’ve developed for own operations.
Strategic planning is not just for businesses, however. Our interest is always in serving the scientific and medical communities, and research-based organizations arguably stand the most to gain from a formal planning process. These plans can define the organization’s future not just internally but in a broader context—in finding solutions to perennial problems of health research and implementation, from training gaps, to public outreach barriers, to health disparities in the nation and worldwide.
Why develop a strategic plan?
A well-crafted strategic plan will:
- Concentrate the organization’s members and constituents towards common goals
- Ensure optimal use of the organization’s resources, aligning them towards areas of greatest importance
- Establish clear-cut objectives that can realistically be attained within the next five years
- Provide clarity about what the organization wants to achieve and how to go about it, which in turn will guide day-to-day actions and decisions
- Provide a means for measuring the organization’s progress, and a mechanism for improvement should goals not be met
Strategic planning: A step-to-step guide
While the contents of a strategic plan will diverge significantly between corporations, nonprofit groups, and federal entities, the essential planning principles hold true in every case. The Research Foundation at the State University of New York (SUNY) identifies the seven key steps to creating a successful strategic plan for any.
1. Gather and analyze information. Look at the environment in which the organization operates, as well as internal strengths and weaknesses. Try breaking into smaller teams and meetings, then consolidating the responses. Be sure to involve outside stakeholders!
2. Identify the organization’s critical issues/priorities. Distill the input from Step 1 into a list of key issues facing the organization. Consider what externals changes and trends, as well as which internal strengths and weaknesses, will have the greatest impact on your organization’s ability to achieve its mission.
3. Develop a strategic vision statement that sets future direction for the organization—what your organization will ideally be achieving in the future.
4. If necessary, review the mission statement. The mission statement is your organization’s broad description of its purpose and ultimate end goals. Review it in light of the emerging vision statement. Is it still clear and relevant? Is it distinct from other organizations?
5. Develop strategic goals. Strategic goals are broad statements of what your organization hopes to achieve in the next 5 years. These should be outcome-focused, realistic, attainable, and measurable. Lay your goals out on a timeline if possible—the more specific, the more likely you are to keep to your objectives.
6. Formulate strategies for attaining each goal and resolving issues. A good strategy leverages organization competencies and corrects organizational shortcomings.
7. Use the strategic plan to develop annual objectives as well as to guide day-to-day decisions.
Remember, once the plan is written, it still must reviewed and updated on a regular basis to check that the vision remains preeminent and that steady progress persists towards the goals. Formal review meetings should be held once a year, if not more often.