Non-Profit Fact Sheets

What is Strategic Planning?

Published: June 19, 2024

Read Time: 25 minutes

What is strategic planning

Strategic planning is a critical process that helps organisations chart their future direction. With business environments continually evolving, organisations must regularly re-evaluate their strategies to ensure they maintain competitive advantage. While the fundamental principles remain the same, strategic planning today is notably different than past approaches.

What is Strategy?

You can’t discuss strategic planning without first touching on strategy.

Strategy refers to an organisation’s long-term plan for how it will achieve its mission and vision. A robust strategy considers both external factors like opportunities, threats, and competition as well as internal capabilities and resources.

An effective strategy provides unique positioning and ways of competing that make the organisation stand apart from rivals. Strategy also involves trade-offs - selecting which paths to pursue and which to leave behind. The dynamic business environment of today means that organisation’s must develop strategies that are dynamic and flexible rather than static.

Key characteristics of an effective business strategy include:

  • Future-oriented – A strategy is focused on where the organisation desires to be in the future, not necessarily where it stands today. Strategic planning involves anticipating future trends, disruptions, competitor responses, and marketplace dynamics and positioning the organisation to capitalise on them.

  • Provides competitive advantage – Strategies enable organisations to stake out valuable positions in the competitive landscape that rivals cannot easily replicate or replace. This is achieved by leveraging internal resources and capabilities in unique ways tailored to the external environment.

  • Considers competition and marketplace factors – An integral part of strategy involves analysing the moves and capabilities of competitors as well as broader shifts in technology, regulations, demographics, social trends and economic forces that may impact the competitive environment.

  • Aligns organisational resources and activities – Strategies provide an overarching framework that coordinates and mobilises resources across departments, business units and individual stakeholders. All activities should reinforce the strategic direction.

  • Involves trade-offs and choices – Executing a strategy requires saying no to some paths and opportunities in order to focus time and resources on the selected approach. Leaders must make tough choices about which new initiatives to fund, projects to pursue, and operations to optimise.

  • Flexible adaptation over time – Due to continually evolving internal and external conditions, even the best strategies must be regularly re-evaluated and adjusted. Changing marketplace conditions often require a strategy pivot.

Strategy provides a unifying roadmap for accomplishing an organisation’s mission and vision by mobilising its unique resources and capabilities to capitalise on emerging opportunities while mitigating risks. A robust strategic planning process is essential for leaders to define their strategic direction.

What Is Strategic Planning?

Strategic planning is the comprehensive process of defining an organisation’s direction and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. It involves setting long-term goals, determining actions to achieve these goals, and mobilising resources to execute the actions. This process is crucial for guiding an organisation through changes and ensuring its growth and sustainability.

The Strategic Planning Process

Strategic planning aims to determine and communicate an organisation’s direction through a structured process. The main elements of the strategic planning process are:

Establishing the vision, mission and values - The vision is the desired future state. The mission describes the organisation’s purpose and raison d’être (reason for being). Values are the principles that guide behaviours.

Analysing the external environment - This includes examining factors like competition, technology, regulations, market trends and economic conditions that may impact the organisation’s performance. The analysis identifies threats and opportunities.

Understanding the internal environment - Looking at existing capabilities, resources, operations and culture within the organisation. The internal analysis spots strengths and weaknesses.

Setting goals and objectives - Goals are broad, general statements of what the organisation hopes to accomplish. Objectives are specific, measurable steps that will lead to achieving the goals.

Formulating the strategy - Determining how to use the organisation’s strengths to take advantage of opportunities and counter threats, while also mitigating weaknesses. Strategies should provide competitive advantage.

Implementing the strategy - Allocating resources, restructuring operations, assigning responsibilities, motivating staff and managing programs to bring the strategy to life.

Evaluating performance - Tracking progress using metrics and benchmarks. Making adjustments as needed. Reviewing the strategy regularly to ensure it remains relevant.

The strategic planning process turns the strategy developed through research and analysis into an actionable plan for the organisation’s future direction. It provides a roadmap for realising the organisation’s goals.

While these main phases remain constant, some evolving trends are reshaping modern strategic planning approaches.

  • Increased speed and flexibility – Given today’s rapidly changing environments, strategy planning must become more nimble and adaptable. Annual or infrequent strategy offsides are giving way to more regular strategy reviews and real-time adjustments.

  • Data-driven strategic insights – Advanced analytics, scenario planning, predictive modelling and AI provide deeper data-driven insights for strategists to make smarter decisions. Big data fuels strategy.

  • Competitor-centric – Leading companies conduct meticulous competitive analysis and benchmarking as part of their strategy process. Understanding the strategic landscape is prerequisite for positioning.

  • Broader stakeholder analysis – Rather than just shareholder interests, strategies must balance and consider implications for employees, customers, communities, regulators, and society.

  • Flatter, decentralised approaches – Although C-suite leadership remains paramount, inclusive cross-functional involvement makes for better informed strategy. Bottom-up insights complement top-down direction.

  • Clear communication and accountability – Strategies must be clearly articulated throughout the organisation, with individual personnel understanding their specific role and accountability.

  • Testing and validating assumptions - Strategists pressure test their underlying assumptions through experimentation and prototyping, ensuring the strategy remains appropriate.

  • Comfort with uncertainty – In fluid environments, strategies provide direction but remain flexible. Strategists accept uncertainty, avoid rigid plans and keep exploring options.

With these trends in mind, some best practices for the strategic planning process include:

  • Conduct regular but limited strategy meetings to review the current strategic plan and calibrate based on learnings and changing conditions.

  • Continuously gather competitive intelligence from the field – e.g. speaking with customers, monitoring competitors. But supplement these with expert advisory groups.

  • Identify organisational challenges and strategy gaps that need addressing, don’t just rely on old plans.

  • Stress test assumptions behind the strategy and validate through small experiments and prototypes.

  • Use scenario planning to rehearse strategy pivots if certain conditions emerge.

  • Communicate strategy clearly, frequently and consistently. Make sure it is reflected in everyday language, culture and decisions of the organisation.

  • Incorporate agile strategic planning approaches to prototype and iterate on strategy options before large resource commitments.

  • Focus on activating strategy through execution, not just formulation and rigorously track performance metrics and milestones.

  • Allow strategies to emerge bottom-up as well as top-down. It is important to enable individuals to respond quickly at the local level if needed.

Strategic Planning
Strategic Planning

The Board’s Role in Strategic Planning

The board of directors plays a vital role in guiding the strategic planning process and overseeing successful strategy execution. Some of the board’s key responsibilities include:

  • Reviewing and approving the overall strategic plan and any significant changes in strategic direction for the company. This includes critiquing the plan to ensure it makes sound assumptions and addresses key risks and opportunities.

  • Ensuring the strategic planning process is rigorous and inclusive of diverse internal and external perspectives. The board wants to avoid narrow thinking or pet projects.

  • Monitoring implementation and performance of the strategic plan through regular progress reports and metrics. This includes identifying gaps where execution is falling short.

  • Reviewing and approving major capital investments, M&A deals, and other significant resource allocation decisions required to execute strategic priorities.

  • Advising on potential blind spots, disruptive forces, and competitive threats that management may be underestimating when developing strategy. The board provides an outside-in perspective.

  • Assessing whether corporate culture, talent practices and organisational capabilities are aligned to enable strategy execution. The board looks at enablers.

  • Overseeing succession planning and executive compensation to ensure leadership continuity and incentives reinforce strategic goals.

  • Periodically requesting third-party assessments of the company’s strategic planning processes and execution capabilities and recommending improvements.

  • Championing and communicating the strategy with external stakeholders to garner support and resources.

By fulfilling these duties, the board guides strategy with objectivity and insights while ensuring management implements with excellence. The board acts as both a strategic advisor and watchdog.

The Chairperson’s Role in Strategic Planning

The chairperson plays a pivotal role in the strategic planning process, serving as the guiding force that ensures the organisation remains true to its long-term vision and goals. While the CEO and senior executive team are deeply involved in the hands-on execution and operational aspects of the strategic plan, the chairperson’s responsibilities are more focused on oversight, facilitation, and alignment.

Leadership and Oversight: The chairperson provides overall leadership and direction for the strategic planning process. They ensure that the board and executive team are aligned with the strategic plan and committed to its successful implementation. This involves overseeing the development of the strategic plan to ensure it aligns with the organisation’s mission, vision, and values.

Facilitation and Collaboration: A key part of the chairperson’s role is to facilitate discussions and workshops that gather input from board members, executives, and stakeholders. By creating an environment that encourages open and constructive dialogue, the chairperson helps to surface diverse perspectives and ideas that can shape the strategic plan. This collaborative approach is crucial for building a cohesive and comprehensive strategy.

Communication and Alignment: The chairperson is responsible for communicating the strategic vision and goals to both internal and external stakeholders. This communication ensures that there is a clear understanding and buy-in from all parts of the organisation. The chairperson works to align the board and executive team with the strategic objectives, fostering a unified direction.

Evaluation and Accountability: Regularly reviewing and evaluating the effectiveness of the strategic plan is another critical aspect of the chairperson’s role. They must be vigilant in monitoring progress and making necessary adjustments based on feedback and changing circumstances. The chairperson also holds the board and executive team accountable for the implementation of the strategic plan, ensuring that performance metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) are tracked and reported.

Strategic Visionary vs. Operational Leader: While the CEO is responsible for the hands-on execution and operationalisation of the strategic plan, the chairperson focuses on the broader oversight and strategic alignment. The CEO and senior team conduct analyses, provide recommendations, and implement detailed plans that align with the overarching strategy. The chairperson, on the other hand, ensures that these activities are consistent with the long-term vision and strategic goals of the organisation.

The chairperson’s role in strategic planning is to guide the process, foster collaboration, communicate the strategic vision, and ensure accountability. This role is distinct from that of the CEO, who is more involved in the day-to-day execution and operational aspects of the strategic plan. Together, the chairperson and CEO work to ensure the organisation stays on course and achieves its long-term objectives.

The CEO’s Role in Strategic Planning

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and senior executive team play instrumental hands-on roles in leading the strategic planning process:

The CEO oversees the overall strategic planning process and is ultimately accountable for defining and executing sound strategies. The CEO must be fully engaged in the process while empowering others.

The senior team conducts analyses on competitive trends, market conditions, capabilities, and provides recommendations on strategic priorities to the CEO. Executive input shapes strategies.

Senior leaders actively participate in strategy discussions, providing perspective on opportunities and risks from their respective business units and functions. They review assumptions.

The CEO and team are responsible for reconciling conflicting views and building alignment on strategy across the executive group and company. They forge strategic consensus.

Executives develop more detailed plans for their respective groups to align tactical objectives and resource needs with the overarching strategy. They connect high-level strategy to ground execution.

The CEO and senior leaders must effectively communicate the strategy throughout the organisation in compelling fashion to inform, inspire and enroll employees. They are chief strategists.

Executives act as role models when implementing strategy. Their behaviours signal priorities and culture changes just as much as their words. They walk the talk. Senior leaders track execution metrics and progress for areas under their responsibility. They identify potential bottlenecks early and resolve.

Executives adjust and refine strategy plans as conditions and performance feedback warrants. They balance sticking to plan with agility. At the end of the day, the success of the organisation’s strategy comes down to the clarity, capability and commitment of the CEO and executive team to lead the process.

Evolving Approaches to Strategic Planning

While core elements remain constant, strategic planning processes have evolved to be more fluid, decentralised and data-driven. Some key shifts include:

More Agility

  • Strategies must adapt quicker to keep pace with rapid change. Annual strategic planning is giving way to ongoing, iterative approaches.
  • Shorter planning cycles, smaller strategy increments and more frequent calibration meetings avoid outdated rigid plans.
  • Built-in contingency plans and if-then scenario planning allows rapid adaptation if conditions shift.
  • Comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty. Able to recalibrate on the fly versus rigid adherence to plans.

Increased Competitiveness

  • Deep competitive analysis and benchmarking conducted continuously, not just at annual strategy retreats.
  • Monitoring competitive activity in real-time and making incremental moves to counter or gain advantage.
  • Studying disruptive innovation and constantly looking for white space opportunities in the competitive landscape.

Advanced Analytics

  • Big data, predictive modelling and AI provide more evidence-based strategic insights versus relying just on executive intuition.
  • Algorithms can analyse millions of data points to detect subtle patterns and trends difficult for humans to spot.
  • Sophisticated analytics enable data-driven segmentation, targeting, positioning and resource optimisation.

Empowered Teams

  • Cross-functional involvement across departments ensures strategies consider diverse vantage points.
  • Enable autonomy for small teams to prototype and test strategy options in contained environments.
  • Bottom-up innovation and ideas complement top-down leadership. Frontline knowledge informs strategic direction.
  • Increased use of networked collaboration tools and virtual work enables broader strategic participation.

Broader Stakeholder Focus

  • Strategies account for broader sets of stakeholders beyond just shareholders - employees, communities, customers, regulators, public interest.
  • Modelling and forecasting examines wider potential impacts of strategic options across stakeholder groups.
  • Seeking input from a diverse stakeholder advisory panel leads to more balanced strategies.

Improved Communication

  • Simplicity and clarity of strategic messaging, avoid convoluted business jargon.
  • Town halls, internal social networks and multimedia help employees connect to strategy.
  • Reinforcing strategy through symbolic actions, rewards, and cultural touch points.
  • Leader modelling of desired mindsets and behaviours implicit in the strategy.

With careful execution, strategic planning enables organisations to define ambitious yet achievable paths to their desired future. The process requires clarity, rigour, and skilful implementation. Done right, it is the cornerstone for realising an organisation’s full potential.

Overcoming Strategic Planning Challenges

Strategic planning is essential yet challenging for many organisations. Common issues include focusing too much on current operational issues rather than considering long-term impacts, which results in nearsighted perspectives. Insular thinking is another significant challenge, where there is a failure to scan the external environment or benchmark against competitors, leading to stagnant strategies. Additionally, organisations often struggle with a lack of priorities, trying to pursue too many disparate strategies, which dilutes focus and resources.

Poor communication also hampers strategic planning, with the strategic plan often confined to presentations rather than integrated into daily dialogue and decisions. Resistance to change is common, with entrenched corporate cultures hostile to new strategic directions. This resistance leads to disconnected execution, where there is no clear follow-through on resourcing, monitoring, and adapting the strategy. Furthermore, biased processes result in strategies that reflect only leadership’s views without inclusive involvement, while complacency makes organisations unwilling to confront data or perspectives that conflict with past strategies.

A lack of accountability is another challenge, with many organisations missing serious progress reviews and consequence management. Moreover, outdated mindsets, relying on legacy strategic planning processes instead of adopting modern approaches, further complicate effective strategy development and execution.

To mitigate these pitfalls, organisations must make strategy core to their culture, ensuring it is not just an isolated management activity removed from daily work. Governance and constructive dissent should be encouraged in strategic decision-making. Aligning strategy planning with budgeting, execution, and performance management processes is crucial. Cross-functional facilitators and rotating participants can help garner fresh strategic insights, while mapping the customer and end-user experience informs strategy from their needs and viewpoint.

Providing strategic planning training to improve thinking, analysis, and collaboration skills is also beneficial. Periodically bringing in external advisory partners to challenge prevailing assumptions helps maintain an external focus and ensures that even successful organisations reinvent themselves to avoid disruption.

With the right mindsets, methods, and management processes, organisations can overcome natural strategy challenges. Whether strategic planning is conducted annually, quarterly, or continuously, organisations must adopt a learning mindset and periodically ‘sharpen the saw’ to improve their strategic planning capabilities over time.

Elements of Effective Business Strategy

While each organisation pursues strategies tailored to its unique situation, certain shared elements characterise an effective business strategy:

  1. Purposeful – There is a clear vision and mission articulating why the organisation exists and what it aspires to achieve long-term. The strategy aligns activities with this overarching purpose.

  2. Focused – The strategy avoids trying to be all things to all customers. Strategic choices are made to target specific customer segments, needs and geographies to service exceptionally well versus diluting efforts.

  3. Positioned – The strategy provides a differentiated value proposition and way of competing that makes the organisation stand out from others vying for the same space. There is clarity on what makes it unique.

  4. Opportunity-driven – The strategy demonstrates how the organisation will capture emerging growth opportunities as well as respond to disruptive threats that could undermine it. Plans to seize the offensive and get ahead of competition.

  5. Resourced – The necessary human, financial, technical and operational resources required to execute the strategy have been mapped out, budgeted and allocated.

  6. Cohesive – The strategy ties together various business lines, departments and programs so they fully align and reinforce each other rather than operating in silos and at cross-purposes.

  7. Adaptive – The strategy sets clear directions yet retains flexibility to evolve as circumstances warrant. It is resilient amidst changing conditions and responsive when quick pivots become necessary.

  8. Communicated – Leadership strives to cascade the strategy consistently in simple, everyday language throughout the organisation. Employees understand the strategic priorities guiding decisions.

  9. Accountable – There is clear ownership and responsibility for acting on each piece of the strategic plan, with key performance indicators tracked. Progress is continually assessed and course corrections made as required.

  10. Improvable – The organisation doesn’t become rigidly attached to legacy strategies that may be growing outdated. The strategy is periodically revisited and refreshed using new data, insights and foresight to refine it.

A strategy that embodies these characteristics sets the organisation up for sustained success amidst constant change.

How to Define Strategic Objectives

Strategic objectives describe the specific, measurable outcomes an organisation needs to achieve to realise its strategy and larger goals. Well-crafted objectives exhibit certain key qualities:

  • Specific - The objective states exactly what is to be accomplished using quantitative terms. Generalised, vague objectives are not useful.

  • Measurable - Objectives have concrete criteria for tracking progress. There are metrics and milestones that indicate advancement made.

  • Achievable - Objectives are ambitious yet realistic given organisational capabilities and resource constraints. Stretch goals inspire versus frustrate.

  • Relevant - Each objective ladders up into achieving a key strategic goal and priority. Objectives align with the broader vision and mission.

  • Time-bound - Objectives have clear deadlines indicating when the outcome must be achieved. Urgency increases focus and priority.

  • Accountable - Responsibility for achieving the objective is fully assigned to individuals and teams. Owners accept delivery responsibilities.

Well-crafted objectives also use SMART criteria:

S = Specific M = Measurable
A = Achievable R = Relevant T = Time-bound

Strategic objectives provide clarity on the most important outcomes that must be accomplished in the next 1-3 years to drive strategy forward. Leaders should limit objectives to the vital few versus diluting focus with too many loosely defined objectives.

Scenario Planning for Strategic Foresight

Scenario planning aims to envision plausible alternative futures that could unfold for an organisation or industry. By rehearsing different possibilities beyond the most likely scenario, companies can stress test and improve their strategies. Reasons companies benefit from scenario planning include:

  • Preparing for uncertainty - Exploring diverse scenarios expands thinking to address unpredictable conditions. Provides strategic agility.

  • Pressure testing - Determines if a strategy is resilient and adaptable across multiple scenarios versus easily undermined. Reveals vulnerabilities.

  • Identifying blind spots – Highlights trends, inflection points and disruptions leaders may be overlooking when contemplating the future. Opens peripheral vision.

  • Widening perspectives - Participative scenario planning fosters fresh dialog and viewpoints beyond dominant internal narratives about the future. Avoids groupthink.

  • Sparking innovation - Imagining divergent scenarios spurs new ideas as people think creatively about solutions and envision possibilities for differentiation.

  • Neutral space - Scenario planning provides a judgement-free zone for safely discussing provocative views of the future. Defuses organisational politics.

  • Rehearsing strategy - Like a flight simulator, scenarios allow ‘practice runs’ to refine thinking and preparedness through simulated experience.

While scenarios are hypothetical, rigorously researched narratives support their plausibility. The most useful scenario planning focuses on pivotal uncertainties that would have major strategic implications.

Implementing Strategic Plans

Implementing a strategic plan involves converting priorities into actionable processes and activities. Key steps include clear communication of the strategy, assigning responsibilities, allocating resources, adjusting organisational structures, and developing new operational processes. Establishing metrics for tracking progress and adapting policies, procedures, and company culture to align with strategic goals are essential. Continuous review, prototyping, and celebrating milestones ensure momentum. Leadership must embed execution into daily operations, maintain urgency, and regularly review and refine the process to adapt to changing realities. By being rigorous, creative, and adaptable, leaders can transform strategic priorities into tangible outcomes.

Pitfalls to Avoid in Strategy Execution

While meticulous implementation is crucial for strategic success, many organisations falter after the initial phases of planning. Common pitfalls include losing momentum as day-to-day distractions take priority and failing to maintain ongoing urgency. Inadequate resourcing occurs when the strategic plan is under-funded or under-staffed due to inaccurate resource estimation. A lack of accountability arises when no specific leaders or teams are responsible for key initiatives, causing tasks to fall through the cracks.

Poor coordination results from breakdowns in cross-functional alignment, while misaligned systems and incentives mean that operational processes, HR policies, and cultural norms do not support new strategic priorities. Insufficient transparency in tracking progress leads to a lack of execution discipline and strategic feedback loops. Complacency sets in when successes are not celebrated, and mistakes are not reviewed, making the organisation passive.

Distractions from new priorities fragment focus on execution, while resistance to change comes from those benefiting from old ways. Lastly, a lack of skills hampers execution when employees’ capabilities and competencies are not developed. Leaders must proactively address these barriers through governance, investment, training, communication, and cultural initiatives to ensure flawless strategy delivery at all levels of the organisation.

Evaluating Strategic Plans

To reap the benefits of strategic planning, organisations must evaluate the effectiveness of their strategies and how well they execute them. Key considerations in strategic plan assessment include:

  • Tracking performance metrics - Are lead and lag measures aligned to strategic goals and milestones showing progression per targets? Where are shortfalls?

  • Assessing competitor response - How have competitors reacted to our strategy? Have we gained an enduring edge or only temporary advantage? How can we raise barriers?

  • Monitoring changes in the external landscape - What new threats and opportunities emerge in the environment that may require adapting our strategy or execution?

  • Checking alignment - Does our strategy still support our mission and vision? Are all initiatives and resources aligned to strategic priorities?

  • Validating assumptions - Have underlying assumptions proven true or false? Do we need to modify our strategic hypothesis?

  • Reviewing execution effectiveness - What’s working well and not so well in how we activate and operate the strategy? How can we sharpen execution?

  • Surveying stakeholders - How do employees, customers and partners perceive our strategy and actions? What feedback on adjustments?

  • Benchmarking leaders - How is our strategic approach comparing to organisations seen as exemplars? Where is performance lagging?

  • Auditing culture and capabilities - Is our organisation culturally aligned and capable of sustaining sound strategy execution? Where are gaps?

  • Assessing value creation - Is the strategy generating the intended return on investment and creating enduring value for stakeholders?

Continually evaluating strategy efficacy provides insights on when to persist the course versus re-visit the drawing board. Adaptability balanced with conviction is key.

Updating and Evolving Strategies

Even the best strategies eventually become outdated and need to be updated as conditions change. Strategies must balance commitment with flexibility. Signs that it’s time to revisit a strategy include missing key performance benchmarks, the emergence of disruptive technologies or competitors, and shifts in economic climate, regulations, geopolitics, or social trends. Additionally, changes in customer needs, mergers and acquisitions, leadership changes, or new capabilities can expand strategic options, and competitor strategy pivots may require a response to maintain advantage. When a multi-year strategic plan is 60-70% complete, focus should shift to the next horizon. A pervasive sense that the current strategy is going stale also indicates it’s time for a change.

Updating strategies involves making adjustments rather than complete rewrites. The process should build on current successes while introducing new perspectives, capabilities, and foresight. Leaders must overcome inertia and nostalgia, recognising that even previously successful strategies can become obsolete. Continual reassessment and evolution keep strategies fresh, future-proofed, and aligned with changing realities. Periodic strategy innovation is essential for sustaining leadership.

Criticisms of Strategic Planning

While strategic planning is crucial for guiding organisations, it has its limitations that warrant consideration. Critics argue that traditional strategic planning can be too rigid and formulaic, proving suboptimal when conditions are uncertain and dynamic. Strategies devised at annual off-sites can quickly become outdated and irrelevant as situations evolve. Additionally, strategic planning often relies too heavily on internal perspectives and histories, lacking sufficient external engagement and future analysis.

There is also a noted disconnect between formulating strategy and mobilising resources to implement the plan. The time-consuming nature of the planning process can divert management’s attention from the daily operational demands of the business. Detailed strategic plans can create illusions of control, fostering a false sense of certainty about the future and the company’s ability to predict it.

Strict strategic plans and planning cycles may stifle agility and innovation, inhibiting risk-taking and entrepreneurial initiatives. Incremental planning can overlook potential disruptive competitors or game changers, missing significant threats. Groupthink and selective information sharing during planning can undermine objective strategy evaluation, leading to a lack of transparency and challenge. Moreover, strategic plans can often end up as mere paper exercises, gathering dust rather than actively guiding decisions and implementation.

These limitations can be mitigated through more flexible planning approaches, incorporating broader inputs and robust analysis. Ensuring close execution linkage, frequent strategy refreshment, and outcomes-based tracking can enhance the effectiveness of strategic planning, keeping it relevant and actionable.

Alternatives to traditional strategic planning

While traditional strategic planning is essential for many organisations, its periodic and insular nature has limitations in fast-changing and uncertain environments. Companies today are exploring more fluid approaches to strategy development that complement annual planning.

Continuous Strategy Review: Frequent leadership meetings foster real-time adaptation, moving away from rigid annual plans.

Emergent Strategy: Bottom-up initiatives organically bubble up, complementing top-down direction and allowing for greater adaptability.

Scenario Planning: Developing multiple hypothetical scenarios to stress-test strategies and surface blind spots.

Customer-Back Planning: Designing strategy by working backwards from the ideal customer experience.

Aspirational Visioning: Creating an energising vision of the desired future state and reverse-engineering the steps to get there.

Outside-In Perspective: Leveraging external advisory groups to challenge insider thinking and uncover blind spots.

By blending these dynamic approaches with conventional planning, organisations can enhance strategy innovation and adaptability.

Strategic Planning Alternatives
Strategic Planning Alternatives

Strategic Planning Templates

Here are some potentially useful strategic planning templates:

  • SWOT analysis - This template provides a framework to summarise key internal Strengths and Weaknesses as well as external Opportunities and Threats impacting strategy.

  • PEST analysis - This template scaffolds an analysis of relevant Political, Economic, Social, and Technological factors shaping the strategic context.

  • Porter’s Five Forces - This examines the balance of power between Competitors, Suppliers, Buyers, Substitutes and New Entrants to understand industry dynamics.

  • Strategy map - Visually depicts how strategic objectives and initiatives link together into a cohesive strategy. Shows cause-and-effect relationships.

  • Balanced scorecard - Tracks strategic performance across Financial, Customer, Internal Process and Learning/Growth perspectives.

  • Strategy canvas - Graphically depicts how a company’s strategy differs from competitors across key performance dimensions. Reveals strategic positioning.

Targeted use of templates like these can provide helpful frameworks to guide strategic analysis, planning and management. But they should inform, not substitute for, sound strategic thinking.

In Summary

Strategic planning is a critical process that helps organisations chart their future direction. As business environments continually evolve, organisations must regularly re-evaluate their strategies to maintain a competitive advantage. While traditional strategic planning remains important, it must adapt to the dynamic and uncertain conditions of today.

Modern approaches include continuous strategy review, emergent strategy, scenario planning, customer-back planning, and leveraging an outside-in perspective. These methods inject greater flexibility, real-time adaptation, and broader stakeholder engagement into the planning process. Effective strategic planning involves not just formulating a plan but also ensuring its seamless execution, addressing common pitfalls, and continually updating strategies to stay relevant and responsive to changing conditions. By blending conventional rigorous planning with more dynamic approaches, organisations can enhance strategy innovation and adaptability, ultimately driving long-term success.

Additional Resources & F.A.Q

Operating Plan vs. Strategic Plan?

Strategic Plan

  • Purpose:
    • Sets the long-term vision and overall goals of the organisation.
    • Provides a roadmap for achieving these goals over several years (typically 3-5 years).
  • Focus:
    • Concentrates on broad, high-level objectives.
    • Emphasises external opportunities and threats, long-term growth, and competitive positioning.
  • Components:
    • Mission and vision statements.
    • Core values.
    • Long-term goals and objectives.
    • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).
    • Strategic initiatives and priorities.
  • Timeframe:
    • Long-term (3-5 years or more).
  • Flexibility:
    • Relatively stable but can be adjusted based on major changes in the internal or external environment.

Operating Plan

  • Purpose:
    • Details the specific actions and resources needed to implement the strategic plan.
    • Focuses on short-term objectives (typically one year or less).
  • Focus:
    • Concentrates on day-to-day operations and tactical activities.
    • Emphasizes internal processes, efficiency, and resource allocation.
  • Components:
    • Detailed action plans and timelines.
    • Specific, measurable objectives.
    • Budgets and resource allocations.
    • Performance metrics and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
    • Responsibility assignments and deadlines.
  • Timeframe:
    • Short-term (usually one year).
  • Flexibility:
    • More adaptable to changes and adjustments based on immediate needs and circumstances.

Relationship Between the Two

The strategic plan sets the direction and long-term goals for the organisation. The operating plan translates these strategic goals into actionable steps and day-to-day operations. Effective organisations ensure alignment between their strategic plan and operating plan to ensure resources are used efficiently to achieve both short-term and long-term objectives.

In summary, the strategic plan provides the 'what' and 'why' at a high level, while the operating plan provides the 'how' and 'when' at a detailed, practical level.

This fact sheet is intended as a simple overview. Non-profit law is incredibly complex and there are many components, allowances, restrictions, exceptions and important qualifications that are not described above. Dedicated legal advice should be sought from a legal practitioner before taking action.



Better Boards connects the leaders of Australasian non-profit organisations to the knowledge and networks necessary to grow and develop their leadership skills and build a strong governance framework for their organisation.

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