Five Characteristics of a Great Strategic Plan

By Dr. Scott Rodin, Chief Strategy Officer & Senior Consultant

If the words “strategic plan” conjure up for you images of an interminable document that bears little connection to your daily work life, you are not alone. According to Harvard Business Review, an estimated 60-90% of strategic plans are never fully launched. 

All strategic plans are not created equal. There is just cause to be concerned that the effort we put into a strategic planning process might not yield the fruit we desire. So what makes a good plan, and how can we ensure the plans we create have the best chance of succeeding? Can we measure a plan’s potential before it’s even off the ground? We say, “Absolutely yes,” and here’s how:

At the heart of our approach is a simple, powerful checklist titled “Why Plans Succeed and Why They Fail.” This tool isn’t just for reflection; it’s a proactive measure, applied at both the start and finish of our strategic planning process. Initially, we delve into the common pitfalls that doom plans to ensure ours is poised for success. Then, as we finalize our strategy, and before it goes to the board for approval, we reassess, ensuring our plan embodies the key elements of success.

So, what makes a strategic plan successful? It boils down to five critical characteristics:

Agility and Flexibility: The best plans can pivot as circumstances change. They’re living documents, ready to evolve with your organization’s needs. The old planning mindset, laying out a vision for the next five years and then following the roadmap to achieve it is not only outdated, it is a hindrance to a successful plan. Strategic plans are based on assumptions and now, more than ever, assumptions change. Your plan needs to be able to adapt.

Simplicity: By reading your plan, even someone unfamiliar with your organization should be able to grasp your plan’s vision and strategy at a glance, to understand where God is calling your organization and the strategy you have in place to achieve it. Complexity is the enemy of execution. A strategic plan should be an accessible beacon, guiding all stakeholders clearly and concisely. Excessive length or details muddy up direction and dilute its ability to inspire others to action.

Unity: A clear, accessible plan rallies your team around a shared vision, inspiring collective action towards a common goal. This unity is not spontaneous but cultivated through the clarity of the plan as well as the planning process itself. Plans that appropriately use key stakeholders and are well-communicated can galvanize an organization around a spirit-led vision, creating the kind of culture required to achieve what God has put on your hearts.

Stakeholder Buy-In: Striking the balance between inclusivity (a broad number of stakeholders giving input) and efficiency (a core planning group driving the process) is delicate but crucial. This often proves to be the most challenging aspect of creating a plan. The assessment question here is, “When the plan is announced by the leader, will a broad cross-section of stakeholders be able to say they were given opportunities to give substantial feedback on the plan?” If the answer is yes, the plan will have the widespread commitment and buy-in necessary for implementation.

Capacity to Execute: A brilliant plan poorly executed will not serve you as well as a modest plan executed well. A realistic evaluation of internal resources and capabilities is vital, ensuring that the plan is not only aspirational but also achievable. Practically speaking, every person whose name is listed next to an action and date must affirm they have the time and resources to carry it out. If your team views a plan to be unachievable, it will never get out of the starting blocks.

When your strategic plan reflects these five attributes, you’re not just planning for success; you’re setting the stage for remarkable, spirit-led, God-sized achievements.

Eager to see these principles in action or refine your current strategy? Our passion is to help organizations like yours create such plans through a process we call DISCERN. If you’d like to explore how we can help your strategic vision become a reality, we’d love to hear from you.

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