By Nancy Garberson / Guest Column

Any organization that wants sustained growth needs to conduct regular strategic planning. It’s often difficult to predict the future, but looking at the imminent trends from all directions means that you can calculate relevance in upcoming months and years. Many products and business opportunities come and go, but without an eye on the future, you could miss the boat entirely.

No organization can foresee every obstacle, but “we couldn’t see it coming” isn’t an excuse. Indeed, a failure in strategic planning can mean disaster for a company. The absence of strategic planning, or the use of poor strategic plans, usually leads to tactical nightmares – some of which can last much longer than necessary.

My description of strategic planning is “an organized, strict process for deciding the key decisions that an organization must perfect to flourish over the coming months and years.” Good strategic planning provides logical direction and shapes measurable goals. It’s a valuable tool for managing day-to-day decisions, for evaluating improvement, and for altering approaches that are critical for success. An organization should give careful thought to the strategic objectives it creates, and then support those goals with realistic, carefully researched, quantifiable targets for evaluating results.

Good strategic planning also includes employees in all departments, and at all levels of responsibility. Every area sees different trends that can be critical to forward motion, meaning that contributions from a diverse team can help identify potential problems or opportunities missed by executives in upper management.

Strategic planning is a shared vision for the future. Immediate, day-to-day tasks and needed actions are often obvious. However, longer-term goals and the direction needed to reach those future goals are not always as clear. The consequence can be that the organization floats aimlessly.

What’s needed is an exciting shared vision of what future success can bring, and one that all organizational members can understand. A shared vision will offer a yardstick for possible actions. It will also help lead the organization, increasing its effectiveness in terms of efficiency and competent decision-making. Try asking contributors to the plan to look three years into the future, and imagine the outcome that could be in store for them and the organization.

Despite the importance of strategic plans, a majority of them fail to do what they set out to achieve. Here are some tactics to keep your plan and organization moving in the right direction:

Examine your situation impartially. An unbiased understanding of the issues and how to fix them is critical. External, as well as internal, inspections of the organization must be made.

Set realistic goals. It’s important the entire team understands the reasoning behind your goals, and that you talk in terms of “focus.” Clarity of purpose allows organizations to achieve sustainable, effective vitality.

Build resolve. Make it clear that the decisions made in the planning exercise will be executed, and that they are important to the future of the organization. People who will carry out changes must be convinced of their significance.

Stay positive. Focusing on the organization’s values, purpose and strengths, instead of its weaknesses, can result in real progress, even when dealing with resistance.

Understand the organization’s structure and flow. If managers push staff too hard, it can cause resistance to change. All employees resist change to a certain extent, because it’s outside of their comfort zone. Employees need to understand how it makes things better for “them.”

Exercise leadership. Leaders can guide change by exhibiting the course of action. If leaders are committed and show it, they can inspire others in the organization to get involved.

Maintain steadfast determination. The execution of a strategic plan must be supported, encouraged and assisted to ensure that needed changes are made. Discipline on the part of the team implementing the changes can keep the entire organization on course.

Remember that what gets measured gets done. Monitor progress, measure outcomes and get feedback on your plan. Sometimes tweaks are essential along the way to reach the intended result.

Be transparent. To sustain the effort, coworkers must understand and know how their actions are helping achieve results. Make sure newsletters, memos, internal meetings, videos or other sources highlighting the plan’s progress are circulated regularly.

Recognize success. Make sure that contributions by employees are recognized every step of the way.

The importance of strategic planning is that it plans for the corporate whole, not its parts. It is a method designed to produce a corporate strategic disposition, and a statement designed to sustain the long-term performance of the organization – both of which make longevity possible.

Nancy Garberson is the owner of Marketing & Strategic Communication Strategies Inc., in Cedar Rapids, and an adjunct professor at Mt. Mercy University, teaching managerial marketing in its MBA and Master of Strategic Leadership programs.