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The CFO's Guide to Strategic Planning

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

What is a Strategic Plan & Why is it important?

A strategic plan is essentially a roadmap for your business. It outlines your business goals and the steps needed to reach them. It’s not just about where you want to go, but also how you intend to get there. Think of it as a detailed itinerary for a cross-country road trip, complete with pit-stops, detours, and your ultimate destination.

Why is it so crucial to have a strategic plan? For starters, a well-crafted plan gives your organisation direction and purpose. It aligns your team around a shared vision, ensuring everyone is moving in the same direction. A robust strategic plan can help you prioritise resources, make sound decisions, and measure performance effectively. It serves as a cornerstone to guide not just business activities but also the decision-making process.

When a business operates without a strategic plan, it's akin to sailing a ship without a compass. The organisation may drift aimlessly, vulnerable to the currents of the marketplace and reactive to challenges rather than proactively steering toward opportunities. Without clear objectives and a roadmap for reaching them, a business can quickly become disorganized, leading to inefficiencies, wasted resources, and missed opportunities. Employees may find themselves disengaged, as the lack of a clear vision can result in a confusing and sometimes even conflicting set of priorities. Financial performance can suffer due to the lack of focused allocation of resources and well-defined metrics for success. In the worst-case scenario, the absence of a strategic plan can lead to a downward spiral, making it difficult for the business to recover and succeed in an increasingly competitive environment. In short, there really is no excuse for not having a strategy!

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve deep into all aspects of strategic planning. From conceptualising your vision to implementing actionable steps, this blog is your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about steering your business to success through effective planning.


Venn diagram Ascern Advisers Strategic Plan Process

Step 1: Internal Analysis

An internal analysis is an essential step in strategic planning, allowing a business to understand its strengths and weaknesses from within. The objective is to identify the unique resources and competencies that distinguish your business in the marketplace. Let's delve into the key elements of internal analysis.

Mission

Your mission statement is a concise expression of your business's primary purpose: who you serve, what you provide, and why it matters. During internal analysis, revisit your mission to make sure it still aligns with your company's current situation and future goals. If your mission seems outdated or disconnected from your core competencies and capabilities, it may be time to revise it to reflect your evolved business environment.

Values

Values are the guiding principles of your organisation. They dictate the ethical and cultural norms of your business, influencing every decision from hiring to strategic planning. During the internal analysis, reflect on whether your business activities are congruent with your stated values. Misalignment here can lead to internal conflict, decreased employee engagement, and could even affect your brand’s reputation.

Competencies

Competencies are the unique abilities that give your organisation a competitive edge. This could be anything from specialised technical skills to exemplary customer service. Understanding your core competencies helps you to focus on areas where you have an advantage and can offer something better or different than your competitors. Keep in mind that competencies evolve. Constantly review them and consider how they might be developed or leveraged for future opportunities.

Capabilities

Capabilities refer to the business processes and systems that enable you to apply competencies effectively. This includes operational procedures, quality control, logistics, and even your organisational culture. Analysing your capabilities helps you determine your business’s readiness to execute specific strategies. If gaps exist, your strategic plan will need to include methods to close them, either through training, hiring, or external partnerships. By thoroughly understanding these elements through internal analysis, you lay the groundwork for a strategic plan that is both effective and authentic to what your business represents.

Step 2: External Analysis

After conducting an internal analysis, it's equally important to analyse your business environment from an external perspective. This helps to identify the opportunities and threats that could influence your organisation's success. External analysis commonly focuses on factors such as market trends, competitors, and regulatory issues. Here's how to go about it:

External Environments

Understanding the external environment involves looking at both the macro and micro factors that affect your business. Macro factors include economic conditions, social trends, technological innovations, and political and legal factors. For example, during periods of high inflation, a business may need to reassess its pricing strategy. Micro factors could include local business regulations, customer demographics, and localised market needs. Ignoring these can result in strategic missteps that could have been easily avoided.

Competitors

A comprehensive competitor analysis is vital for understanding your business landscape. This includes not only direct competitors but also indirect ones that could encroach on your market share. Understand their strengths, weaknesses, market positioning, and most importantly, their strategy. This information will help you identify gaps in the market, areas where you can gain a competitive edge, or even potential for collaborations. Always remember, what you don't know about your competitors could hurt you.

Opportunities

External analysis also helps you to identify new opportunities in the market. These could arise from technological advancements, shifts in consumer behaviour, or even regulatory changes. For example, the rise of remote work technology could open doors for offering new types of services or products geared towards the 'work from home' market. An external analysis can provide a fresh perspective on new market segments, geographical regions, or even entirely new lines of business that align with your core competencies and business objectives.

By performing a comprehensive external analysis, you can better prepare your strategic plan to account for variables outside your control. This ensures that your business is not just reacting to the market conditions but is proactively planning for sustainable growth, thereby staying one step ahead of the competition.


Step 3: Value Analysis

One of the critical components of strategic planning is understanding what exactly adds value to your business from the perspective of your stakeholders, especially your customers. This is where Value Analysis comes in. This evaluation helps you to prioritise what to focus on to attract and retain customers, increase brand strength, and ultimately drive profitability. Here are some areas to consider when performing a value analysis:

Is it Products/Services?

The first and most obvious source of value could be your products or services themselves. Are they uniquely designed? Do they solve a problem no one else is solving, or do they solve it better? Do they offer exceptional quality or innovative features? This value proposition is what sets you apart in a sea of competitors and is often the first thing potential clients will look at.

Is it Customer Relationships?

Sometimes the value you offer doesn't reside in what you sell, but how you sell it. Strong customer relationships can be an invaluable asset. Personalised service, attentive support, and a deep understanding of customer needs can turn one-time buyers into lifetime customers. The more you understand your customers, the better you can serve them, adding a layer of value that transcends any individual transaction.

Is it Capability to Deliver?

Often, the value in a business is in its ability to deliver—consistently and efficiently. This could mean a streamlined supply chain, exceptional staff training, or unparalleled expertise in your field. This capability to deliver not only attracts customers but also makes operations more profitable, forming a cycle of value that feeds into itself.

Is it Something Else?

Sometimes, value can come from unexpected places. It could be your brand's reputation, an exclusive partnership, or even proprietary data or technology you have. Understanding this "X-factor" is key to leveraging it. Perhaps it’s a unique blend of all these factors that make your brand irreplaceable in the eyes of your customers.

Conducting a Value Analysis should be an ongoing exercise as markets, customers, and capabilities evolve. Being clear on what exactly adds value to your business will help you not just in formulating a robust strategic plan but also in executing it effectively to drive growth and profitability.

Step 4: Setting Goals and Milestones: Bridging Analysis with Action

After a thorough examination of your internal capabilities, external environments, and your unique value proposition, the next step is to transform this information into actionable goals and milestones. These will form the backbone of your strategic plan, offering a clear pathway for achieving your business vision. Here’s how each analysis contributes to goal-setting:

From Internal Analysis to Goals

  • Competencies: Understanding your team's skills and abilities will inform the kind of projects you can take on and the markets you can serve.

  • Capabilities: Knowing your operational strength can guide you to set achievable goals within realistic time frames.

  • Mission: This offers the 'why' behind your goals, ensuring alignment with your overall business purpose.

  • Values: Your company values can help to define the way you achieve your goals, ensuring that the methods align with your corporate ethos.

Example Goal: "Increase employee productivity by 15% through skills enhancement programs aligned with our value of continuous improvement."

From External Analysis to Goals

External Environments: Assessing market trends, regulations, and other external factors can help in setting goals that are both ambitious and achievable.

  • Competitors: Knowing your competition allows you to set comparative goals, either to match or exceed industry standards.

  • Opportunities: Identifying new markets or technologies can guide goal-setting for expansion or adaptation.

Example Goal: "Capture an additional 5% of the market share from competitors through differentiation strategies."

From Value Analysis to Goals

  • Products/Services: If your products or services are your strength, goals might focus on innovation or increasing the range.

  • Customer Relationships: If relationships are key, goals could include customer retention or satisfaction rates.

  • Capability to Deliver: Here, goals could relate to reducing delivery times or increasing efficiency.

  • Something Else: Any unique value proposition can be turned into a goal that ensures this unique feature is capitalized on.

Example Goal: "Enhance customer loyalty programs to increase retention rates by 20%."

Crafting Milestones

Once goals are set, they should be broken down into actionable milestones. These are the stepping stones that make your goals achievable and measurable. For each goal, consider setting quarterly milestones to allow regular check-ins and adjustments as necessary.

By using the insights from your Internal, External, and Value Analysis, you can generate goals and milestones that are not only well informed but also actionable and aligned with your business’s core competencies and values. This holistic approach ensures that your strategic plan is both robust and implementable, providing a concrete roadmap for future success.

Conclusion: From Plan to Action and Adaptation

Crafting a strategic plan is an essential exercise, but it's just the starting point. The real power of a strategic plan lies in its execution and adaptability. The next essential steps are communicating the plan effectively within your organisation and setting up mechanisms for regular monitoring and realignment.

Communication is Key

Once your strategic plan is in place, the first order of business is to communicate it to your team. After all, a strategic plan is only as effective as the people responsible for implementing it. Ensure that everyone understands not just the 'what' but also the 'why' behind each goal and milestone. Transparent and open communication fosters a sense of ownership among team members and aligns the organisation towards common objectives.

Monitoring and Metrics

Setting up key performance indicators (KPIs) aligned with your goals can serve as a yardstick for measuring success. Regularly review these metrics to gauge your progress. This is not a set-and-forget exercise; it's crucial to keep a pulse on performance.

Realigning Objectives

Even the best-laid plans may require adjustments. Market conditions shift, new competitors emerge, and unforeseen challenges can arise. It's vital to have a level of flexibility in your plan to adapt to such changes. A quarterly review is a good rule of thumb, providing a regular forum for evaluating the continued relevance of your goals and realigning them as necessary.

By effectively communicating your strategic plan, keeping an eye on metrics, and staying adaptable, you set the stage for focused action and long-term success. The dynamic nature of business demands nothing less than a dynamic approach to strategic planning. It’s not the plan, but the planning, measuring, and adapting that make for a successful strategic journey.

Remember

A strategic plan is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. At Ascern Advisers, we're committed to walking this journey with you, providing the insights and expertise to keep your business growing in alignment with your most ambitious goals.



Venn diagram Ascern Advisers Strategic Plan Process




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