Being a better strategist Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

Strategic planning and implementation are keys to success in the business world. Big-picture thinking and intelligent execution can distinguish you from your competitors and ensure that your business enjoys continuous growth. And while strategic planning is an important first step, according to recent studies, between 70 percent and 90 percent of organizations fail to correctly implement strategies, says Elden Monday, state vice president for University of Phoenix’s three local campuses in Pennsylvania.

Smart Business spoke with Monday about insightful ways businesses can develop and implement cohesive and sensible strategic plans.

What is strategic planning and how does it differ from business planning?

Strategic planning involves taking a long-term, big-picture vision and determining how to remain lucrative and competitive over time. Businesses employ this process of gathering information, organizing it so that it’s concise, and creating a plan that covers a certain time period. This effort involves mapping out the strategies and objectives that are expected to keep the organization focused, unified and successful.

Many businesses use a model to guide them when creating their strategic plan. The basic strategic planning model is a flowchart outlining the step-by-step process that a business should take to create a sustainable future. First, a company needs to establish its purpose and create a mission statement that reflects the purpose. The company then should identify goals and objectives that achieve the organization’s mission statement and focus on any major issues. The next step is to formulate the strategies. Implementation follows where the strategies are transformed into clearly defined policies for areas such as human resources and production. Finally, business managers should monitor and update a strategic plan ensuring the policies are consistently executed and any aspects that are not working well are adjusted.

Confusion often exists between the functions of business plans and strategic plans. Strategic plans are developed as an overview of steps to ensure a company’s future and are an internal document, while business plans are an overview of the company that can be shared with individuals outside of the company.

How can a sound strategic plan benefit a company?

Creating a solid strategic plan offers an organizational framework and direction while establishing a uniform ideal and aim that is shared among all company members. A strategic plan also improves the level of commitment by employees to company goals. Improved customer service can often be a result of a strategic plan that rallies employees as it helps set priorities and instills a sense of purpose and pride.

How can a person become a better strategist?

A good strategist is an individual who has a vision for the future; one that not only focuses on the company’s overall goals and objectives but also includes specific directives for each department within an organization. His or her critical thinking and problem-solving skills are sharp, with sufficient knowledge of workplace models so adjustable plans can be quickly and concisely analyzed to deal with potential issues and data that can change the way the business operates.

Continuing education can sharpen these important skills. An institution that focuses on refining problem-solving skills, information utilization and critical thinking skills is essential. For instance, University of Phoenix employs problem-based learning, a system where students create and defend solutions to problems such as crisis management, profitable growth opportunities and changes in leadership.

What is the importance of strategic implementation?

Implementation is the final crucial step in strategic planning. A Fortune magazine study showed that 7 out of 10 CEOs who fail do so because of poor strategic execution. A study of Time’s 1000 companies showed that 80 percent of directors feel they have a solid strategic plan, but only 14 percent feel they execute them well.

For implementation to be successful, it is essential for business managers to be motivational leaders, vigilant in adopting the plan’s strategies, and consistent in giving performance reviews based on the goals and objectives set forth.

ELDEN MONDAY is the state vice president for the Pennsylvania campuses of University of Phoenix, a national leader in higher education for working adults, offering both campus-based and online programs. Reach Monday at elden.monday@phoenix.edu or by phone at (610) 989-0880, ext. 1131. Additional information is also available at www.phoenix.edu/philadephia.