Strategic planning has its own language Gerald Graham Everyone, it seems, engages in strategic planning. For some organizations, the strategic plan provides zest and vigor; for others it is just a big yawn. What is the difference? Strategic planning is nothing more than first, deciding what you want to become; second, deciding how you will get there, and third, allocating resources to achieve your desires. Like most important processes, though, strategic planning has its own language.

For instance, a mission statement is a statement of the organization's purpose. It answers the question, "Why do you exist?" or "What business are you in?" A vision statement is a word picture of what you want to become. Vision statements should excite and challenge both leaders and employees. Effectual mission and vision statements are brief. A SWOT Analysis, (SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) takes a bitingly critical look at where your organization is strong and weak. It should answer the questions, "What do you do better than 90 percent of your competitors?" and "What do your top competitors beat you on?" The OT part of SWOT is an analysis of environmental trends likely to impact the organization.

Some trends will present opportunities. Others will be threats. Statements of what you want to achieve in the next few years are goals. Organizations should have goals on sales, profitability, return on investment, market share, customer satisfaction, quality improvements, and the like. Objectives are very specific statements of what the organization wishes to accomplish within the upcoming year, such as: increase sales by 20 percent, maintain an 8 percent after tax profit, and so on. If mission and vision form the bedrock of planning, strategy selection is what gives the plan life.

Strategies answer the question, "What do we need to do to reach our goals and objectives?" More specifically, should we add / drop products or services? Change promotion? Offer different incentives? Buy a competitor? Sell a division? Change hiring practices? Rearrange finances? Answers to these (and similar) questions determine whether an organization soars or flounders. Although the planning process seems simple enough, some leaders step in big planning potholes. The more common planning mistakes are: Too general -- Plans that produce vague statements become nothing more than muddy scum. If you cannot measure what you want to become, you cannot manage your way through the inevitable, tall and uncut challenges.

Too much staff influence -- Committees, task forces, and staff planners may be helpful in gathering data and facilitating processes. They must not, however, create the plan. As a successful manager said, "Those who execute and develop the plan must be the same people." No follow-up -- This is the hard part. Effective follow-up requires regular (monthly or more often) check-up sessions to compare measures of what actually happened against the plan. And if you are off plan, figure out how to catch up. Inconsistent budgeting -- When budgets fight with plans, budgets always win.

Planning requires allocation of resources. Planning comes first. Budgets must follow plans. A good plan (place a lot of emphasis on the "good." ) is the best tool that managers have for managing their day-to-day operations. Check the following statements that are "true" of your planning efforts: Line managers create the plan The plan has specific measures The plan is communicated to all Regular, follow-up meetings occur Budget follows the plan The plan is written Many people participate in the plan creation Planning is an ongoing process Plans continue to evolve through the year People get excited about the plan If you do not check 10 "trues," consider modifying your planning process.