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Developing the strategic plan
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By Rick Johnson

A sound strategic plan helps an organization clarify its future direction, focus its energy, and ensure that everyone works toward the same goals.

The Strategic development pyramid.

Strategic planning is a key process that adjusts an organization's direction in response to a changing environment. It supports the fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide an organization. A sound strategic plan can help define and focus a distributor's efforts, moving the company in the right direction and using the best methods.

Discipline is a prerequisite since it requires laser-like persistence to bring about a productive strategic planning initiative. The process raises a sequence of questions that helps planners examine current reality, test assumptions, gather and incorporate information about the present, and perform a trend analysis to assess the future.

In simplest terms, a strategic plan is a set of decisions about what to do, why to do it, when to act, and how to proceed. However, the process that creates a detailed plan is a time-and resource- consuming endeavor that involves many people throughout the organization.

Open Me First

Before a distributorship begins the process, it needs to secure a commitment on the part of executives and owners, resolve any serious issues, and embrace a willingness to commit the necessary resources. In addition, it needs to assume an attitude of flexibility - a willingness to think outside the box and examine new approaches. Finally, the staff needs to acquire a basic understanding of scenario planning procedures.

The key resources a distributor must commit to the project include staff and executive management time, and finances for market research and consultants.

Look at the End Game

The project's scope will depend entirely on each distributor's unique needs so it's important to begin by taking a look at the end game. That means determining what the company should look like in five years. Start by asking the following questions:

What markets will the company serve?

What products will it distribute?

Who are its primary competitors?

What are its strengths?

What are the competitors' strengths?

How has the marketing strategy changed?

What are the firm's core competencies?

What is the size of the revenue stream?

How is the revenue stream segmented?

Assessing the end game also includes a "what if' analysis - What if the firm loses its major product line? What if the three biggest competitors become part of a consolidator roll up? What if the distributor should decide to dramatically change its product or service offering? Finally, don't neglect to consider the impact of e- business.

Mapping the strategy development process

Once this initial phase has been completed, the end game vision, along with the core initiatives required to achieve it, should all be expressed in a strategic document. The strategic document addresses tactical issues such as sales strategies, performance accountability, and compensation, and details the firm's strategic implementation plans.

The executive strategy team then presents the strategic document to the owners or board for approval. Once approved, the strategic document becomes the basis for launching the planning process.

Strategy Development

During the first phase of the planning process the executive strategy team conducts a web-based survey focusing on all aspects of the organization. The survey generates valuable, precise feedback from the employees which is synthesized, analyzed, and discussed at a strategy team meeting aimed at producing the strategy document.

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