12 Strategic Planning Exercises to Help You Get Amazing Results Next Year

by | Dec 28, 2016

If you are like most early-stage entrepreneurs, you set aggressive goals. You probably got a lot done this year, but you still came up short on achieving everything on your plan. Now it’s time to assess how you did this year and determine what needs to happen next year.

When you fell short, did you under-execute or did you set your goals too high? It was probably a little of both.

Great execution requires serious planning, especially as your team grows. Making clear strategic decisions and aligning everyone to the same goals are powerful “force multipliers” for your business. Strategy is simply the answer to the bigger questions, and what your execution depends on.

If you’re not taking time every quarter to ask deep questions and create goals for your company, you’re in a state of MSU (“Making Sh#% Up”). MSU creates misalignment, confusion, frustration, and the bad habit of missed commitments. This problem multiplies as your business grows.

Here are 12 powerful strategy exercises to help you think differently, set strategic priorities, align your plans, and get better results.

Strategic Planning Basics

These are the simple, time-tested strategic planning questions that are widely used in goal-setting, prioritization, and execution:

  1. Strategic Planning – What’s the current situation? What are we trying to accomplish? What do we need to do to get there from here in the next quarter, year, or 3 years? (see Strategic Planning for Dummies)
  2. SWOT Analysis– What are our internal Strengths and Weaknesses?  What are our external Opportunities and Threats? (SWOT explained)
  3. Continuous Improvement – What is working? What’s not working and needs to be improved? What lessons have we learned? (Continuous Improvement explained)
  4. People & Organization – Do we have the right people in the right roles? (Jim Collins calls this “A-players in key seats.”) Are all the major functions and priorities of the business “owned” by responsible leaders? How does our organization, staff, and culture need to change to accomplish our goals?

Check out Verne Harnish’s One-Page Strategic Plan and checklist for some simple tools to guide your discussion and final result.

Getting the Big Things Right

These questions will keep you out of the weeds and focus you on the real reasons you are in business:

  1. Serving Stakeholders How well did we serve our stakeholders–employees, customers, partners, owners/investors, and our community? Which of these did we serve best and worst? How can we improve? (see Shareholders First?Harvard Business Review)
  2. Purpose and Values – Did we stay true to our stated Purpose (our larger cause)? Did we live up to (or fall short of) our stated Values? Are we hiring and firing to our Purpose and Values?
  3. The Dan Sullivan Question – If we were having this discussion 3 years from today, and we were looking back over those 3 years, what has to have happened for us to feel happy with our progress? (The Dan Sullivan Question, Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach)
  4. Hedgehog Concept – Three questions: 1) What are we deeply passionate about? 2) What can we be the best at?  3) What drives our economic or resource engine? Where do these three intersect (our hedgehog focus)? (Hedgehog Concept, in “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins)

New Thinking Creates Different Results

These questions will help you expand your thinking and see things differently. You can make room for more productive actions when you let go of bad habits, unproductive beliefs, and outdated processes:

  1. New Possibilities – What would we do if we could not fail? What would we do if we had no fear and no excuses? What would be possible if we had no limits on our resources, staff, or time?
  2. Stop Doing List – What thoughts, beliefs, and habits are no longer useful and should be left in the past? What types of customers and employees should we stop pursuing/hiring? Which initiatives should be stopped so we can use the resources more productively?
  3. Fire Your Old Self – If you fired yourself and hired the best candidate in the world to replace you, what would they do differently to get better results? How can you start doing that immediately? Who do you need to be to create the results you want?
  4. The One Thing – What’s the ONE Thing we can do right now, and by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary? (see Gary Keller’s “The One Thing”)

Even disciplined entrepreneurs who take planning seriously don’t accomplish all of their big goals. They face unexpected internal challenges, external forces they can’t control, and massive “learning opportunities.” No problem, just keep moving and start again.

The growth game is won by the leaders and teams who keep their eyes on the big goals and continually adjust to make progress. Keep moving forward.