Strategic Planning Steps

November 27, 2023

Strategic Planning Steps

Strategic Planning

At CO2 Coaching, we view strategic planning as a process of advance decision-making and alignment of minds. When people are aligned and prepared to make decisions, organizations and their employees act purposefully and swiftly. Done well, strategic planning and following these strategic planning steps saves time over time. It also leads to a stronger sense of community and engagement.

Predictably Unpredictable

Organizations like to plan for predictable growth, and yet most organizations don’t grow or shrink in predictable ways. Because growth is unpredictable, it’s unwise to bank on a certain set of assumptions. It’s better to explore many possible outcomes, barriers, and opportunities, and pre-decide how to act should key assumptions come to pass.

You can’t predict or control the future, but you can control your organization’s alignment in terms of mission, vision, goals, and strategy. When everyone knows what you’re trying to achieve and how you want to achieve it, decision-making for individuals and the organization becomes clearer and easier. You’ll know how to act no matter what the future holds.

5 Strategic Planning Steps

Phase 1: Discovery & Rule-Setting

Breakthrough strategy starts with a thorough internal and external assessment. The more accurate and thorough your assessment data, the stronger your strategic plan, and the better the outcome.

Agree upon what data to collect, how to collect it, and how to use it. The structure of strategic planning is critical to its success. The more democratic the process, the better. People must also feel like they can be honest without being penalized. They want to know how their contributions will be used and how decisions will be made. At CO2 Partners, we establish the rules and process at the outset, so there’s no room for misunderstanding and mistrust.

Try to involve many employees at every level. They’ll appreciate the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way, and they’ll feel a greater investment in the organization going forward. Based on a national survey we conducted, 33% of bosses rarely or never ask for their subordinates’ advice. These leaders miss out on a lot of ideas, and they often struggle with alignment and employee buy-in.

Internally, examine culture, leadership, process, and people, as well as the value proposition you offer to customers. At CO2 Partners, we use a variety of surveys and tools to gather this critical information from employees, customers, vendors, and other key stakeholders. Be sure your assessment tools are thorough, accurate, and clear, so that participants won’t feel like their time has been wasted.

Externally, examine societal trends, political implications, technological advancements, and competitive forces. Brainstorm potential outcomes, barriers, and opportunities, then assess the likelihood of these coming to pass.

Phase 2: Establish Your Position & Goal

At CO2 Coaching, we use GPSing (Goal, Position, Strategy) to guide decision-making. You establish your goal (where you want to go) and your position (where you are now), and then develop your strategy (how to get from your position to your goal in the most efficient and effective way). GPSing can be used by individuals, of course, or by organizations as a whole.

The organization’s primary goal during strategic planning is to achieve its vision, while staying true to its values and mission. You may not achieve the vision in the course of a year, or three, or even five (the typical strategic-planning markers), but you should be able to make measurable progress along a clearly defined course.

Start by defining (or refining) your organization’s values, vision, and mission:


Values are the software of the soul and an important part of Strategic Planning Steps. They aren’t permanent, and yet they don’t change all that much over the course of our lives. They are coded in us, prompting us to act in certain, consistent ways. Our value systems and individual beliefs are learned. From the moment we’re able to process thoughts and language, we take cues from other people and our environment. Organizations have values that strongly impact the culture and behavior. In healthy and aligned organizations, the stated values and operating values are one and the same.


Vision is a measurable direction of where you are going. The destination must be crystal clear, not soft and mushy. If your vision was to climb to the top of Everest, you would certainly know where you were going, when you arrived, and have photographic proof when you got back. If you can’t do this with your vision, it is likely not clear enough or it may be your mission and not your vision.


The mission statement is your statement of purpose.  Describing why you exist as an organization. It both tells what you exist to do and what you will not do. It provides the organization a way to stay focused on your core competencies and prevents you from being distracted by opportunities that do not fit your purpose. The mission statement does not describe the methods you use to accomplish your vision; it describes why you exist to accomplish the vision.

Create a one-page document that contains the company’s operating values, vision, and mission. It’s important that everyone agree and align on these items, and that they not be vague, emotionless, inaccurate, or unattainable. The values ought to be limited to no more than six, so that employees will know what is special about where they work. The vision statement should be succinct and clear; everyone should know where you’re going. The mission statement should be no more than eight words and be memorable. Concision and accuracy are critical when building alignment. As employees, you must always know what you are trying to achieve and how. The easier it is for you and your co-workers to remember, the more likely it will be observed and communicated to others.

Phase 3: Set Objectives

Objectives are targets that if hit consistently over time will lead you to your vision (remember, it is measureable) and fulfill your mission, while adhering to your values.

Many leaders have been beaten over the head by financial owners like venture capitalists, equity funds, or hedge funds to believe that both the vision and all objectives should be financial. The organization’s financial numbers, however, are not inspiring to most employees or customers. Customers don’t buy your product or service in order for you to meet your numbers.

The most dangerous strategy is to jump a chasm in two leaps.

– Benjamin Disraeli

At CO2 Coaching, we believe that what gets measured, gets done…provided those measurements are compelling, achievable, and understandable to the stakeholders. This five-step process, using Treacy and Wiersema’s Value Discipline Model as well as the Balanced Scorecard, will help you set clear, achievable, and compelling objectives:

Select Value Discipline

    • According to Treacy and Wiersema, there are three different types of “value disciplines” that successful companies can adopt to command leadership in their markets. Look at the diagram and decide which one is right for you (based upon your products and services, and your culture).

Review all Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and select the top eight

    • Choose two  from each of the four Balanced Scorecard categories. The KPIs you select should drive the outcomes you and your organization hope to achieve. If necessary, refer back to the data you collected in Step 2 (Discovery) about your organizational position and where you stand with regard to your primary goal (vision).
    • Rank the eight KPIs from most important to least important.
    • Determine the best ways for your organization to measure these KPIs:
      • Quantitative indicators
      • Qualitative indicators
      • Leading indicators
      • Lagging indicators
      • Input indicators
      • Process indicators
      • Output indicators
      • Practical indicators
      • Directional indicators
      • Actionable indicators
      • Financial indicators

Convert your eight KPIs into objectives

  • It’s a relatively simple process. Ask, “What KPIs do you hope to achieve in the next year, and how will you know you’ve achieved them?” Objectives should always have a clear starting point and end point, as well as measureable steps along the way. 

Phase 4: Select Strategies and Actions that will Fulfill Objectives

With objectives, values, vision, and mission in hand, stakeholders will build the Strategy-to-Action™ plan. This seven-step process delivers an action-oriented, measurable plan that has buy-in from the stakeholders involved.

  1. First, define “strategy” and “actions.” Operational strategies are the qualitative expressions of how you intend to meet your vision, mission, and objectives, while actions are those measurable movements that must happen to accomplish those strategies and fulfill the objectives.
  2. For each of the eight objectives, ask, “What do we need to do to accomplish this objective?” Use SWOT analysis of the data you collected in Step 2 to guide you. Your strategy and actions should take advantage of your strengths and opportunities, and avoid potential threats and weaknesses.
  3. Consider the changes each action or strategy might require with regard to:
    1. The structure of the organization
    2. New skills and capabilities required
    3. Talent management to maximize engagement
    4. Change management to align operating culture
    5. Performance results
    6. Purposeful integration for all operating activities
    7. Customer-facing process
    8. Value proposition
    9. As you’re considering particular actions and strategies, ask, “How will this fulfill our vision and mission?” and “How might our values help us or be compromised?” Remember, the wisdom of the Dalai Lama, “open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.” Select eight actions for the organization (no more than two per quarter) and assign accountability to one person for each action.
    10. Present your objectives, strategies, and actions to the organization, and demonstrate how they’ve been produced by employee input and for organizational improvement. Show how your strategies will help you move from your current position toward you primary goal (vision).
    11. Add the objectives, strategies, and actions to the one-page document you created earlier that contains the company’s operating values, vision, and mission.

Phase 5: Strategic Planning Steps Measurement & Reporting

Measurement and reporting are a critical element of the Strategic Planning Steps. You get what you audit. Without a measurement system that you regularly update and report to your organization, you are likely not going to meet your plan or keep to it. Most successful organizations assign measurement and reporting to a specific individual (internally or externally). This person should be detail-oriented and compulsive to complete all of the Strategic Planning Steps.

“The future depends on what we do in the present.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Strategic Planning Leadership

You now have a one-page document that contains the company’s operating values, vision, and mission, along with its objectives, strategies, and actions. Don’t just look at this document only when you receive reports from the assigned reporter. Use it on a daily basis!

  • When someone proposes a new strategy or action, examine how it might complement or compromise ones you’ve already agreed to pursue. Bring the individual accountable for that particular action into the conversation.
  • Keep GPSing. Ask:
    • “What’s our current position?” With position-related conversations, be sure to examine not only where you are in relation to goals (short-term objectives or long-term vision), but also check to make sure you’re adhering to the organization’s values and mission.
    • “What’s our goal?” Tie goal-related conversations to either objectives (short-term goals) or vision (long-term goal). Check periodically to make sure the goals are consistent with your values and mission.
    • “What’s our strategy?” Examine the steps you intend to take to get from your position to your goal. Is it the shortest and best path? Will it complement or compromise our values or mission?
    • When confronted with an unexpected challenge, do not over react or jump at your first solution. Keep digging and keep asking.
    • When presented with an unexpected opportunity, make sure you understand any and all implications of taking full advantage of the opportunity. Sometimes there are free lunches and often times there are none. Look before you run, but once you start go full throttle.

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