Have you ever felt suspended in limbo? Uncertain about what you want to accomplish in the year ahead of you? Time for some strategic planning! Join me as I discuss the basic steps of strategic planning: vision, mission statement, strategy, goals and action steps. Then start planning!
Suspended in limbo and uncertain is exactly how I felt on returning to my Canadian home in late December, after spending six months in South Africa. It seemed as though I was caught between two lives. The year 2016 stretched ahead of me as blank and untouched as the snow on my access road after a snowstorm. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It was obvious that I needed to thnk about strategic planning. (Tap on photos to enlarge.)
Strategic planning is a phrase that sounds like it belongs in a corporate boardroom. Before I dug into the process, those two words made me wince. Would I lose myself, and my freedom, in the process of dissecting what I wanted to do with my life? Would I be devoured by a lion of unrealistic goals and deadlines?
Then I did some research. I listened to a free webinar presented by leadership mentor, Michael Hyatt, whose business tagline is “Win at work. Succeed at life.” I read a series of magazine articles about strategic planning for writers, written by Maggie Worth. Her business tagline is “Think. Plan. Live.” I signed up for and immersed myself in a self-publishing success course taught by best-selling author and self-publishing guru, Joanna Penn.
Basically, I learned that strategic planning is like an onion. It has many layers.
- The whole onion is the vision. When you hold an entire onion in your hand, you admire its beauty and functionality. It’s well-rounded, well-protected, and whole. It’s the big picture.
- Your vision is how you define success for yourself, whatever that means for you. It’s the big picture. It’s the whole. It’s the win. Only you can decide what that whole or win is, so it’s a good idea to spend time thinking about it because it will influence the choices you make farther down the line. The following are some points to keep in mind when formulating your vision. Consider your values. Believe in yourself. The past is gone. Don’t limit yourself by thinking small. Write it down. This is about who you want to be.
- The onion skin is the mission statement. It may be dry, but it encloses a moist wealth of rich flavour. In essence, the onion’s skin maintains the integrity of what’s inside it. The same is true of a mission statement.
- A mission statement briefly defines what you will do to become the person you want to be. When you peel an onion, you’ll notice that the skin often has several layers. This might be true of your strategic planning, too. Whatever vision you have for your life might require mission statements that relate to various aspects of your life, including work, play, health, and social interaction.
- Here’s an example of one of my mission statements for 2016: “I will greet the challenges of each day with physical and mental strength, flexibility and endurance; I will seek positive influences and discard negative influences so that my joy, enthusiasm, productivity and capabilities are maximized.”
- The juicy layers inside an onion are the strategies. Every onion is composed of concentric spheres of what are actually underground stems. When we cut into an onion, we slice through these spheres and see how neatly they fit together and how plump and juicy they are, each layer full of good onion essence.
- Strategies are the broad steps you will take to fulfill your mission statement(s). Like the onion layers, your strategies should fit together well, each complementing other strategies you’ve outlined to fulfill a particular mission statement. At this stage you’re still painting with a wide brush, but each strategy will be plump and juicy with specific goals you will set as part of implementing that strategy.
- For example, one of my strategies relating to my mission statement is: “I will implement an exercise/running program to increase my fitness and endurance.”
- The thick juiciness inside each onion layer can be equated with goals. Onion juice can sting and make you cry. Yet, when cooked, onions become sweet. Goals are specific, concrete, realistic and measurable targets with deadlines. They’re the basis of every strategy. Working toward achieving goals might also sting. It might involve hard physical, mental or emotional work, or great disclipline and accountability. Doesn’t matter. Don’t procrastinate. Get started. When you achieve that goal, how sweet it will be!
- Something to be aware of: You need to understand why you are setting a particular goal. What’s the reason that goal is important to you? What motivates you to want to devote time and effort to achieve it? Define your emotional attachment to it.
- One of the goals I’ve set for myself in my exercise/running program is: “I will run Tatamagouche’s Butter Trail 5-kilometre race in October and finish with a time of 35 minutes or less.” That’s a specific, concrete, realistic and measurable target with a deadline. Why do I want to run that race? Because I’ve always loved competitive physical activities. Because running well brings me joy. Because I know that this goal will challenge me and make me a a fitter individual and more disciplined runner.
ACTION STEPS (TACTICS)
- Action steps are the molecules that make up the juicy insides of onions. Without these small building blocks, the next higher level or organization would fail. To achieve a goal, you will need to outline detailed action steps or tactics to break down the goal into manageable parts.
- For my example, the action steps I’ve listed to achieve my race goal (without getting into nitty-gritty details) are: 1) Daily stretches, plus full-body toning exercises five times per week to increase overall strength and joint mobility, 2) Three runs per week, tracking distance and time [Yesterday, I ran 5 k in just under 40 minutes, my fastest time this year. As you can see, I still have a large chunk of time to cut out.], 3) Brisk, hour-long walks on non-run days, 4) Loss of excess weight to lighten the load [I’m halfway there.]. These action steps keep me on track. By diligently adhering to them, I’m able to see real, measurable progress toward achieving my goal.
Strategic planning isn’t a set of rules written in stone. It’s important to evaluate as you go along. Reassess goals and action steps. You may even want to alter strategies or your mission statement. Feel free to make changes if you need to. After all, the aim of strategic planning for you as an individual is to help you become the person you want to be. You’re in charge. Tame your lion!