The Actionable Details You Need in a Successful Strategic Plan
When it comes to your strategic plan, do you wonder how much is too much? Too little? Where is that just-right amount?
Some firms write plans that are so vague and nebulous, no one on the team knows how the plan can actually be achieved. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the firms who make incredibly detailed plans, but then can’t adjust when changes affect the team either internally or externally.
Neither end of that pendulum is going to give you an actionable, flexible roadmap that will guide you through reaching your goals in the coming years. Once you know the guiding force behind your strategic plans (see our post The 3 Powerful Elements Your Strategic Plan Needs), your next focus should be about how you’re going to get there.
Consider The Journey
Think of firm planning like organizing a road trip in the days before Waze and GPS: you can’t get to your destination simply by knowing where you want to go.
If you’re driving, you need to know if you’re taking interstates or back roads, highways or byways. Yet, if you run into a roadblock, you need to be able to take a detour that will still get you to your destination.
Your strategic plan needs the path carved out that will guide you and your mindset needs to be flexible so you’re able to shift direction when needed and identify those key elements that need to change with each shift.
So we’re thrilled to share some insights below from Adam Blitz, CPA, MA is the founder of Streamline CPAS, a cloud-based accounting firm based in Fresno, California, on just how detailed your strategic plan needs to be.
The Devil’s in the Details
Like any good road trip, your plan should be detailed, yet flexible.
Too often, firms make the mistake of thinking the plan can’t change throughout the year. But we’re in a profession that is rapidly changing, and your plan needs be flexible enough to adjust easily to those changes.
Your roadmap needs goals with enough detail that you can build actionable items from them.
Let’s say one goal is: Implement a marketing plan. In your strategic plan, you would focus on details like:
- Due dates for key milestones that impact strategic goals (a hard date is preferable)
- Responsible parties (not necessarily a specific person, but the role and who will lead the plan)
- Top level goals of the marketing plan, such as who the organization wants to target or the type of work the marketing plan should push)
- Celebratory mile markers, such as critical events like when the new website is up, when the new logo is designed, key numbers reached
Things not included in your strategic plan:
- Specifics of the marketing plan
- Tactics and tasks that will get things done
- How and when those details will be finished and by whom
- Calendars of activity
Get more insights on your marketing plan with our post, A 5 Step Blueprint to Building an Intentional Marketing Plan.
Another goal might be a Staff Build-Out. Some of the details you would include in your strategic plan could be:
- The Problem: the firm is understaffed and people are getting burned out
- The Roadmap to create a solution, but not solve the problem directly
- The leader of the project
- Goals for the project, for example: reduce turnover by X date to Y percent
- Identified areas to review and evaluate, including compensation packages, benefit packages, recruiting issues, and training issues
Things not included in your strategic plan:
- How to achieve the above. Give the person responsible the flexibility and autonomy to create a solution under the guise of the strategic plan
Adam’s 8 Tips for Success
Success is often a moving target, so here are 8 terrific tips from Adam that can help you steer in the right direction.
1. Appoint a leader
Somebody needs to take charge in the firm. Without a point person, the program will be lost even before it started.
2. Create and celebrate goals
A sound strategic plan needs to include specific goals and mile markers. Without these, a firm won’t be able to gauge success. Celebrate when the goals are reached to keep your team motivated and energized.
3. Don’t write it all at once
The plan should be built out over time. Start with high-level ideals, such as where you want the firm to be in five years. From there, bring in details, like improving employee retention or building new lines of business. As months go by and you start working the plan, these various details will take form and you will find that the firm can replicate it to improve and build various parts of the firm.
4. Review regularly
Strategic plans aren’t something you can ‘set and forget.’ The leader should be analyzing it on a weekly basis, keeping the principles and ideals of the plan in mind, and ensuring that all decisions the firm makes are in line with the plan.
5. Keep the plan always present
I like the idea of creating a picture, graph, or something visual like a word cloud in a place where all the employees will see it on a daily basis. I think it’s important to be reminded every day, “This is who we are.” This will help staff to focus on the purpose and culture of the firm, especially for those that don’t need to meet and review the strategic plan on the daily.
6. Plan for the entire firm
I see strategic plans often fail because they’re not written with the firm in mind. Strategic plans are not just for the partners or owner. People transition over time. I have seen partners change firms, go through health issues, shift priorities. If the strategic plan for the firm is dependent upon a specific person, when they leave, the strategic plan is gone.
Here’s an example: I know a firm that had a partner who was forward-thinking and recognized the challenges that the industry faces. It was left up to this partner to develop and build the "client accounting service department.” The other partners were all focused on the billable hour; they struggled to understand what this partner was doing and why he was doing it. The partner ended up leaving the firm because he spent a year developing something that never got off the ground—all because the other partners couldn’t get over the billable hour.
An effective plan encompasses every single person in the firm— from the partners to the receptionist. It builds the culture of the firm, and it will answer the difficult questions when they inevitably arise.
7. Focus on the why
Successful strategic plans don't focus on revenue growth or headcount growth, but rather on the purpose of why the organization stands. A firm should ask and answer: How do we help the community? How can our employees, our clients, and our community be enriched by the services of the organization? If you focus on impact and changing lives, the economics will work themselves out as if outcomes are successful and demand is unlimited.
Need help on the Why? Check out our 5 Step Blueprint to Building an Intentional Marketing Plan post.
8. Write the plan already!
Whether the plan is written on a napkin or bound in a formal document is irrelevant. It's about retaining the institutional knowledge. Having a written plan to fall back on and having a team work together to achieve results is what counts.
To achieve success, your strategic plan needs to include a level of detail that helps each and every person on your team know what is expected in order to reach the goal. Appoint a leader that can help drive the plan, yet still give your staff the flexibility and freedom to hit the intended mile markers through initiative and fresh perspectives. Remember, your plan can and should change over time. Adjust to the changes and you will see your firm hitting its targets in no time!