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Ten Tips for Better Strategic Planning

The words "entrepreneur" and "shoot from the hip" often go hand in hand. But as the pace of business increases at an ever-accelerating rate, so does the need for planning.

In many industries, the barriers to entry have been dramatically reduced. Competitors can come in from way out in left field and put you out of business with ideas you never thought of. Planning forces you to pay attention to what is going on in the world so you can avoid that fate.

Many entrepreneurs avoid strategic planning because they consider it a highly complex process that costs a lot of money and saps the time and energy of the senior management team. But strategic planning doesn't have to be mysterious, complicated or time-consuming. In fact, for entrepreneurial companies, it ought to be quick, simple and easily implement-able."

To get the most out of your strategic planning process, here are 10 tips:

Gather a representative team. Bring together a small team (six to ten people) of company leaders and managers who represent every area of the company.

Go off-site. To minimize distractions and maximize focus, conduct your strategic planning session away from the office. A well-run strategic planning retreat should take two days, three at the most.

Get full commitment from your management team. You can't do it alone. If your management team doesn't buy into the plan, it won't happen.

Let go of the reins. The CEO should not lead the planning retreat. When you do, people wonder whether you are trying to lead them down the path you wanted all along. Participate actively, but don't dominate the session.

Use an objective third-party facilitator. To lead the session, hire a trained professional who has no emotional investment in the outcome of the plan. An impartial third party can concentrate on the process rather than the end result and ask the tough questions that others might fear to ask.

Include an action plan. To have any chance at implementation, the plan must clearly articulate goals, action steps, responsibilities, accountabilities and specific deadlines. The action plan should also state that the strategic plan is the beginning of implementation.

Don't use indelible ink. Good strategic plans are fluid, not rigid and unbending. They allow you to adapt to changes in the marketplace. Your goals won't change very often, but your action steps will.

Don't let the facilitator write the plan. The team should write the plan during the meeting. The facilitator merely serves as the tour guide.

Get commitment in writing. Before closing the strategic planning session, have team members pledge their commitment in writing to the plan and its successful execution. When you walk out of the room everyone must fully support the plan -- even though they may not agree with everything in it.

Review the plan regularly. Review the strategic plan for performance achievement no less than quarterly and as often as monthly or weekly. Focus on accountability for results and have clear and compelling consequences for unapproved missed deadlines.

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