From our guest blogger Brian Jones, a former Business Development Specialist at RMS.

Strategic planning exists so that appropriate attention can be given to the forces that shape a company’s future, which are consistent with the goals of the organization.  It is all about being proactive and not waiting for the forces of nature to shape outcomes, but instead establishing plans and processes to manage desired outcomes.  It is also about the communication of ideas that allow you to effectively allocate and manage resources.

In his 1980 work on Competitive Strategy, Michael Porter referred to the identification of “strategic signals” for which a firm must “constantly scan its environment.” As the father of modern thinking about strategy, Porter reminds us that strategic thinking includes the need to repeatedly ask questions that improve our understanding of our position in the market.  No matter which strategic planning framework you use, they all require an extensive amount of work in asking these questions and gathering the right information.

When are we gathering these ingredients?

Doing Strategic Planning follows the basic life cycle of creation, implementation and monitoring.  Unfortunately, planning for doing Strategic Planning is often an overlooked or undervalued initial stage to this life cycle.  This planning stage is where the vast majority of information gathering should take place.  You can’t jump in to create a Strategic Plan without the proper context in which to think strategically.

Why are we gathering these ingredients?

Creation of a Strategic Plan involves looking at the current situation and defining the favorable outcome.  The work that follows, including development of goals, objectives, and actions to attain those outcomes, can’t proceed without defining the current situation.  Information gathering:

  • Allows you to understand your current situation;
  • Determines your ability to meet your future mission and goals;
  • Provides a common language and point of reference to communicate with others;
  • Identifies trends and needs in the environment in which you operate; and
  • Increases awareness of the environment in which you operate.

What ingredients are we gathering?

Due diligence requires that we carefully consider both external and internal forces of change when gathering ingredients for a Strategic Plan.  Ideally, this exercise requires some knowledge of the topics that will eventually be included in the plan itself.  The best place to begin is with the current Strategic Plan if there is one.  Beyond that, there are many categories of information that should be considered.  Essential ingredients include topics related to those likely to impact the mission of the organization, changes in products/services and/or costs, changes in government mandates/regulations, competition, demographic shifts, economic factors, and political trends.

Internal ingredients consist of information about things that occur inside the organization or are under significant organizational influence.  Thus, it is concerned with information such as:

  • Customer satisfaction and loyalty;
  • Effectiveness of marketing and communications;
  • Employee satisfaction and loyalty;
  • Financial metrics and forecasts;
  • Hard assets like equipment and infrastructure;
  • Management and information systems and policies;
  • Organizational culture;
  • Organizational mission and values; and
  • Soft assets like technological capacity and intellectual property.

External ingredients are based on situations or events that are outside of the organization and largely not under its influence or control.  Thus, it is concerned with information such as:

  • Actions and intentions of existing competitors and new entrants;
  • Customer behaviors and societal trends;
  • Demographic forecasts and trends;
  • Economic forecasts and trends;
  • General environmental changes;
  • Industry forecasts and trends;
  • Political activities and situations; and
  • Technological changes.

How do we gather these ingredients?

Gathering all of the ingredients required to create and maintain a Strategic Plan can be an imposing task.  Leadership and commitment of resources are ultimately key determinants in the quality of the information that is gathered, but knowing what options are available is also important.

Both internal ingredients and external ingredients can be gathered by internal resources or external sources specifically hired to investigate and provide the required information.  The information should come from internal documents and stakeholders, data mining, secondary sources, and primary research.  Trying to do it all with internal resources can be a more costly and frustrating endeavor.  A good quality and valid approach to gathering ingredients should be iterative and collaborative, but can often be kicked-off with an environmental audit.

A professional and independent assessment of the marketplace and the organization can provide many of the required ingredients for Strategic Planning.  The interaction of outside professionals with internal staff provides an objective perspective that is free from turf wars or political issues.  An outside resource can also provide many tools and knowledge that results in a more reliable and consistent presentation of information for creating a Strategic Plan.

Interested in how market research support of Strategic Planning can help your business in Syracuse, NY, Upstate NY, or anywhere else? Contact our Director of Business Development Sandy Baker via or call 315-635-9802.