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A Really Helpful Strategic Planning Example
If you need some help understanding strategic planning, read this article—it breaks down a fictitious strategic plan example, step by step.
In the normal course of operations, it can be easy to lose your grasp on what a strategic plan is (or should be). The best examples of good strategic plans all set clear priorities for an organization and focus employees and resources on established goals. While a strategic plan does share common elements with a business plan, or even execution plan, it is very distinct from both of those things.
If you’re still feeling a bit murky on strategic planning, here’s how to launch a sample strategic plan step by step. Meet Upward Airlines, our fictitious company that’s about to launch its strategic planning process.
Upward Airlines Strategic Plan Example
Let’s imagine Upward Airlines has a 2017-2022 strategic plan that’s coming to a close. Now’s the time to create a new strategy for 2023-2028. The airline’s strategic plan needs to include goals and the general plan of action on how to achieve them. Think of a strategic plan like a flight plan. Just like an airline has a final destination, like Hong Kong, and predetermined routes to get there, including departure times, direction, connecting airports, etc. Your business has the same kind of plan for its future growth.
But for Upward Air, it takes more than just one flight to get where the company wants to go. The strategic plan is a five-year outlook on its operations, fleet, pilots, customers, and more. The airline can’t simply take the old plan and change the dates—it needs to complete the full planning process, which includes two phases: 1) an assessment of the company’s current situation in preparation for plotting a new strategy, and 2) the implementation of a strategic planning framework that will guide the plan’s management and execution. (Upward Air would also benefit from strategy software to help with execution—more on that below!)
Let’s take a look at both these phases in a bit more detail.
Phase 1: First, prepare for a new strategy.
A company’s mission and vision determine in large part the direction it is headed, but there are numerous ways to get where you want to go. Upward Airlines needs to develop a strategic plan that has the best chance of success given the company’s current strengths and weaknesses and external factors that could impact its course of action.
So before diving into plan-building, Upward Airlines will assess the relevant situational aspects using one or more of the analysis frameworks below.
An environmental scan is the process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data about a company’s external opportunities and threats. These range from political and economic factors to competitor developments. One of the most popular methods used to perform an environmental scan is the PESTEL analysis.
When Upward Airlines conducted its environmental scan in this imaginary strategic plan outline, it found several things to inform its 2023-2028 strategy:
- Several new low-cost airlines have emerged and increased competition for routes to major cities.
- Bigger, established airlines have added perks like free WiFi and additional seat upgrades.
- Pricing for flights has changed dramatically across the industry in the past five years.
- Upward Air has saturated its current geographic footprint since its last plan.
Using the data from the environmental scan, Upward Airlines next performs a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. This high-level analysis helps organizations identify where they’re leading and where they’re lagging, so they can shape their strategic goals accordingly. Upward Air’s SWOT analysis revealed:
- Strengths—A consistent marketing message about no charges for checked luggage and a standardized in-flight experience.
- Weaknesses—An aging fleet that was falling behind on technology.
- Opportunities—Allow people to bring their own devices (no programming overhead), and possibly modernize the fleet with new seats that allow for more people on the same planes.
- Threats—Competitors have copied the low-cost marketing message but added last-minute, hidden costs and confused the market.
Other Analysis Frameworks
SWOT and PESTEL are the most common ways to assess the internal and external landscape, but there are other approaches you can also take to help you better understand your company and identify the right path forward. These include:
- The Blue Ocean Strategy
- The Valuable, Rare, Inimitable, and Organized (VRIO) Framework
- The McKinsey 7S Framework
Using the results of the environmental scan, SWOT, or other methodology, the final piece of the preparation phase is to identify key changes your organization needs to make, which can then be plotted out on a shift slide.
A shift slide defines a spectrum of where a company sits for a strategic area and how it can “shift” along that spectrum to reach where it actually needs to be. (If you need to take a step back and reevaluate your goals prior to plotting them on a spectrum, here are examples of strategic planning goals and objectives.) Sometimes shift slides involve big changes, such as modernizing an aircraft fleet, and sometimes it’s simply a change in brand positioning.
Continuing with our strategic plan example, Upward Airlines decided it needed a customer perception shift slide to evolve the way flyers saw its brand. Its spectrum was to move from being thought of as a “no-frills airline” to “freedom in the skies.” A marketing shift was also needed, positioning Upward Airlines as “one cost,” instead of just “low cost,” and focusing on standardizing expectations for customers.
Phase 2: Implement a strategic planning framework to guide the plan’s management and execution.
Once you’ve identified a path forward, you’ll need a framework in place to help carry it out. (This is a necessity, because strategy execution is a lot more challenging than it might seem.) Similar to the first phase, there are multiple frameworks for organizations to choose from. There’s no “right” one—only the one that best matches your company’s way of doing things, or perhaps reflects a change you’d like to make with regard to improving strategy execution.
Also, keep in mind that you can combine strategic planning frameworks. Some organizations use elements of two or more frameworks to create a custom approach. Great! Every organization manages differently; your planning model should reflect your approach.
Below is a roundup of some commonly used strategic management frameworks.
A Balanced Scorecard (BSC) forces you to take a balanced view of strategy because it incorporates four different perspectives: financial, customer, internal processes, and learning and growth. It also helps you achieve high-level goals (objectives) through its structure, which uses measures (key metrics) and initiatives (projects) to align business actions with goals. The Balanced Scorecard remains a popular choice since its inception in the early 1990s. You can read more about it here.
Below is Upward Airlines’ Balanced Scorecard as it would appear in ClearPoint strategy software, showing three categories and their associated objectives, measures, and initiatives.
Associated with the Balanced Scorecard framework, a strategy map is a visual representation of the four perspectives. Creating one is beneficial because it forces you to think through what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’ll get there. It also serves as an excellent way of communicating your strategy to employees.
Upward Airlines’ strategy map showed some of the key learnings:
- Setting new financial goals with a differentiated model based on very low ticket prices
- Making low prices possible with a low-frills experience and high utilization of their standard fleet
- Improving operational efficiency by accelerating ground turnaround and focusing on direct routes
- Investing in personnel through higher compensation and flexible union contracts
Objectives & Key Results (OKRs)
The OKR framework is a simple way to set, track, and measure goals on a repetitive (usually quarterly) basis. Everyone knows their direction and aim, and works at a fast, consistent pace to get there. In short, objectives are what you want to accomplish; key results define how you’ll get them done. Key results are aggressive but always measurable, time-bound, and limited in number.
The Hoshin Planning approach aligns strategic goals with projects and tasks to ensure that efforts are coordinated. This strategic management model is less focused on measures and more on goals and initiatives.
This McKinsey framework requires the categorization of growth goals into three different “time horizons”:
- Core business—focuses on immediate revenue-making activities
- Emerging opportunities—focuses on extending existing activities into new areas
- Blue sky—focuses on taking your business in new directions
The idea is that in order to grow, organizations must allocate their resources across all three horizons, a scenario that allows you to maintain your core business while continuously striving to innovate.
This is by no means a complete list of strategic management frameworks; you can read about even more here. It’s also important to realize that you may change frameworks as your business grows.
For even more guidance on what a strategic plan should look like, check out our strategic planning templates.
Make sure your plan succeeds with the help of strategy reporting software.
No strategic planning example is complete without mention of strategy reporting software.
The strategy execution phase is where most plans fail. Why? Because your plan alone doesn’t include crucial elements that coordinate and sustain your activities over the long term, like monitoring and reporting on progress. Maintaining focus and directing activities over a period of three to five years is an ongoing exercise that requires dedicated leadership and a systematic approach.
That’s where strategy management frameworks—and strategy reporting software like ClearPoint—come in.
ClearPoint helps organizations follow through with their activities, allowing them to adapt when internal or external conditions change, work as a unified team, and identify and react to performance problems. It also helps combat strategy fatigue by keeping your goals front and center for employees at all levels.
Interested in learning more? Here’s a great summary of how ClearPoint boosts your chances of success; you can also schedule a demo of ClearPoint to see it in action.