Discover more in the Best of OPEN Forum series

Think Strategically: Planning for Growth and Sustainability

A strategic plan may help you sustain business over the long haul. Consider these steps when creating your vision.
March 20, 2016

Very few challenges are as exciting and as complicated as the task of building a strategic plan for long-term growth and sustainability. But it may be critical to first establish an understanding of the strategic foundation that should be in place to allow a company to support its growth path.

When most small-business owners think of a “strategic plan,” they often think of developing a mission statement or a set of core values to guide the day-to-day operations of the company. Even fewer may take the time to conduct a genuine SWOT (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) analysis, and fewer still may have annual strategic planning retreats with key employees and advisors to determine where the business really is, where it's going and how goals will actually be met to drive long-term stakeholder value.

To maintain and sustain long-term growth, consider putting a strategic plan in place to navigate the expansion path, ensure the rate and pace of growth is right and set milestones as checkpoints and accountability for performance and progress. Consider using the strategic planning process to map out your long-term navigation plan and help ensure you're on the right track from year to year.

To build a strategic plan to support long-term growth, your company may benefit from having a strong foundation from which the growth and expansion strategy can be built, launched and monitored. As you build a platform for growth, consider these components:

A clearly defined mission statement, vision and core values  

...that have been adopted by management and embraced by your employees. Your employees help plans when they are committed to sharing and living by these core values to achieve corporate goals. If your mission statement sits on a plaque behind your desk, and is not embedded in the corporate culture, your company may not yet be in a position to grow effectively or efficiently.

A proven business model

... that may serve as a basis or the core structure for the growth strategy selected. Ideally a business model will have been tested, refined and operated successfully, and be consistently profitable and durable.

A strong and leadership-oriented management team

...made up of internal officers and directors (as well as outside advisors) committed to the execution of the strategic plan, who understand your industry and the legal and business aspects of the expansion strategy. The team will ideally be committed to creating or fostering a corporate culture that encourages and rewards teamwork and innovation, and recognizes how and when the plan needs to adapt to changing market conditions.

To maintain and sustain long-term growth, consider putting a strategic plan in place to navigate the expansion path, ensure the rate and pace of growth is right and set milestones as checkpoints and accountability for performance and progress.

—Andrew J. Sherman
Partner, M&A and Corporate Department, Jones Day

Sufficient capitalization

...and access to affordable resources to help implement and sustain the growth strategy selected.

A distinctive branding, communications and social media strategy

...that includes federal and state registered trademarks as well as customer data, trade dress and proprietary systems.

Comprehensive training and education programs for employees

...and any market-channel partners. These programs may reinforce the goals of the strategic plan and help ensure that the skill sets of your team are aligned and empowered with the tools and skill sets needed for the successful execution of the plan.  

A commitment to, and genuine understanding of, your customers.

A company considered well-positioned for growth is often one that has taken the time to understand the short-term as well as long-term needs and wants of its customers and modified its organization and products to meet these needs and wants.

A demonstrated demand for the products and services

...developed by your company that may be distributed through the channels created by the growth strategy selected. Your company’s products and services will hopefully meet certain minimum quality standards, be proprietary in nature and not be subject to fads or rapid shifts in consumer preferences. Market research and analysis may be sensitive to trends in the economy and your industry, the plans of direct and indirect competitors and shifts in consumer preferences.

A genuine understanding of the competition 

...that your company will likely face in the adoption and implementation of the given growth strategy. Consider creating a strategic and systematic way of gathering and analyzing this market intelligence rather than doing so on a random or ad hoc basis.

Innovation and creativity

...for the introduction of new products and services on an ongoing basis to consumers through the distribution channels that have been built in connection with the growth strategy selected.

A strong set of external advisors coaches and mentors, board of directors and advisory board members who have the ability to help you shape the strategic plan and assist you in the monitoring of its execution.

A little bit of luck.

A lot of fun.

Read more articles on business growth.

This article was originally published on March 3, 2015.

Photo: Getty Images