You may have heard the saying, “If you fail to plan you are planning to fail.” That’s the way strategic planning should be considered. Strategic market planning is often viewed as the practice of the largest corporations. But how do you think they got to that size? It wasn’t by playing Russian roulette with their company and investments! There is an efficient way to go about planning and here are a few steps to follow.

Step #1: Set aside specific time to prepare your strategic plan. Be prepared to spend some energy and enthusiasm as well. If your company is in a negative market position, meaning it is not as well thought of as it was in past years, there may be some significant time and energy required to figure out why and what to do next.

Step #2: Bring your best creativity skills to the planning process. Many innovations result because someone figures out a better or new way of doing things. Following what everyone else in your industry is doing is not a productive way to come up with a new approach. Think about it, you’ll end up where everyone else ends up! So bring your best thinking, wacky thinking, and bring in others who can provide a new perspective. At our firm in Chicago we used to say, “We don’t care where or who has the best ideas, just that we have them!” And that’s whom we rewarded respectively.

Step #3: List all of your existing assumptions about your business strategy and question everything. The benefit of this process is you may have outgrown some of your strategies and they will be surfaced by thinking through ‘what’ you do and ‘why’ you do it. The key here is to be willing to axe what is no longer working and put something new in its place. Consider Google. Once a year now they discontinue several or more significant services when they conclude they are no longer bringing value to the majority of their customers. That’s just good product management. This keeps their products fresh and continues to build momentum for their company.

Step #4: Make the strategic planning process fun. Really can’t stress this point enough. The process should be a collaborative exchange where there are no dumb ideas, just thoughts for consideration, and all conducted in an atmosphere of learning and fun. No grading of ideas or figuring out who contributed the most.

Step #5: Connect your new strategy to a financial goal that can be measured. This practice will allow you to measure the results that you are receiving against past performance and make refinements, adjustments, and decide to continue or discontinue the new strategy. A key to this decision-making is in understanding that in order to achieve long-term results you need to keep in place a long-term plan. So don’t be too quick to kill a new strategy but leave enough time for it to take its full effect.

Step #6: include all of the parts of your company in the strategic planning process. Operations, Product Development, HR, Financial, Marketing, and Sales should all be a part and expected to contribute best thinking to move the company forward in an integrated manner. One of the worst things that can happen in a strategic market planning process is a few people develop a strategic plan for the entire organization without their input. Frankly, this can be counter-productive to the overall planning enterprise.

Step #7: Once you have created your new strategic plan it should include some basics: Goals, strategies, tactics, financials, and an implementation program. If the strategic plan is well structured it can be used as a blueprint by everyone in the company. In fact, it should be understandable from the shop floor to the executive office to produce a highly successful and dynamic plan. Even customers should be able to easily understand your value proposition and tell you what it is.

If you follow these simple seven steps you will be well on your way to creating a strategic plan that will serve your company well. It’s interesting to note that the average company spends less than one hour a month on its strategic planning. Don’t fall prey to this very dangerous practice.