There is a familiar saying you may have heard, “Success has many fathers, and failure has none.” This can easily be applied to strategic planning. Of course, everyone wants to take credit for a highly successful strategic plan but who wants to be responsible for one that fails? No one!

And yet, over many years of consulting I have heard pretty much every imaginable excuse for not having a formalized strategic plan. Some of the most common excuses are, “We’re going to think about doing this next year once we get some things cleared up” to “Strategic planning is for the big guys, not our smaller organization” or “We don’t really know how to do that so we just use what’s worked in the past.”

The facts concerning strategic planning are equally surprising. Research shows that approximately 90% of all US businesses lack a formal strategic plan and of those organizations with them, only 10% say they fully implement it throughout their organization. So if you and your organization find yourself in the majority you should consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • Can our organization become better focused with a strategic plan?
  • Do we have the capacity and smarts to deliver more value?
  • Is there a way to help our people become more productive?
  • What is the potential for our organization to increase our revenues?

These are the types of questions that a S.M.A.R.T. strategy plan answers which can lead to substantial improvements in how an organization operates and communicates with its key customers. The key to their success is S.M.A.R.T. objectives need to be extremely easy to explain, understand, and to do. We have Peter Ducker’s “Management by Objectives” to thank for building the S.M.A.R.T. criteria. Here now are five keys to a S.M.A.R.T. strategic plan to get you thinking.

Key #1: Specific 
The first key starts with a Specific goal versus a general one. Human nature tends to hold onto what is in place and resist something new. The problem with this method is you can easily end up with a long list of semi-related programs and services that do not produce strong growth and profit. To safeguard against this natural tendency, force yourself and your team to write goals that are clear and unambiguous. Eliminate goals that are vague or simply repeat what has been in place for years. To make goals focused, they need to communicate easily to the entire team exactly what’s expected, why it’s important, and all of the related concerted actions that are necessary.

Here is a quick set of questions you can ask about your Specific goals. If you can’t easily state the answer to each of them then it’s probably time to rethink your strategy goals:

Who:         Who is involved?

What:        What do I want to accomplish?

Where:     Identify a location.

When:       Establish a time frame.

Why:         Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

Example: Increase overall corporate training revenues 20% in Year 1.

Key #2: Measurable The second key demands that goals be measured using precise quantifiable criteria so you can determine if the goal is a success. After all, the point of a S.M.A.R.T. plan is to determine the optimum strategies to grow your organization. As the saying goes, “What is not measured cannot be improved.” The main point of measuring the progress of the team is to keep them on track and to drive the plan’s success metrics. There is an excitement that builds once a team gets past the feeling of being ‘watched’ that motivates them to work steadily toward their goal. Why does this happen? Mainly because people really do want to succeed and a specific measurable plan allows them to know exactly where they are every day in achieving their personal goals.

Measurement brings focus.You get results from what you focus on. Everyone knows this, but most organizations are busy tending to the urgent problems of the day and not focusing on key long-term issues. Unless your staff can focus on a common vision and have a specific quantifiable way to measure it, the organization can’t go anywhere. A strategic plan helps direct energy and guide staff toward a shared goal in an ever-changing world.

A Measurable goal can answer the following questions. Once again ask yourself if yours meet the grade:

  • How long with this take?
  • What are the top three metrics we need to track?
  • What constitutes a total winner?
  • How many?
  • How will I know when it’s time to question our strategy?
  • Are all of the indicators quantifiable?

Example: add 100 new corporate customers for leadership training each quarter.

Key #3: Achievable The third key focuses on making strategic plan goals that are Achievable within the organization’s capacity and capabilities. Setting goals that the current staff does not have the resources or expertise to achieve is simply setting them up to fail. Determining what constitutes an achievable goal has the added benefit of introspection that comes while determining what is and is not reasonable to expect. Often gaps in strategy and organization are surfaced which can produce the positive outcomes of improved resources and human skills management.

This process also assures that the organization’s core strategy will be developed including the abilities, skills and attitudes necessary to set realistic goals that might have been left unnoticed in the past. To test your goals to see if they are Achievable you can ask the following questions:

  • Do we have the time to achieve this goal?
  • Do we have the talent to achieve this goal?
  • Do we have the financial resources to achieve this goal?

Example: open new ABC Program and break even during the first year.

Key #4: Relevant Having a distinct differentiation that is Relevant in the market is essential for a winning strategy. Equally important is knowing what the marketplace wants. How many great programs or services can you think of that came and went quickly simply because no one was interested in them? This happens in both the corporate as well as the education market every day. A corporate college Director’s goal might be to build an online community for managers and employees to share about their experiences at recent training sessions. This is a specific, measurable, and achievable goal but is doomed to fail if the idea holds no interest to the intended participants.

Within any organization there are generally three levels: Executive leadership, Managers, and Staff. When new ideas are being implemented it is essential that there is buy-in from the top down. This ensures that if the best ideas encounter in-house resistance there is an executive champion that can push aside obstructions and harness the full support of the entire team.

When a goal is truly Relevant it is of interest to both the targeted marketplace customers as well as the whole team. Questions you can pose to determine if the goal is Relevant are:

  • Will our customers find true value in our new offering?
  • Will our customers place a premium on our offering and commit the time necessary to participate?
  • Is our new offering in alignment with our other offerings and will it add value to them?
  • Are there a sufficient number of potential users of this program on a year-to-year basis?

Example: develop and implement an executive leadership and performance plan that increases the number of senior level program attendees by 20% in one year.

Key #5: Time-Bound Being Time-Bound simply means that the specific goal you have developed is placed within a time-frame that has a specific due date. Deadlines are sometimes thought of in a negative context, particularly if there has been a preponderance of missteps and missed goal expectations. That’s why it’s important to present target dates to staff as a means to a positive end – completing the goal – and to create a sense of importance for meeting the goal. Research has proven that a positive reinforcement from management always out produces an implied or stated negative consequence. Culture matters.

Asking the following questions can test a Time-Bound key:

  • What date is our project due by?
  • What is a reasonable halfway completion date?
  • What do I need to do today?

Example: integrate all strategic marketing communications with a primary brand look and messaging for the ABC Training Program including website, e-marketing mailings, printed mailings, banners, posters, handout materials, program curricula guides, and instructional materials.