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Strategic planning involves the structured efforts of an organization to effectively identify its purposes for existing, the direction that the organization will pursue, and how that direction will allow the entity to achieve its short-term and long-term goals. Individuals, businesses, governments, non-profit agencies, and any other type of organizations can utilize this process of strategically planning for the future. While the methods used in this type of planning process vary, there are a few basic steps that tend to apply in any setting.
The first step in any strategic planning effort involves providing answers to three basic queries. First, the entity must determine what the organization does. Next, it is necessary to define who benefits from the activities of the organization. Last, the organization must assess its strengths and weaknesses as they relate to how those activities are carried out. Once this foundation is in place, it is possible to move on to further refining the future goals and direction of the entity.
Many organizations find that the establishment of a mission statement, along with a vision statement, can make the process of strategic planning much more focused. While there is some confusion about what is meant by each term, these two statements are actually simple to understand. The mission statement has to do with the core purpose of the organization, the intended recipient of the efforts to work toward that purpose, and the essential strategies that are used in achieving that purpose. In contrast, the vision statement is focused on where the entity wants to go in the future, and what processes will be used to move the entity in the right direction. The two statements tend to work together, and thus help to create the framework whereby policies, procedures, and specific activities can be related back to the ultimate goals of the organization.
A simple approach to strategic planning involves three essential steps. First, it is important to accurately assess where the entity is today, in terms of ability and resources. From that point, the entity identifies where it would like to be at some specific point in time in the future, effectively setting goals and objectives that it wishes to achieve. The final step involves deciding how to successfully move on from the circumstances of today and systematically work toward those goals in an organized and logical fashion. Different experts in the task of strategic planning utilize a wide range of names for these processes, and sometimes break each process down into a series of steps. The complexity of the exact approach used often has to do with the nature of the organization, the type of goals that are set, and what resources can be brought to bear in the pursuit of those goals.