Business best practices: Making the most of strategic planning

Updated Feb 24, 2022

People working together around a tablePsychologist Fitzhugh Dodson is credited with saying “Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.”

What Dodson says is true; when you do not have goals there is nothing to challenge you and your landscaping company to do better or achieve more. You may be able to create beautiful landscapes and turn a profit but lacking a sense of purpose can prevent you from meeting your full potential.

If you do set lofty goals but can never seem to achieve them, it may because you have no actionable plan in place to reach them.

This is where strategic planning can come in to help you set goals and/or work on actually reaching them.

What does it mean?

Strategic planning can be one of the intimidating, nebulous terms that gets thrown around when discussing best business practices, but what is it really?

Strategic planning is an activity where you set your priorities and focus your resources on reaching certain goals or solving particular issues within your organization. The end product of a strategic planning session should be a strategic plan.

Simply put, a strategic plan is a roadmap that guides your company from where it currently is to where you want to be with action methods. Some plans are focused on changes to make by the next year, many look at goals to reach in three years and others have five to 10-year goals.

The two main approaches to strategic planning are goal-based planning and issue-based planning. Goal-based planning is the more common method, and this is where your business picks a date in the future and a measurable goal to be met by that time. An example of this would be to reach $3 million in sales revenue in three years.

Issue-based planning on the other hand looks at present problems the company is facing and develops strategies to deal with each matter. Issue-based planning tends to have a shorter time range so you can check on your company’s progress to mitigating the problem.

“If your organization is 1-2 years old, has many current issues and/or has very limited resources in terms of people and funding, then you should strongly consider doing issues-based planning for now,” writes Carter McNamara, MBA, Ph.D., and founder and developer of the Free Management Library. “Then, after a year or so, after you’ve implemented your issues-based plan, your internal systems will be much stronger and ready for doing more future-based planning.”

Who should you include?  

After deciding you do want to conduct some strategic planning, you have to figure out who all should be involved in the process.

A key person needed on the planning team is the strategy director. This individual is responsible for the implementation of the strategic plan and has the authority to make decisions as to which goals will be focused on and how they will be met.

A good rule of thumb is to make sure that there is someone present to represent each department in the company. The last thing you want to do is create a strategic plan as that calls on the sales department to improve its close rate by a certain percentage but then they are left out of the discussion as to how that should be achieved.

McNamara says that it is better have one or two extra people involved in the planning team than to exclude someone with useful knowledge.

There is also the question as to whether your landscaping company should include the help of a consultant or a facilitator.

Facilitators should be used if you’ve never conducted a strategic planning session before or if previous strategic planning sessions were not successful.

Some other reasons McNamara says a facilitator can be helpful is when there are a number of issues and/or ideas that need to be addressed or if no one within the organization has the skills or desire to facilitate the planning.

The Harvest Group is one of the green industry consulting organizations that offers to help in this department.

What are the key elements?

There are many different models and frameworks you can use when doing your strategic planning, but some of the key elements of a strategic plan include these listed below.

Conduct a SWOT analysis. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Before you can begin planning for the future you must be aware of your internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats.

Doing a SWOT analysis allows you to ask and answer questions like ‘What are your strongest assets?’ and ‘What trends are emerging that you can profitably serve?’

Evaluate your vision, mission, and core values. Yes, there is a difference between a vision statement and a mission statement. Your vision is about where you want to be in the future, ideally three to five years from now. Your mission is what you do, for whom and how. You mission should help you reach your vision.

Your core values are your beliefs and behaviors that will help you reach your vision and your mission. Make sure that your vision, mission and core values are properly aligned with where your company stands.

Set specific business goals. Once you know where you are headed with your vision you need to make goals that will get you there. This could include changing your company culture or altering the type of services you provide as a landscaper. These goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based.

Create action plans. For each goal set, there needs to be a detailed plan as to how that goal can be achieved. This is where the rubber meets the road because you are moving from big ideas to actions that individuals in your landscaping business will carry out.

How to prevent the plan from failing

For those who have done strategic planning in the past, a common complaint is the process results in a plan that never really gets implemented.

There are a number of reasons why these plans can fail. Some of causes include the leadership team not being committed to the success of the strategic plan and a lack of discipline to follow through in making behavior changes.

Failing to properly communicate the strategic plan to your employees is another possible pitfall to be on the lookout for. You need to make clear why your plan is what’s best for the company and your employees.

Monitoring the implementation of your plan regularly ensures that you are staying on track toward the direction set during the planning session(s). When evaluating the status of your strategic plan, ask if your objectives are being met or not.

If they are not, determine if your goals need adjusted timelines, more resources or should be more realistic. Sometimes plans need to be changed for various reasons. Being willing to adapt your strategies to changing conditions.

Strategic plans are more like guidelines, than actual rules, so be flexible.

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