At HigherEchelon, we believe in playing to win, and our strategic planning services help organizations do just that. By working with key leaders to align organizational behaviors with goals, HigherEchelon helps optimize organizational performance by ensuring you’re not only doing things right, but doing the right things. Strategic Planning is a conceptual style of planning that simply looks at where the organizations is now, where it wants to go, and captures how it will get there. It is not about problem solving—it’s about problem framing. More than a few strategic planning efforts have run aground because they were based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what a strategic plan is. Sometimes strategic planning is confused with other planning modalities, each valid in its own right, but geared toward a different end result. To put it simply, not every plan is a strategic plan.

A Strategic Plan is a tool that provides guidance in fulfilling a mission with maximum efficiency and impact. If it is to be effective and useful, it should articulate specific goals and describe the action steps and resources needed to accomplish them. As a rule, most strategic plans should be reviewed and revamped every three to five years.

An Operating Plan is a coordinated set of tasks for carrying out the critical goals delineated in a strategic plan. It thus goes into greater detail than the strategic plan from which it is derived, spelling out time frames and the roles of individual staff and board members, for example. It also has a shorter horizon than a strategic plan — usually one fiscal year.

At HigherEchelon, we believe the two go hand in hand and that strategic plans, in themselves, are not useful and often fail unless there is an Operating Plan to drive results short and mid-term. HigherEchelon’s practitioners incorporate both so clients have a long-term plan along with short term actionable projects that will drive results.

HE uses a four-phased approach to strategic planning followed by a workshop to operationalize the strategic plan. This dual pronged approach not only aligns organizational efforts to its goals, but it takes the process a step further by laying out detailed project plans to meet the objectives.

Phase One: Defining where we want to go and your vision. The vision should not only paint the picture for your organization of where you want to go, but should also give reference to a milestone or objective that can be measured against so the organization will know they have arrived.

Phase Two: Defining where are we now. Here, we assess where we are as it relates to the vision we have just developed. There are several tools that can be used during this phase, one of the most common is a S.W.O.T. analysis, strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats that you face organizationally. The techniques to doing S.W.O.T may vary organization to organization. In smaller organizations S.W.O.T can be done for the entire organization or in larger organizations can be performed by individual departments before bringing the larger group together.

Phase Three: Identifying the critical goals. In phase three we will analyze the S.W.O.T. analysis and begin to identify problems to solve and opportunities to exploit. These obstacles and opportunities are the foundation for the critical goals that lead to realizing the vision, and ultimately, where the leaders of the organization want to go.

Phase Four: HE practitioners will guide your organization through a planning workshop which will build a complete project plan, with each project aligned to a specific plan critical goal. The result will be a comprehensive plan that aligns all program and projects to ensure that all are aligned to strategic objectives.