Many small businesses prepare — and regularly update — a strategic plan, but many overlook this important task.
Whether your business falls into the “have” or a “have-not” category, a strategic plan can be an invaluable resource to help your company accomplish its ultimate objectives. And part of this process involves having a succession or exit plan.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
— Benjamin Franklin
The Anatomy of a Strategic Plan
First, let’s review some basics about strategic planning. Fundamentally, it is an activity that helps:
- Set priorities,
- Focus energy and resources,
- Strengthen operations,
- Ensure that employees and management work toward common goals,
- Establish agreement around intended outcomes, and
- Adjust direction as the business environment changes.
The best way to start is to skip to the ultimate goal: What do you want your business to accomplish? This amounts to your company’s mission statement. Once that’s clear, flip the process around and ask: What steps will help my company achieve its goal(s)?
You don’t need a large number of goals in a strategic plan. You could have ten or more, but you also may have only four or five. For a strategic plan to have the most impact, the goals should be clear and concise. Setting goals outlines the course your business will take. If the goals miss the mark, other efforts will probably be useless.
Once you set the goals and management is on board, you must set objectives for reaching each goal. Objectives are rather broad in nature and should be concise. They guide employees toward making decisions that are in line with helping your business achieve its goals.
Under each objective list a series of action steps. These are more specific than the objectives they support and should note who is responsible for the action and when it should be completed.
The final step is to regularly evaluate the status of each action step, noting:
- When it is completed,
- Whether it resulted in reaching the objective, and
- If the cumulative completion of objectives resulted in reaching the goal.
There are many variations to this scheme, but this is a common format in strategic planning. Keep in mind that goals are likely to change over time to account for the economy, the industry and other factors involved with the business.
A Road Map for Succession
Developing a succession plan should be a part of your strategic plan. Successful succession is one of the most important goals for any business. Other goals might deal with profitability, expansion or operational issues, but none is more important than succession. Think about it — is any other goal genuinely valid without a road map for succession?
A succession plan or exit strategy typically begins by establishing a team to focus on it. While the team will deal with the broad issues of the strategic plan, it will not be involved with how that plan is accomplished. Instead it focuses on the steps needed to position you and your partners for the ultimate succession. This may include assessing health issues — especially related to senior managers.
In effect, the business will get its marching orders from the succession planning or exit strategy team. That is where the business and its managers take the ball and kick it across the goal line. All existing goals should be reviewed to ensure they support the overarching succession or exit goal.
It is often helpful to have a facilitator. Your CPA is likely to be on the succession planning team and is often a good choice to play this role.