DALLAS — We’re well into the new year! The end of a previous year is always a difficult time for us as business owners. We frantically try to make sure we’ve met last year’s goals.

There’s paperwork and other filings that seem to gobble up the hours. It’s a classic case of the “urgent” crowding out the “important.”

It’s easy to postpone, delay, or outright cancel the most important thing you can do: strategic planning. Yet taking the time to craft, execute and communicate a robust, coherent strategic plan is arguable the most critical step you can take as a business owner.

There are countless ways to develop a strategic plan and everyone has their own opinion on how it can and should be done.

At my company we have a process that we’ve used for over a decade that works well for us, but at the end of the day I would encourage you to find whatever approach works best for you and your team.

My preferred strategic planning approach is built on four core tenets, here are the last three:

2. IMPROVEMENTS

Once you’ve completed a comprehensive look back, now it’s time for you and your team to look forward to the rest of this year.

At the core of any good strategic plan is one word: Improvement. A year in which we’re not improving is not a year worth having, so the driving theme of your strategic plan should be one question: How do we improve?

In my experience, the greatest difficulty in this part of the process is collecting an authentic list of the company’s opportunities for improvement.

This is the case for a number of reasons: Employees may not want to be seen as criticizing their colleagues or management; they may fear change; they may not have been taught how to identify and solve problems; or they may just be shy.

To counteract these challenges I recommend formally soliciting opportunities for improvement from your staff, but in a totally anonymous way. This can be as simple as handing out notecards and collecting them in a box or sending out a Google forms or Survey Monkey survey.

The key here is making sure that staff understand that their opinions will be confidential, and to ask probing questions to maximize the likelihood of insight.

Here are some examples of questions your team can address:

• “What makes your job more difficult than it needs to be?”

• “What annoys you about working at our company?”

• “What would make your work experience better?”

• “How can we make our customer’s experience with us better?”

• “How can we improve quality?”

• “What do you wish you knew more about?”

Asking these questions and giving your team a safe space to communicate their thoughts will give you a laundry list of opportunities for improvement, which you can then synthesize into a plan.

3. PLAN

Now that you have a clear understanding of what your company needs to do, it’s time to make a plan on how to execute on that throughout the year.

In order to ensure execution, it’s important to first synthesize your list of opportunities for improvement into larger tasks. There’s countless ways to do it, but in my experience I’ve found a few categorizations are critical.

First, it’s extremely helpful to differentiate between truly complex problems and “quick wins.” The quick wins like “getting a new coffee maker,” or “new paint in the front lobby,” should be assigned and allocated to whoever is responsible right away.

For the complex problems, I recommend setting aside some significant time at your strategic planning meeting to make sure you are all able to dig in and come up with preliminary ideas on how to go about solving them.

After you’ve categorized these new issues, the other critical piece in strategic planning is accountability. Every task should be clearly assigned to someone in your company with a specific timeline and metric to make sure it is achieved.

In addition, you should be sure to confirm that that person has the resources necessary to achieve their objective. Without accountability, clear deadlines, and the resources to achieve your goals, a strategic plan isn’t worth having.

4. COMMUNICATE

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a company craft a strategic plan and then fail to roll it out, I could retire. A strategic plan can be an incredibly powerful tool in driving the culture of your company during the year, but in order to do so it must be communicated to every single person in the organization. Otherwise, it’s a ghost.

In our company we communicate our strategic plan through an all-staff annual meeting. At the meeting we spend time reviewing the previous year; where we succeeded and where we came up short. We then allow different team members to present our priorities for the year and where we hope to go.

This ensures that every single person, from the presser, to the store associate, to the president of the company are all on the same page as to what we’re trying to achieve.

This year, do yourself the favor of setting a course for your team by creating a comprehensive strategic plan. It’s a lot of work, but I promise it will pay off.

As they say, a year is a terrible thing to waste!

To read Part 1, go HERE.