Visionary leaders communicate a compelling vision by optimistically discussing the future. They do it because they have thought strategically about the big picture. They spend time creating, refining and adapting flexible plans to create the desired future. But how do they go about creating this strategic plan?

Strategic planning combines rational thinking skills with the flexible, creative thinking. To be strategically competent in the planning process requires the leader to acquire, interpret and rapidly act upon changing information relevant to the health of the organization.

Yesterday, Promotional Consultant Today shared three stages of a strategic planning process; today we’ll share four more that—through an integrated approach—can help you set a course towards a bright future for your business.

1. Specify key objectives. The first three steps of the strategic planning process that PCT shared yesterday led to the heart of the plan— your key objectives. Write three or four financial objectives and three or four nonfinancial objectives. These objectives should be written as S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Responsible and Timed.) goals. The time frame depends on how quickly things change in your industry.

2. Create strategic alternatives. Write three scenarios that depict the future of the company. These include the most probable one, an optimistic one and a pessimistic one. Each scenario should summarize a basic strategy for the company, including new product introductions, facility startups, shutdowns, equipment purchases, acquisitions, changes in supplier relationships and so forth.

The first scenario, the most probable one, will deliver the company to its desired future if successfully implemented. The second scenario outlines an optimistic view of what the future may bring. The third scenario identifies the various options that would allow you to maintain profitability if your projections are off. This ensures that you have thought through the moves you would need to take.

An important part of your strategic alternatives involves your competition. You may have discussed the competition in a situational analysis, but detailed responses must be presented in this section. Answering questions such as the following should help: What are our competitors’ strengths and weaknesses? What is the financial condition of each of our major competitors? What might be our competitors’ strategies? How will our competitors respond to our market success?

3. Commit to an action plan. Your action plan is a detailed scenario describing everything learned about your company, your unit, the environment, the competition and the future. Of course, it’s based on your most probable scenario. Responsibilities and time frames must also be clearly defined. Contingency plans should also be developed for the pessimistic and optimistic scenarios.

4. Implement and adapt the plan. Finally, set up quarterly meetings to follow-up and adapt as the environment changes. The biggest problem most leaders make is putting the strategic plan on the shelf. Strategic planning is an ongoing process for creating a desired future. We may not be able to predict the future, but we can anticipate and occasionally create it.

Source: Dave Jensen employed his extensive background in marketing, research and leadership to develop The Expansive Leadership Model™. Jensen uses this powerful tool to help clients conquer challenges and meet strategic goals. He is also an award-winning salesperson for Siemens and has published and directed academic research at the University of California/San Diego. He is the author of The Executive’s Paradox—How to Stretch When You’re Pulled by Opposing Demands.