The process doesn’t have to be complicated—just the opposite.

By John Kimmel

We hear a lot of high-level conversations about setting and reaching our organization’s goals, but too often those goals remain unmet. The bad news is that there are several reasons why we don’t achieve our goals. The good news is that most of those reasons will be eliminated if you follow the steps outlined below. These steps unlock the secrets to strategic planning that bring success.

Start with an annual strategic plan.

Many companies try to start with a three-year plan or longer, only to find large gaps between the reality of what the team believes they can achieve and the tasks necessary to get there. So, especially if this is your first real attempt at strategic planning, keep your plan to a single year. Your team will be better able to connect to a period of time that is easily understood and still embrace the tasks that will stretch them toward those big goals.

Create a strategic planning team.

If you are a small organization, you should include your entire team in this process. For larger teams this is simply not realistic. For these organizations, make sure all the company leaders are part of the team as well as at least one representative from each division and position.

Schedule a strategic planning event.

Another huge mistake is trying to create a strategic plan while you are also trying to work at your normal job. Strategic planning takes focus. Schedule an event offsite if possible and direct the organization to interrupt you only in the case of an emergency. Also, this is likely a two-day event unless you have a small team of five or fewer people, in which case you might be able to accomplish the plan in a single day.

Do a SWOT.

Strategic planning starts with clearly identifying what your organization is, and what it is not. We accomplish this by performing a brainstorming session called a SWOT, which is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Once you have those details in mind, the teams can determine what one, two or three goals they should accomplish in the next 12 months. Having more than three annual goals reduces the likelihood of success dramatically, so stick to three goals or less.

Assign an owner to every goal.

Every big goal, supporting goal and even individual steps need to be “owned” by one person who is responsible for its completion. This does not mean that the person is responsible to do all the work necessary to reach the goal, but rather that tracking progress and accountability measures are the responsibility of this individual. Warning: Goals that are owned by more than one person or the team simply will not get done, so don’t fall into that trap.

Make your goals SMART.

Zig Ziglar used to say, “Don’t become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific.” What he meant was that unless you have clearly articulated what you want to accomplish, you will never get where you want to go. Imagine a reporter interviewing Warren Buffet. The reporter asks, “What is the secret to your success?” Can you imagine Buffet saying, “Well, I got this job and I kept showing up. And they kept promoting me, and so I just kept coming to work, and here I am….” Of course not. That would be ridiculous. And yet, we get so caught up in our day-to-day activities that we often fail to plan the course that will get us to our desired destination. To keep this from happening, use SMART goals as your guide. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.

Break down big goals into small steps.

Big goals can seem so daunting to your team that they may feel that the goals are unachievable. On the other hand, when you break goals down into quarterly, monthly and weekly steps the goals often change to seem impossible to miss. For example, if I want to lose 35 pounds over the next year, that may seem overwhelming. But that weight loss goal is less than three pounds per month, and only 0.67 pounds per week. It is easy for me to embrace the idea of losing 0.67 pounds per week.

Review the team’s progress.

Out of sight will truly be out of mind. The team needs to review progress at least once a month. Staying on top of your goals will not only help you see if you are on track to accomplish them but will also identify accountability issues within the team. If you have hired an expert to help you facilitate your strategic planning, that expert should also be involved in your reviews.

Celebrate victory.

If you have championed the process of hitting the company goals and held people accountable along the way, make sure you celebrate as a team when you hit your goals. One of the most often identified attributes that employees desire is a sense of purpose. Including them in your strategic plan and celebrating strategic victories will give them that sense of purpose that they so desire. Make sure you celebrate wins. Your team will be glad that you did.


John J. Kimmel is the author of “Selling with Power” and has spoken for many state and regional petroleum marketer associations. Kimmel provides custom solutions to increase the effectiveness and profitability of sales teams for petroleum marketers all over the United States. To learn more, visit