Pathways Australia

Eleven critical success factors of strategic planning

You’ve probably heard this before. ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. And it’s true!

Strategic planning is critically important to the future of any organisation. A well-developed plan will clearly articulate what the organisation should look like in three or four years. It will also describe the strategies that will be put in place to achieve those desired objectives.

I know that the very thought of embarking upon a strategic planning process can be daunting for many people. Some of you who have been involved before may have found it a confusing, onerous, and disjointed process that has not produced a good outcome.

Believe me, it doesn’t have to be like that! Here at Pathways Australia, we’ve worked with over 100 organisations to develop strategic plans that work and provide a roadmap for future success.

I’m often asked, ‘well, what does a good strategic planning process look like?’. As this is such a common question, I’ve created a list of some critical success factors in developing a first-class strategic plan. Here they are:

1. Understand the process

My experience suggests that there are three distinct stages of the process. These are:

  1. Conduct an organisational health check or SWOT (analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats)
  2. Develop no more than eight bold but realistic objectives to be achieved throughout the plan
  3. Develop the underpinning strategies that will deliver the objectives

2. Get the right people together

At the very least, the group should consist of the board members, senior management, and other stakeholders who you think will be able to make a contribution.

3. Appoint a facilitator

This may be an external expert or an internal manager. The facilitator’s role is to manage the process and facilitate discussions. This person needs to be experienced in strategic planning, assertive and outcome-focussed.

4. Set an appropriate plan duration

Years ago, organisations set 15-year strategic plans. We don’t do that anymore because the future is increasingly difficult to predict. My recommendation is to develop a strategic plan with a duration of no more than four years.

5. Review the organisation’s mission and values

Your mission should clearly and concisely explain why your organisation exists (but not necessarily what it does). Your values should explain to everyone what behaviours are expected and what will not be tolerated. They set the tone of the organisation’s culture. Both the mission and values should be reviewed.

6. Set no more than eight objectives

This may seem like a low number however strategic objectives should be the ‘big picture’, and typically they will be challenging and consume a significant amount of time, effort and other resources. You will be better served by setting a small number of objectives and achieving them rather than setting too many, overreaching and achieving very few.

7. Make sure your objectives are bold but achievable

Making decisions about the organisation’s future is often a very exciting time. Sometimes though, suggestions will be made to include objectives that may not be achievable during the duration of the plan or maybe at all. This is when an effective facilitator will guide the discussion and often inject a dose of reality! So my suggestion when a potential objective is being discussed is to ask two questions:

  • If we do this, will it make a positive and substantial difference to our organisation?
  • Can it be achieved during the duration of the plan?

8. Allow plenty of time for strategy formulation

Of the three core elements of strategic planning, developing the right strategies to deliver the outcomes is of critical importance. There is no way that you will be able to develop them in one sitting. They will need to be thought out, considered, reviewed and may be revised. You may wish to consider establishing several temporary working groups to work on strategy development.

9. Publish two versions of the strategic plan

I suggest publishing a summary version (a ‘plan on a page’) that will help you explain the plan to others easily. The other version will be more detailed and used internally.

10. Regularly monitor the progress of the plan’s implementation

I always suggest that ‘Strategic planning progress’ be a standard agenda item at the board and senior management meetings. This keeps a focus on this crucial leadership and management tool.

11. Use the strategic plan to guide decision-making.

When decisions have to be made by the board or senior management, asking the question ‘is this in line with our strategic plan?’ will keep everyone focused.


So, there you have it. Of course, there’s a lot more to a strategic plan than what I’ve written here, but these critical success factors should help you along the journey! Contact us for a complimentary consultation if you’d like to learn more about how Pathways Australia can assist your organisation with Strategic Planning or another consulting matter.

Peter Holdsworth
Pathways Australia


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