Typically, organizations assemble a team to update their strategy once a year. They review last year’s strategy to merely update or start over.

It has become very popular to draw a strategy roadmap with the starting point of “current status,” where you really are positioned now, in the lower left of a page and a “desired status,” where or what you want to become in some future date, in the upper right corner of the page. The strategy then becomes the action steps required along the road connecting the two.

This concise summary on a one-page document can be distributed to all employees to guide their actions throughout the year. Sounds wonderful and simple, right?

Wait, there may be a difficult homework assignment to finish first before strategic planning can take place. The exact understanding of the “current status” and “desired status” may uncover conflicts.

We have different people involved, and different people may have different ideas. The usual three constituents of owners, employees and customers must be involved and in agreement. Add to them suppliers, so they can develop future needed products, and we have different people with different ideas to come together.

Take the desired start, or vision, of what the target should be for a certain period in the future; for example, five years. What do you hope to achieve in that time frame? What is the true interest of the different constituents? Is it profit, growth, industry dominance, to acquire or be acquired, or comfort?

The goals must fit together so everyone can agree. Is that what all concerned really want? It is necessary to get buy-in of all involved parties.

Other questions remain, like, do you have growing competition and what is their apparent strategy? How is the market changing? How is technology changing? How is marketing changing? Do you have the ability to achieve these goals?

It is difficult to reach agreement from all departments and individuals, but it must be done before you can develop a strategy to move from current state to the desired state.

Identifying the current state should be easy, right? Again, not necessarily. People sometimes distort facts of what the current situation really is. Politics may be a factor as some cover their mistakes and embellish their situation. Different beliefs on where the company is, speculation, propaganda, posturing and lack of discipline can distort the true position.

Perhaps the easiest part of strategic planning is developing a strategy to get from the true current state to the agreed upon desired state. A review of issues involved with the key elements of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, talent, organizational structure, finances required, technology and competition reveals required action.

The most difficult part of strategic planning is implementation of the plan. Management needs to be very clear on the priority of completing the strategies in a timely manner and following up on the progress on a regular basis. It is easy to let the problems of today take priority to the solutions for tomorrow. Everyone needs to be clear about the importance of achieving the desired state.

Before you even start to plan your strategy to reach your goals, you have to do a lot of soul searching, group thinking and consensus building to reach a common understanding of the current state and desired state. Time spent on this homework assignment is critical before strategic planning starts.

Lou Schultz can be reached by email at cabinlou@mac.com with questions regarding this column.