I've helped many companies develop or update their formalized long term plans, and I've looked at many more than that. I'm asked often whether a plan is "good," and equally often the most recent plan document is handed to me with the unspoken agreement that it's the owner's child - and you don't tell a parent that their child is ugly.
The ultimate test of a plan is, of course, whether or not achieves the results the planner intended. You know as well as I do that plans are based upon assumptions, and if the assumptions are incorrect or market conditions change drastically (as in 4Q 2008) all bets might be off. Beyond that, though, there are components that the best strategic plans all contain:
- Vision - Vision is a long view (maybe 10 years or more) of the company's purpose and intention. The vision is often the only part of the plan that is shared pubicly. Some organizations, especially nonprofits, call this Mission (as in missionary). Vision is intended to be outwardly focused, on customers or the community.
- Values - If vision is the direction, these are the rules for the road. It's tempting to create a long list, but this is stronger when only the defining non-negotiables are included. And the leaders of the organization need to know what they will do if and when somebody violates the values. If there is no consequence it's not a core value and shouldn't be on the list.
- Mission - Sometimes called strategic objective. The mission encompasses the main achievements you want to attain within the plan period (2-3 years.) The mission should be measurable.
- Critical Goal Categories - Remember when your parents told you "There's more than one way to skin the cat"? This is why we make goal categories. The CGC "Capitalize on social media trend" might mean YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, or any number of media, and "Capitalize" might have several different definitions. The important thing is that each of these is individually necessary, and together that they are sufficient for you to achieve your mission.
- SMART Business Goals - Ultimately the success of your plan is tied to each employee moving his or her hands and feet toward your big intention. The specific, measurable, achievable yet realistically high, and time-bound goals help them know how the mission will be accomplished. And the smaller steps help the plan become believable (which helps motivate.)
- Some companies choose to bring in content experts to help them do their planning. (I think that your company is better served if your senior managers are up to date and not relying on outsiders to guide the plan.)
- If the knowledge base is there, you can use a "traffic cop" facilitator whose job is to provide process and structure to guide the planning group's thinking - not to give answers. After all, it's your plan, and you'll be living with the results.