As we head into the new decade in a couple of weeks, think before you act – at least a little. Certainly, the more complex and sophisticated your organization, the more complex and sophisticated your strategic plan should be. If your business is simple, a simple strategic plan may be all you need. But, at least do that. In any case, those that try to be all things to all people end up average at best. It’s far more valuable to everyone involved to focus on one set of customers to serve and differentiated ways to serve them better than anyone else can. That’s called strategy.

This note lays out a quick and dirty, bare minimum starter approach to strategic planning. It builds on five BRAVE questions: 1) Where to play? 2) What matters and why? 3) How to win? 4) How to connect? 5) What impact? Essentially, it’s a cut-down, simplified version of our BRAVE Imperative tool which I’m happy to send anyone that asks. Click here to request the BRAVE Imperative tool.

Environment – Where play/context

Strategy is about choices, starting with choosing where to play and where not to play. There is no limit to the amount of research and analysis you can do. At a bare minimum, compare your internal strengths with external opportunities to identify leverage points and compare your internal weaknesses with outside threats to identify business issues/risks. Use these to guide your choice around whose problem you choose to solve – where to play, the first question.

Values – What matters and why/purpose

The answer to the question “What matters and why?” is your purpose. You may find it helpful to think through mission, vision, values and the like along the way. If the answer to the where to play question is whose problem to solve, this gets at what they care about and why, and why you care about solving that problem.

Attitude – How win/choices

Having chosen what matters and why, now it’s time to choose how. Think through how you’re going to allocate your resources to solve someone else’s problem differentially better than anyone else can. This is the heart of your strategic plan and should include general choices/strategic priorities that guide resource allocation and tactical actions. You may also want to lay out those plans by strategic priority at this point, ensuring each plan has a set of actions, measures, a set of milestones and accountabilities.

Relationships – How connect/communication

You will need to connect with others to make anything happen. If all you need is compliance, you can leverage indirect communication to make them aware. If you need them to contribute, you’ll need direct communication so they can get their questions answered and understand. If you want their commitment, you’ll need to connect with them on an emotional level and probably co-create with them to bring out their belief, passion and self-confidence.

Behaviors – What impact/implementation

Of course, all of this is theoretical gibberish until you put into actions that impact others. Think through how you choose to work together with freeing support, command and control, shared responsibilities, or guided accountabilities. Decide how you’re going to track, measure and assess performance daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually as appropriate.

Putting it all together:

1)   Where to play?


  • Whose problem to solve.


2)   What matters and why?


  • What those others and us care about and why.


3)   How to win?


  • Differentiating priorities and plans by priority (with actions, measures, milestones and accountabilities.)


4)   How to connect?


  • Communication approach by stakeholder (indirect, direct, emotional.)


5)   What impact?


  • Cadence to track, measure, assess.


As your organization gets more complex and more sophisticated, so will your strategic planning. Do the sophisticated and complex analysis and planning. But even then, when you’re done, make sure everyone in the organization knows:


  1. Whose problem they are working to solve.
  2. What they should care about and why.
  3. What they are supposed to get done by when and how that fits in the bigger picture.


Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #604) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.