Knowing where to go is sometimes the easiest part of being a leader. Encouraging others toward the preferred future involves a leadership skill known as strategic planning.

Strategic planning is the process of clarifying a direction for the future and formulating specific, measurable actions that will move toward that vision. Here are four steps in the process that will lead your organization from where it is now to where it should be in five years.

Step 1: Vision Casting

Before you can map the steps to a preferred future, you must have a vision of what that future will be. Generally, that vision comes to the leader, not to the organization as a whole.

What is your vision for the future? Where will you personally be in five years? Where will your organization be?

Establish the vision for the future, and then communicate it to others. Obtain buy-in from stakeholders first, that is, from people with a vested interest in the organization. Get them on board first, and then communicate your vision as widely as possible.

Step 2: Project Planning

Creating a strategic plan is a significant undertaking. It requires the participation of many people within your organization, and possibly some outside consultants. Begin the planning process by making a project plan. Determine the outcome that you will achieve (at least one measurable, dated plan), the resources you will need to achieve it, and the timetable that you will use.

Step 3: Assessment

The planning process begins with a thorough assessment of your organization, your staff, your budgets, your resources, and your environment.

What are the critical challenges that your organization faces? How will those challenges change over the next five years? What resources are available to you? What are the trends in your revenue streams? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your current staff members?

Step 4: Strategic Planning

During this phase of planning, your team will collate the information received from focus groups, consultants, and other research. Together, you will draft a specific, measurable plan that will be your roadmap to the future. Remember that each step of your plan must have some objective measure of achievement and must be tied to a deadline. Like the man said, a goal without a deadline is nothing but a wish.

Step 5: Implementation

Managing the changes that will occur as a result of your strategic plan will be much more difficult than creating the plan itself. The mission of your organization may shift. Staff members may change their functions or be replaced. The culture of your organization may change. All of these changes will require tact, skill, and resolve from the leader.

Begin by gaining buy-in for the plan from the same key leaders who owned the vision that underlies it. Share pertinent details of the plan with the entire organization, and motivate everyone to support the initiative. Most importantly, follow-up on each step of the plan requires holding leaders accountable for their part in implementing it. Provide coaching as necessary for those who are adopting new roles or taking on significant new responsibilities.

When you have finished this step, you will have more than a pert chart of set of objectives—you will have taken the final step that will carry your organization from where it is now to where you desire it to be.

-Stan Toler