Guide to Strategic Planning: Part 3 – Defining Strategic Imperatives

Unlocking Strategic Success: The Role of Strategic Imperatives

Strategic imperatives are the cornerstone of any robust strategic plan, acting as the fulcrum around which all strategic efforts pivot. Identifying these imperatives is not just a step in the strategic planning process; it’s the very heart of it, providing the clarity needed to focus on what truly matters for your business.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Seesaw of Strategic Planning

Imagine strategic planning as a seesaw, with your vision, mission, and purpose on one end and the key jobs that need to be done to realise that vision on the other. Strategic imperatives are the pivot point—the fulcrum—of this seesaw. They represent the critical tasks and initiatives that, if executed, will naturally unlock significant value and propel your business towards its goals.

Identifying Strategic Imperatives: Best Practices

  1. External and Internal Assessments: Utilise tools like PESTEL analysis for an external viewpoint or SWOT analysis to understand your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This holistic perspective helps float strategic imperatives to the surface.
  2. Capabilities Gap Analysis: Identify the essential capabilities your business needs to achieve its vision but currently lacks. This gap analysis highlights areas for development that are imperative for strategic success.
  3. Synthesising Insights: Rather than transcribing every output of your analyses into a to-do list, aim to distil them into a concise set of four to six strategic imperatives. These should be the transformative tasks that will drive the most significant impact.

The Power of Clarity

With a clear set of strategic imperatives, your business gains razor-sharp focus on what needs to be accomplished. This clarity enables you to direct resources and efforts towards these pivotal areas effectively, ensuring that every action taken is aligned with your strategic goals.

Starting with Sophistication

Strategic imperatives can begin at any level of sophistication. Often, business owners instinctively know the key tasks for the year. However, the challenge lies in elevating this understanding from immediate, known issues to a broader, opportunity-centric view that unlocks growth and transformation.

Beyond the Imperatives: Implementation

Once your strategic imperatives are defined, the planning process shifts to implementation: who will do it, how it will be done, and when. Understanding your strategic imperatives simplifies these subsequent steps, making the path to achieving your goals clearer and more straightforward.

Conclusion: The Fulcrum of Strategic Planning

By centring your strategic planning around identifying strategic imperatives, you position your business to navigate the next three to five years with confidence and purpose. This approach simplifies the strategic planning process and ensures that every effort is aligned with your ultimate vision for success.

Join the Conversation

Board Associates is committed to education and fostering a dialogue around strategic planning so we invite you to join us in this conversation. Monthly, from February to April, we will host a lunch & learn session dedicated to discussing strategic planning in an informal setting. This is an opportunity to delve deeper into strategic planning, ask questions, and share insights with peers. If you’d like to participate, you can register for one of the upcoming lunch & learn sessions here:

Guide to Strategic Planning: Part 2 – Setting a Vision

Setting a Clear Direction: The Foundation of Strategic Planning Success

In the landscape of business strategy, the importance of a clear direction cannot be overstressed. It’s the compass that guides every decision, action, and investment in your business. Yet, establishing this direction is often where many stumble, not for lack of ambition, but due to the overwhelming pressure to define a grand vision.

“Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”
John F Kennedy

The Myth of the Moonshot

Many leaders feel the pressure to articulate a “big, hairy, audacious goal” or a moonshot vision for their business. While having such a goal can be inspiring, it’s not the only path to success. The reality is, not every business is aiming to redefine an industry or capture a global market. For many, the ambition to improve incrementally—to be slightly better this year than the last—is a perfectly valid and admirable goal.

Embracing Your Business’s True Intent

The core of strategic planning lies in understanding your business’s intent. What role does it play in the market, the community, or in the lives of your customers? If defining a long-term vision feels daunting, narrow your focus. Concentrate on what you can achieve now or in the near future. This approach doesn’t diminish your aspirations; it clarifies them, making your goals more attainable and relevant – from small things, big things grow!

Avoiding the Common Pitfall: Misaligned Goals

A critical error in setting business direction is adopting goals that don’t resonate with your values or the essence of your business. Claims of wanting to be a “market leader” abound, but if such a position doesn’t align with what you genuinely care about, then it’s a hollow aim. Your strategic plan should reflect your business’s authentic aspirations, not just what you think should be your goals.

The Value of Every Vision

For those who see their business primarily as a means to provide for themselves, their families, or their employees, your reason for being is clear and as significant as any. Whether your business was chosen or inherited, it holds the potential for impact. The value you create, the jobs you provide, and the community you serve—all of these are critical contributions.

Join the Conversation

I am committed to education and fostering a dialogue around strategic planning so I invite you to join me in this conversation. Monthly, from February to April, I will host a lunch & learn session dedicated to discussing strategic planning in an informal setting. This is an opportunity to delve deeper into strategic planning, ask questions, and share insights with peers. If you’d like to participate, you can register for one of the upcoming lunch & learn sessions here:

Conclusion: Finding Your Strategic North Star

Setting a clear direction for your business doesn’t require an earth-shattering vision. It requires honesty about what you want to achieve and why. Whether your goals are monumental or modest, they are yours to define and pursue. As we continue to explore strategic planning, remember that the journey is as unique as your business. Stay tuned for more insights on navigating this path effectively.

Guide to Strategic Planning: Part 1

The art of strategic planning is not just about forecasting the future but creating a roadmap that navigates through uncertainties to achieve sustainable growth.  But unfortunately for most, strategic planning rarely delivers on the promise.  At best, it provides some general direction and guidance.  At worst, it’s an expensive and unproductive day that could have been spent better serving customers.

My journey in strategic planning began in 1992, and since then, I’ve had the privilege of crafting over one hundred strategic plans. This experience spans my tenure as an employee responsible for strategic planning, later evolving into roles at PwC, and culminating as the principal of Board Associates. Throughout these roles, I’ve created good plans and bad plans, concise plans, voluminous plans and even plans in posters and murals.  In the spirit of giving back to the business community, I offer this series of articles on strategic planning with the aim of educating and sharing my experiences and mistakes so that we can all learn together.

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do” Michael Porter

The Foundation of Strategic Excellence

As we approach the time of year when businesses start to think about their strategic direction, I want to share resources that have significantly influenced my approach to strategic planning.  In the first instance, I want to refer you to two cornerstone books that provide both foundational knowledge and actionable steps for crafting effective strategic plans.

Great by Choice by Jim Collins is an indispensable resource that delves into the essence of successful business strategy. This book is my favourite and a must-read for business owners, offering insights into creating environments where businesses not only survive but thrive. It’s an entertaining read, backed by rigorous research comparing businesses that have outperformed their peers by leaps and bounds. “Great by Choice” is an essential read for those seeking to understand the ingredients that underpin exceptional performance and best practice.

Playing to Win by A.G. Lafley provides a pragmatic approach to strategic planning. Having used and been trained in numerous methodologies over the years, I regard this book as a distillation of the strategic planning process to its most effective elements. It serves as a guide that demystifies the strategic planning process, making it accessible to all. This book is particularly beneficial for those looking to create strategic plans that are both impactful and straightforward.

Moving Forward with Strategic Planning

This post essentially directs you to my favourite “primers” for strategic planning. In future posts, I will delve deeper into the nuances of strategic planning, sharing my insights and best practices honed from decades of experience (and mistakes!). Expect to explore tips and strategies that will help you craft strategic plans that are both concise and potent, enabling you to avoid common pitfalls and inefficiencies that the majority of owners suffer from.

Join the Conversation

I am committed to education and fostering a dialogue around strategic planning so I invite you to join me in this conversation. Monthly, from February to April, I will host a lunch & learn session dedicated to discussing strategic planning in an informal setting. This is an opportunity to delve deeper into strategic planning, ask questions, and share insights with peers. If you’d like to participate, you can register for one of the upcoming lunch & learn sessions here:

Final Thoughts

Strategic planning is more than a task; it’s a journey of discovery and adaptation. As you embark on or continue this journey, “Great by Choice” and “Playing to Win” are invaluable companions that offer wisdom and guidance. I look forward to sharing more insights and engaging with the business community to enhance our collective understanding of this important ‘guide rail’ for business success.

Reflecting on our Advisory Board Meetings: Insights and Actions for Q1

At Board Associates, we believe in the transformative power of strategic advisory boards. Our first-quarter advisory board meetings have yielded valuable insights in key areas such as corporate governance, financial management, leadership development, and strategic planning workshops. This piece aims to share these insights and provide actionable steps for business owners and leaders to enhance their performance.

Corporate Governance in Family Businesses: Rethinking Traditional Models

Matthew Dunstan, our founder and a respected scholar at QUT’s Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research, has uncovered surprising findings in corporate governance within family firms. His research, focusing on optimising governance for financial excellence, suggests that different family businesses may require distinct governance models. Key takeaways include:

  1. The Advantage of Informal Governance in Mature Firms: Mature family firms might benefit more from informal governance structures, challenging the usual push for formalisation.
  2. The Role of Corporate Governance in Young Firms: Younger firms appear to thrive under small, informal governance setups.
  3. CEO and Board Dynamics: A balance between CEO involvement and board independence is crucial for financial success in family-run businesses.

Action for Owners: Family business owners are encouraged to reassess their governance structures in light of these findings. For further guidance, explore our articles on family business and governance, and consider participating in our ongoing research. You can register your interest by contacting

Financial Management and Hidden Cash Reserves

In one of our portfolio companies, we’ve driven a remarkable six-fold growth over the last few years. Last quarter, however, we encountered an unexpected financial challenge. Despite intentionally moderating growth to allow profits to flow into the cash reserves, the company’s cash balance unexpectedly declined. The causes of the problem were not evident in standard financial reports, so we undertook an in-depth financial analysis working with one of our partners.

The analysis went beyond the typical data of profit & loss statements and cash flow forecasts. Instead, we focused on three additional but seldom used financial metrics that proved pivotal in diagnosing the root causes affecting the company’s cash flow dynamics. These were the working capital absorption rate, the movement of working capital and the movement of debt on the balance sheet. This analysis revealed that subtle changes in the balance between profits, cash, working capital, equity and debt compounded to create a situation where the company was profit-rich but cash-poor.

This case serves as an essential lesson for business owners, particularly highlighting the need for a comprehensive financial health check during periods of growth or turbulence. It underscores the importance of looking beyond surface-level financial reports and considering a broader spectrum of financial metrics.

Action for Owners:  If your cash at bank balance is declining, you should consider undertaking a more detailed financial analysis of the causes and, more importantly, create a new set of financial management guidelines to protect the business. Our team at Board Associates can help.

A Team-Led Approach to Setting Strategy

At Board Associates, we have pioneered a transformative approach called ‘Quick Wins’ workshops, expertly guided by our People and Culture Specialist, Belinda Straughn Winks. These workshops engage all staff members in focused discussions, applying qualitative research methods such as thematic analysis to transform direct feedback into actionable data.

This bottom-up approach to strategy uniquely uncovers critical business issues and solutions as perceived by the team. It’s a novel way of shaping strategic imperatives, enhancing workplace culture, productivity, and staff retention, while uncovering hidden management blind spots.  (Read more)

Action for Owners: Leaders have an opportunity to define and deliver new, tangible benefits for the business and to do so in a way that brings staff together and empowers them.  If you feel there is more potential in your team, a Quick Wins workshop is a fast and affordable way to create immediate value.

The Importance of Depth in the “Senior Management Bench”

It’s not uncommon for business owners to find themselves rolling up their sleeves and diving back into day-to-day operations to support their management team. While such involvement can offer immediate operational support, it often comes at the cost of neglecting the strategic work essential for long-term growth. Owners frequently find themselves caught in a cycle of ‘two steps forward, one step backward’, where progress is hampered by the constant need to put out fires.

This year, we have observed several instances where businesses struggled to maintain momentum due to the owners’ frequent need to step into operational roles. In these cases, lacking a solid and capable management team meant critical strategic initiatives were sidelined.

Forward-Thinking Solution: Building depth on the senior management bench is vital. This not only alleviates the burden on the business owner, allowing them to focus on strategic growth but also ensures the business is equipped to handle challenges effectively without always relying on the owner.

Long-Term Benefits: Building your bench of senior management talent might seem difficult or expensive, but the long-term gains in efficiency and strategic growth are invaluable. It is also critical for the future valuation of your business.

Action for Owners:  Ask yourself this question:  If I stepped away from the business now, could the team continue to run it as I would? If the answer is no, you must implement actions to build your senior management bench. Board Associates has experience in executive coaching, mentoring and leadership development programs that may be able to assist.

Strategic Planning Clarity: Focusing on What Truly Matters

In business strategy, clarity and focus are not only vital, they are liberating. A prime example is one of our client companies, currently valued at $7 million. The owner has set a bold aspiration to elevate the business’s value to $40 million within a few years. Achieving such an ambitious goal is no small feat and requires a razor-sharp focus on key growth drivers. Through several rounds of strategic planning, we have identified the four critical imperatives essential to realise this objective.

These four imperatives have become our cornerstone and helped elevate the conversations around the advisory board. With this clarity, every advisory board meeting is now centred around these “four jobs to be done”. Furthermore, this clarity extends to the incentivisation of the CEO – their reward structures are tailored to drive performance specifically in these four areas. This alignment ensures that the CEO’s efforts directly contribute to the business’s strategic objectives.

This experience raises important questions for all business leaders:

  • Do you have a clearly defined intent for your business?
  • Have you identified the critical “jobs to get done”?
  • Is your team aligned around these objectives?

A clear strategic focus and aligning your team around specific goals is fundamental to driving substantial growth. It simplifies decision-making and streamlines efforts across the organisation, setting the stage for accelerated growth and achievement of ambitious targets.

Action for Owners:  What are the three or four things your company must deliver to drive strategic growth? If you can’t answer this question, don’t worry – most leaders can’t, but that’s the opportunity. Board Associates’ Strategic Planning Workshops may be able to assist.

In conclusion, these insights from our Q1 advisory board meetings underscore the breadth of expertise and support available at Board Associates. For more detailed exploration of these topics or to engage with our advisory services, contact us at for tailored advice and solutions

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