In my last article, Get Your Year Off to the Right Start, I discussed the importance of strategic planning and goal setting. However, annual strategic planning can become arduous and complex. The result is unproductive meetings, plans that are never implemented, or (worst of all) people who give up on planning entirely. Unless you’re a Fortune 100 company preparing for a complex decision, your company is better off with a simple, streamlined approach.

When I facilitate planning sessions, I use a straightforward, 7-step process that delivers a clear, concrete plan and includes strategies, goals, and metrics. After a session, team members feel invested and leave knowing what to do next.

Who needs a strategic plan? Everyone! The process I’m sharing below works equally well for major organizations, entrepreneurs, leadership teams, departments, and nonprofits. Strategic planning identifies goals and the strategies necessary to achieve them, and it should help your entire team focus on common tasks.

Straightforward Strategic Planning in 7-Steps

1. Create the right environment—It’s critical that your team has the right environment.  Meet in a place that minimizes distractions and encourages fresh thinking. I prefer to take groups out of the office.  If you can find a meeting setting with lots of natural light that helps too. Ask the group to silence cell phones, and to avoid e-mails and texts during the planning session. Allow for sufficient break time, but there should be no interruptions during the meeting.

2. Start with your vision and mission—Your mission (or vision) statement is the foundation for your planning. Start by reviewing the mission, and make sure everyone understands—and is aligned with—the mission. If you don’t have a mission statement, this is a good time to draft one—or you can make revisions to an existing mission.

3. Assess the past and look toward the future—Review the group’s performance over the past year, and discuss key strengths and weakness the group has noticed. Next list the opportunities and new threats that are likely to arise during the next one to three years. Use a brainstorming approach to make sure all ideas are brought forward.

4. Identify your goals for the year—Typically, three to five goals are plenty for a starting point (you might add more later) and each goal should identify what needs to happen to achieve it. For example, your goal might be, “Increase sales by 20 percent by hiring additional sales reps.” The “by” phrase is a strategy; it’s how you will achieve each goal. (You may have multiple strategies for a single goal.) Articulating the strategies might reveal additional goals. In this case, the additional goal might be “Hire five new sales reps.”

5. Define the metrics of success—Each goal needs to be supported by a way to measure the team’s success. Some goals—such as a sales number—are easy to measure, but others can be more challenging or subjective. For example, “Increase customer satisfaction” might require a metric like “as measured by positive feedback to customer service reps.” Stating specific metrics ensures that all team members share the same understanding of the goal.

6. Assign ownership and plan immediate next steps—Move your goals forward by determining what to do first and who will oversee the progress. Ideally the goal’s “owner” should be present at the planning meeting, even if he/she won’t be executing the ultimate goal. For example, the immediate next step for an “Increase sales by 20 percent” goal might be “Develop a new sales plan,” and it might be assigned to the VP of Sales. That person could delegate the task, but s/he is responsible for making sure it happens.

7. Document your meeting and plan periodic check-ins—Distribute the notes from your planning meeting—including all goals, strategies, metrics, immediate next steps, and owners—to all attendees and stakeholders. Finally, define times when the group will reconvene to check on progress, discuss new challenges or opportunities, and revise plans if necessary. Quarterly or biannual checkpoints work best.

With this 7-step process there’s no reason to shy away from annual strategic planning or to get caught up in a burdensome process. Most of my clients now find the experience exciting and inspiring.

Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences, or let me know of other tools you’ve found helpful in strategic planning.