ATD Blog

Growing Talent Management Firms: Strategic Growth Planning

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The previous blog on lessons learned highlighted the value of growth planning. Now, let’s examine a simple format for conducting this process that you can readily apply to any sized firm.

Granted, there are many strategic planning models that make sense. Unfortunately, I often find them to be somewhat over-engineered and too complex to implement. Indeed, we’ve all heard or read the claim that nearly 80 percent of strategic plans fail to be executed. In fact, all too often, the plan stops short of a detailed road map describing how to navigate it to successful execution. 

Therefore, I find that the most important part of a strategic plan is how it describes what an organization needs to accomplish to achieve its goals. Basically, an effective growth planning process involves five simple phases:

  1. Mission, Vision, Values
  2. Strategic Imperatives
  3. Key Initiatives
  4. Critical Actions
  5. Endings.

Mission, Vision, Values

Any size organization needs to fully understand:

  • the guiding purpose for doing what it does (mission)
  • what it wants to achieve at the end of the day (vision)
  • the parameters that describe how it behaves in going about its business (values).

Mission has a lot to do with defining who is being served and what is being offered. In other words, why does the organization exist? Vision involves articulating what the business will look like at some time in the future. It addresses the question: Where does the organization want to be? Finally, values describe the guidelines for how people behave in order to satisfy the mission and achieve the vision. That is, values focus on what the organization stands for.
If these elements are not well-established, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to move forward with a strategic growth plan. These serve as the very foundation on which the rest of the plan lies, and to the extent they are tentative, so is the plan that follows.

Strategic Imperatives


These imperatives need to describe the most critical elements the business must accomplish to achieve the mission and vision. These are the value-added directives that will lead to ultimate success of the business; they describe the “what” of the business. Leaders should follow a “less is more” mandate when determining these imperatives, wherein perhaps only three to five “must dos” make the list.

Key Initiatives

For each strategic imperative there should be three to five specific projects or assignments that define the achievement of that imperative. These activities describe “how” the organization will achieve these imperatives, so it is important for them to be measureable and action-oriented.

Critical Actions

Just determining “what” and “how” things need to be accomplished doesn’t take the planning process far enough. In fact, this is where many plans fail in execution. Again, only three to five critical actions should be attached to each key initiative. These will represent the specific activities that organizational leaders and teams need to carry out. Generally, these actions provide the “who,” “when,” and “where” milestones that assign accountability for managing these activities.



Of course, there are many things going on in any organization—often, there are too many. Unfortunately, many of these activities are considered sacred cows or pet projects, and rarely add any true value to the business on closer inspection. Thus, they are most likely not aligned with the strategic imperatives necessary for growing the business.

Consequently, these activities need to be either curtailed or, better yet, totally stopped.  But wiping the slate clean will likely have leaders questioning, reallocating, or even terminating the resources attached to them. This is where true discipline must reign—focusing on what must be done if the strategic growth plan is to achieve success.

A process of this nature might take two to three days to map out, preferably with senior-level team members charting out the course. However, an argument can be made for the critical action phase to include a level or two lower in the organization—where work really gets done. At the very least, the critical action milestones must be shared with those responsible for carrying them out before they are finalized.

Finally, it’s vital to put in place a process that communicates the plan to the entire organization and realigns key roles and activities to the strategic imperatives deemed critical to the business’s long-term success.

Bottom Line

As you review the strategic growth plan of your business, does it cover all of these elements in enough depth that employees understand their respective roles in helping the organization achieve business growth? If not, what do you have to do to ensure that it does?  

About the Author

Steve Cohen is founder and principal of the Strategic Leadership Collaborative, a private consulting practice focused on business strategy and development. A 40+ year veteran of the talent development industry, largely on the supplier side, he has demonstrated a proven track record for building equity by growing top and bottom-line performance for eight different consulting enterprises in the education and training industry he has either founded and/or led. He has been called on to consult with numerous firms needing strategic planning guidance, business coaching, and board advisory services.

His latest book is The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm.

He can be reached at: 952.942.7291 or [email protected] or at his website:

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