Carol Vernon is a certified executive coach and trainer at Communication Matters: Executive Coaching & Training in Washington, DC.
Strategic planning isn’t just for organizations. A personal strategic plan will help ensure that your career-related and other goals and actions are aligned with what matters most in your life
Perhaps you have had an opportunity in your work to lead or be part of creating an organization's strategic plan. The plan, if used properly, is intended to help steer the organization's work over a certain time period. Similarly, some of my clients create a personal strategic plan at the beginning of each year to do much the same thing: Their plan helps guide their personal and professional lives. When used correctly, it provides an anchor for them to connect back to when things change and new opportunities arise.
The best and most relevant personal strategic plan is tailored to focus on what matters most to you. Typically, a plan encompasses career issues (such as ongoing development in your current role, raised visibility in your field, or a job change), finances, health, and key relationships. However, it is fine to include additional topics that are important to you, such as new adventures, travel, or spiritual development.
Here are six steps for creating your own personal strategic plan, whether you do it at the beginning of a new year or at any other time.
Step 1: Find time. You need to break away from your day-to-day duties and responsibilities and dream about what you want to accomplish.
Step 2: Clarify your values. What do you value most in your life? It is usually easy to identify the first few (e.g., family, health, happiness), but you need to dig deeper for the purposes of a personal strategic plan. Think carefully about what else you truly value and want to honor. Consider leadership roles at your organization or your community, close relationships and connectivity at both personal and professional levels, recognition or greater influence, time, freedom and flexibility, life/work balance or integration, personal growth, new challenges, wealth, service, and meaningful work.
Step 3: Create your mission statement. This is a brief written statement, just a sentence or two, based on the values you want to honor. It is not intended to redefine who you are. Rather, it serves as a reminder of your life’s purpose. Your statement is a valuable touchstone that you can use to help guide your behavior and inform your decisions.
Step 4: Do a SWOT analysis on yourself. What are your personal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? Who could provide you with honest feedback regarding your strengths and weaknesses? What is the economic forecast, both the good and the bad, as it relates to your life and your work?
Step 5: Create your goals. As a last step, identify goals that align with the core values you identified earlier. For example, if you identified professional growth or leadership opportunities as values, you could include a career-related goal on your list. Under each goal, include specific action steps and a time frame. Your goals can be broad (grow my career), but your action steps must be specific and time-limited (get a new job in the next three months). I strongly recommend limiting the number of goals and action steps so you can take a realistic approach to what you will accomplish. Typically, three or four goals with one or two actions steps under each is doable in a year.
Your mission statement is a valuable touchstone that you can use to help guide your behavior and inform your decisions.
Step 6: Determine what support you need to stay accountable to your plan. Identifying an accountability partner, perhaps a colleague or good friend, can help you stick to your plan. Agree on a regular time to check in (it could be a 10-minute call every other Friday). Or schedule a time weekly, biweekly, or monthly to review your personal strategic plan on your own and allow for modifications.
Here are some final tips based on my observation of what my most successful clients do:
Creating a personal strategic plan can be transformative. Realize that some changes happen quickly, while other habits take a whole lot longer to stick. The key is to be patient with yourself and know you are moving in the right direction.