How To Create Strategic Priorities

Updated June 24, 2022

Setting strategic priorities may help a company create clear long-term goals for the future of the organization. Incorporating clear, actionable strategic priorities into a strategic plan can help set up a step-by-step guide of the steps to take to turn these objectives into measurable success. In this article, we discuss what strategic priorities are and how to incorporate them into a strategic plan.

What are strategic priorities?

Strategic priorities are the objectives your company hopes to achieve over a designated time period. They are often the values or initiatives the company wants to achieve first out of a larger list of tasks. Organizations within an industry may have similar strategic priorities, but overall they are usually unique to a specific organization and its goals. Strategic priorities for a company can adjust as the internal and external environments in and around it change.

Strategic priorities are part of a company's core culture with its purpose and philosophy to help guide the organization to its future success. These priorities often have a detailed list of goals and tasks associated with them, but they are not part of the objectives themselves. Rather, companies include this list in the strategic plan.

What is a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is a document that uses a long-term purpose and actionable operating plan to establish the direction of a company. The length and complexity of the plan depends on the size of the company and the number of strategic priorities it has. Within its components, the strategic plan shows a company's current state, describes its future goals and creates a detailed list of instructions for obtaining those goals. Most strategic plans include a mission statement, core values, a SWOT—Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats—analysis, yearly strategic objectives, long-term goals and action plans.

Related: What Is Strategic Planning? Definitions, Techniques and Examples

Why should you set strategic priorities in a strategic plan?

Setting strategic priorities within a strategic plan can help you set company-wide goals and a group focus that can help achieve the most important tasks for the year. Setting strategic priorities also helps to allow the organization to be adaptive to its changing employee needs and outside influences and ensure the organization's culture supports its strategy. Additionally, creating objectives may help ensure that you have the resources needed to meet your goals.

Related: Complete Guide To Setting Strategic Goals (With Examples)

How to create strategic priorities in a strategic plan

Use these steps to learn how to create strategic priorities and incorporate them into a strategic plan:

1. Gather your background information

Strategic plans usually comprise more information than just a list of strategic objectives and their goals. Before writing your priorities or plan, consider collecting your company's mission statement and a list of its core values and conduct a SWOT analysis. Looking over these components may help you build a foundation for crafting your objectives, and therefore the rest of your strategic plan.

2. Understand objectives, resources and timing

Objectives, resources and timing are three variables needed to execute an initiative or complete a goal. These variables depend on each other and adjusting one of them affects the others. Resources have the largest effect on the other two variables. Knowing what resources are available and for how long can help determine the time necessary to complete an aim. Additionally, without resources, you may not have the means to create an actionable plan to meet your objectives. By understanding how these variables relate, you can learn how to best analyze your data to create attainable strategic priorities.

3. Know your priority level

Rather than ranking your priorities in a numbered list, consider assigning each one a value level based on the three factors of objectives, resources and timing to determine its importance. Knowing these priority levels may help you decide which objectives to include in your strategic plan.

A critical priority is a strategic priority that you must accomplish within a certain amount of time. Critical priorities use all available resources to complete an aim. An example of a critical priority may be a delivery to a customer. If you promise to deliver 300,000 units of a product to a customer by the third week of the month, you'll put all your resources into meeting that timed objective.

An important priority is a strategic priority that can have a positive, significant impact on your company's performance, but you do not attach it to a finite time frame. Important priorities may require swift action but fewer resources to complete. An example of an important priority may be migrating a company website to a new format. You may hope to have the project done in six months, but you don't put the entire company to work on doing the migration. Instead, you assemble a small to mid-size team to complete the task. If necessary, you can extend completion time of the project.

A desirable priority is a strategic priority that may help a company's performance but is not as significant as others. Desirable priorities may be supplemental goals that can you can develop after you meet other aims. An example of a desirable priority may be reorganizing the filing system at the office or within the cloud. Optimizing your organization may save time when employees are looking for information, but if there is already a working system in place, this aim can wait until you have completed other more important ones.

4. Look forward

Consider choosing objectives that help the company innovate and move toward its long-term goals. Processes and tasks that are already reliable and work well within your routine may fit better as important or desirable priorities rather than critical ones. Try elevating priorities that challenge the company to higher value standards to progress rather than becoming complacent.

5. Address key components

Use the SWOT analysis to find areas that are most crucial to company success to decide which priorities are of higher value than others. Knowing which areas of your organization are the pillars of its foundation—such as production, client success or employee satisfaction—may help you determine where to allocate the largest number of resources.

6. Limit the number of priorities

Consider limiting the number of strategic priorities in your strategic plan to an attainable number between one and five objectives. Narrowing your priorities helps employees understand the overall goals of the organization and helps executives communicate the best plans for action. Keeping the number of priorities small also helps employees stay relaxed and feel like they have the means to meet the goals. While you may have many priorities competing for critical status, choosing those which best align with company values or long-term goals may help keep the focus on the future.

7. Provide real guidance

Creating a strategic plan allows you to create step-by-step instructions to meet your actionable strategic priorities. Plans allow you to take your priorities beyond wanting to do something and making it happen. For example, if one of your critical strategic priorities for the year is to increase output by 30%, your strategic plan may include steps like "hire four new employees by March," or "purchase workflow software that monitors employee output in the first quarter."

8. Align your goals

Creating cohesive priorities across an entire organization helps individual employees and larger departments find focus to work toward the overall objectives. This can help create unity and collaboration across sectors and lead to more attainable goals.

9. Make your plan

After you have gathered your information and set your strategic priorities, you can structure your strategic plan. You may choose to write a narrative outline or create a spreadsheet to organize the information. Choose an outline that is easy for executives and employees to read and understand and that you can update and share easily.

Read more: How To Write a Strategic Plan: a Guide to Strategic Planning

10. Track your progress

Track statistical data that can help you see if you are achieving your current goals. Having a data repository not only helps monitor current strategic priorities, but can also help you adjust future ones to better align with company needs and culture.

11. Get the team's reaction

Get feedback and input from employees and executives to add steps or information to the strategic plan that you may have overlooked. Not only does this help create the most comprehensive plan, but can help adjust current and future goals based experience from those executing them.

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