Do you want to undertake a strategic planning initiative in your business? The first, and certainly, most important step is to complete a strategic diagnosis. This is the foundation that will help any organization get specific insight to clearly identify its priority issues.

Strategic Planning for a Well-Prepared Garden

Consider the example of a well-prepared garden, with enriched soil and appropriate plants—the crop will be all the more plentiful. Similarly, a richer and carefully crafted diagnosis will more clearly define the right course of action and show the next steps a business should take.

An objective and truly honest 360-degree diagnosis is designed to help you analyze your business’s various organizational functions and identify opportunities and threats that are specific to its field of activity. It synthesizes and interconnects strengths and weaknesses (internal environment) as well as opportunities and threats (external environment).

Here is a brief summary of some of the numerous tools and techniques that can be used to complete the diagnosis.

Set up a work plan

To maintain the focus on the main goal and avoid becoming overwhelmed by too much information, it is essential to set up a work plan that sets out the most important questions you may be asking:

  • What is your market share?
  • What markets are growing?
  • What products are the most in demand?
  • What are the latest consumption trends?
  • Who are the most innovative players on the market?
  • How does the market perceive my business?

The next step is to identify what sources of information are available. In some cases, these numerous sources require some resourcefulness. For instance, you may have to search for specific conference papers, or the particular findings of a specialized study on horticultural science. Other sources require a more complex analysis, like the reports published by Statistics Canada; Innovation, Science and Economic Development; or workforce sectorial committees.

However, these data can be highly beneficial to help you get clear insight into your organization and the issues it faces.

Secondary data

Secondary data are external, public or private, available data (whether free or not). They can consist of information gleaned from published studies or research, official statistics, scientific articles, reports, in short, existing literature.

These data are useful for various aspects of the diagnosis, to get a better idea, for example, of:

  • business trends in a specific sector,
  • growth expectations,
  • consumer spending,
  • competition factors.

Benchmarking is another tool that helps companies to compare their own situation to that of their main competitors in terms of criteria, such as:

  • the range of products and services,
  • rates,
  • distribution methods,
  • marketing.

If questions remain after consulting secondary data, you could consider collecting your own primary data.

Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton - image

Primary data

Primary data pertaining to your clients, suppliers, competitors and partners can be directly collected using various techniques, such as interviews, surveys, focus groups, mystery customers, etc. How primary data are collected depends on your business objectives, the level of precision sought, as well as time constraints to collect the information.

Assessing all information collected on the company’s external environment will enable it to capture market opportunities and understand potential threats.

As an example, let’s take a look at how the Lafleur Greenhouses could collect primary data to answer specific questions on the competitive environment (download the example).

Internal diagnosis

When conducting a diagnosis, it is also important to take the internal pulse of the organization by collecting useful information on its main strengths and weaknesses. To objectively assess the current situation, it is essential to have a global vision of the points of view of the employees and not just management.

This part of the investigation can be conducted as interviews or focus groups, but it is paramount to select the right method and ensure that participants can freely speak their mind in a constructive atmosphere to propel the organization forward. Here are a few examples of questions to ask in this context:

  • What are the company’s main strengths?
  • Which ones can be further developed to increase leverage?
  • What are the company’s main weaknesses?
  • What could potentially impede its growth?
  • Are all company products and services relevant?
  • Are you successful at fulfilling your mission?
  • What could you improve?
  • What do you know about your clients’ needs, satisfaction and expectations?
  • What should you improve?

A neutral and objective external party could be useful in facilitating the exchange of ideas and information during this process.

Consulting other stakeholders could enhance your internal profile of the company. This could include suppliers, financial or strategic business partners, your Board of Directors. They can provide different, impartial insight—as external players they may compare your situation to that of competitors they deal with.

The focus of an internal diagnosis is to address all your organization functions, including sales and marketing, finances, operations, human resources, etc. Thus, it’s important to ask questions to address all aspects, in order to draw the most exhaustive profile possible of the company.

Preparing the global diagnosis

Many tools are available to analyze the information collected, and guide you through an in-depth analysis of interrelations between your findings. The most famous is the SWOT method, which provides a global, internal and external, profile of the organization.

For strategic planning purposes, it is important to understand what strengths to leverage, what weaknesses to work on, what opportunities to capture and what threats to consider and to define a strategy that reflects all of these factors. It is also important to connect each aspect by answering certain questions, which can provide very important insight:

  • What strategies are based on your strengths to leverage opportunities?
  • What strategies help offset your weaknesses and leverage opportunities?
  • What strategies enhance your strengths to address threats?
  • What strategies minimize your weaknesses to avoid threats?

Lastly, the diagnosis helps outline your true ability to implement your growth vision . Organizations may sometimes have high ambitions, but a careful analysis can reveal specific obstacles to overcome before they can reach their objectives. This is the purpose of the diagnosis.