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The Third Commandment Of Strategic Planning: Write Goals, Strategies And Action Plan

According to psychology professor Gail Matthews, who conducted a study on goal-setting, "you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down."

I first came across the notion of written goals when I attended a FranklinCovey leadership course. The facilitators insisted on everyone defining what Stephen Covey calls their roles and their goals — meaning you identify all of the different roles you play (e.g., husband, father, business leader, community leader, friend, etc.). Then, you identify what your goals are for each role and write them down. Each week, you review your roles and your goals, and then you schedule your priorities.

Those are your "big rocks."

Sometime later, I attended a three-day training as a facilitator for The Alternative Board (TAB), and I was introduced to what I call the goals, strategies and action plan (GSAP) model.

Here's how to write a GSAP.


As I advised in my previous article, think big — think bold — when setting goals. Your objective is to allow yourself to imagine the greatest and the biggest possible, yet achievable goals.

Ask yourself questions such as, "If money isn't the issue (both on the business level and on a personal level), and I can't fail, what is it that I want to achieve?" Often, the things that hold us back are our insecurities and fear of failure.

According to TAB, you can have up to five goals, though I've found that if you focus on top-line sales and bottom-line profits, you can cover everything.


Next, compile a list of all the different strategies you will need to achieve these goals. Don't worry about the order of things; just write.

The more creative and innovative you and your team are, the more strategies will come forth, and the better they'll be. Try to inspire yourself and your team to think creatively.

Oftentimes, the best ideas come from the most unexpected places or people. Everyone can come up with a great idea. Let people think.


Once you have written down the strategies, focus on the actions you need to take to start getting the company moving toward the goals and how to make sure that things don't fall between the cracks.

For every action, make sure you have a timeline and assign a person to be responsible for it. This creates accountability. Meet weekly with these people and let them share what they have accomplished and what might be holding them back. Your job is to clear the obstacles. Many of my clients use Asana or Trello or similar project management software to track the actions.

I once read that leadership consists of three things: creating the vision, implementing the vision and breaking the legs of those who don't go along with the vision. I believe this last part means taking away the obstacles.

Let me share with you how I helped an IT company that was struggling to reach the next level: The CEO attended my advanced leadership course, and I challenged her as well as all the participants to share their GSAPs.

She shared her big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) to grow her company to $25 million in sales with a healthy bottom line. She also shared her greatest challenges and frustrations, which included finding well-qualified employees. Specifically, she needed a great COO to be second-in-command so she could focus on sales and growing the business as planned.

We identified what kind of person she needed and what attributes that person needed to have. Once we found the person and realized that she is the counterpart the CEO needed, it all fell into place.

Fast-forward to now, and the company has doubled its top and bottom lines and is on the way to tripling them. It grew so quickly that the team had to stop taking on new clients, which also allowed them to decide which clients they wanted to keep and which weren't for them. It was a win-win all around.

Every week, the company's leaders meet, along with their main employees, to review the goals of each person and discuss what's working and what needs intervention. The COO then follows up with each person individually to make sure they're on task. This creates two very important ingredients: transparency and accountability. Transparency allows everyone to be on the same page and ensures that everyone is updated and feels included. Accountability keeps everyone on task.

As I've said before, "Inspect what you expect as what you inspect gets respect."

Interestingly enough, the goal-setting study I mentioned earlier corroborates the need to not only write down your goals and create action items but also the need to create accountability for achieving the goals. The study participants were split into five groups and given different assignments. Group 5, which was asked to write down goals as well as action commitments and send weekly progress reports to a friend, outperformed all of the other groups by a significant margin when it came to achieving goals.

As a leader, you need to have clear goals for your organization. I recommend involving all of your senior people in this. Then, brainstorm all of the different strategies for reaching these goals, and the actions you need to take. Decide who is responsible for each action (TAB refers to this person as "the champion") and set completion dates. In your weekly meetings, follow up on how things are going and what's holding you back. Create group accountability.

As my father would say, "Never confuse efforts for results."

acob M. Engel

Author and CEO of The Prosperous Leader. Creator of the Prosperous Courses. Where leaders learn to lead! Read Jacob M. Engel's full executive profile here

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