Strategic, functional and operational planning

Planning occurs at three levels: strategic, functional and operational.

Strategic planning

Strategic planning is the managerial decision process that matches the firm’s resources (such as financial assets and workforce) and capabilities (the things it is able to do well because of expertise and experience) to its market opportunities for long-term growth. In strategic plan, top management (CEO, managing director, chairman or other top executives) define the firm’s purpose and specify what the firm hopes to achieve over the next five or so years. For example: set an objective of increasing total revenues by 20% in the next five years. For large firms such as Walt Disney that have a number of self-contained divisions or strategic business units (such as theme park, movie, TV, cruise line), strategic planning occurs both at overall corporate level and at the individual business unit level.

Functional planning

The next level planning is functional planning (or tactical planning). This level gets its name because it is accomplished in by the various functional areas of the firm, such as marketing, finance, human resources. Function director usually do this. The functional planning marketing department conducts is referred to as marketing planning. The person in charge of such planning is Director of Marketing, or Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Example of objective: to gain 40% of particular market by introducing three distribution outlets during the coming year. This objective would be part of functional area plan. Functional planning typically includes both a broad five-year plan to support the firm’s strategic plan and detailed annual plan for the coming year.

Operational planning

Still further down the planning ladder are the first-line managers. In the marketing department, first-line managers include people such as sales managers, marketing communications managers and marketing research managers. These managers are responsible for planning at a third level called operational planning. This level of planning focuses on the day-to-day execution of the functional plans and includes detailed annual, semi-annual or quarterly plans. Operational plans might show exactly how many units of a product a salesperson needs to sell per month or how many TV commercials the firm will place on certain channels during a season. At the operational planning level, for example, a company communications manager may develop plans to promote the new products to potential customers, while the sales manager may develop quarterly plan for the company’s sales force. Both of these activities are forms of operational planning.

Strategic planningFunctional planningOperational planning
Planning done by top-level corporate management.Planning done by top functional-level management such as marketing director.Planning done by supervisory managers.
1. Define the mission
2. Evaluate the internal and external environment
3. Set organisational or business unit objectives
4. Establish the business portfolio (if applicable)
5. Develop growth strategies
1. Perform situation analysis
2. Set marketing objectives
3. Develop marketing strategies
4. Implement marketing strategies
5. Monitor and control marketing strategies
1. Develop action plans to implement marketing plan
2. Use marketing metrics to monitor how the plan is working

All business planning is an integrated activity. This means, the organisation’s strategic, functional and operational plans must work together for the benefit of the whole. So, planners at all levels must consider good principles of accounting, the value of the company to its stakeholders, and the requirements for staffing and human resource management – that is, they must keep the ‘big picture’ in mind even as they plan for their corner of the organisation’s world.

In short, the different functional and operational-level planners within an organisation have to make sure that their plans support the organisation’s overall mission and objectives and that they work well together. A marketer can’t go off and develop a successful plan for the marketing side of the firm without fully understanding how what he’s doing fits with the whole organisation’s direction and resources.

Solomon, M.R., 2009. Marketing: Real people, real decisions. Pearson Education.

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