A winning year begins with a winning plan. A winning plan should balance long-term directives and short-term actions. To achieve your winning plan, you must include strategic thinking and execution planning.

Strategic thinking is looking at the “big picture” and answering the key questions facing your company. For instance, who is your core customer? Your core customers are the set of individuals that you want to attract and spend most of your time with. Write down the wants, needs and problems of your core customer, so you can clearly address and solve them. Also, know exactly how your product or service benefits them. You may even want to think of specific customer names to help you identify what your core customer looks like. Once you have a clear understanding of your core customer, make sure that you dedicate your marketing and sales resources to serve and engage them.

Another key question during the strategic thinking process is what do you promise your core customer? The strategic term I use here is brand promise. A brand promise is the two or three things that you will fulfill for your customers. These promises should set you apart from your competition and give you guidance when making decisions for your company. Make sure your promises clearly address your core customers’ wants, needs and problems. A great starting point is to write down the first thing that comes to mind.

Other strategic thinking topics include setting 3-year goals and priorities; defining your product/service offerings and pricing; and determining what staffing is needed to fulfill the 3-year plan. Involve your team in answering these questions. Once you have your core strategy nailed down, the execution planning process will be more systematic and sequential.

Now, on to execution planning. Execution planning is identifying and then focusing on the most important priorities that will move the company forward in the next 3-12 months.

It starts with the senior team setting annual revenue and profit targets based on sales forecasts from the sales team. Define appropriate targets, history, industry trends, competitive climate, market opportunities and team skills and abilities. And, certainly include the challenges you are facing. Once your goals are agreed upon, share them with the entire team. Goals motivate and guide your team. To start your year off right, you must know where you want the year to end.

The next step for the senior team is to establish a handful of overarching priorities for the coming year. You should not have any more than 3-5 priorities that your company should focus on at a time. A priority is the item that you must get right in order to achieve the desired results. For example, if you have a goal to grow revenue 10%, what is the most important item that must be done to achieve that? It could be a clear marketing message that will attract new customers; a new focus for the sales team; new product launch; or even all three of these.

The priorities that you determine will guide everyone’s actions, plans and focus. Selecting the right priorities is critical to achieving your goals. Select the wrong priorities and you will have distractions and will not achieve your desired results.

Your managers should then select their annual priorities for their respective departments. The priorities they select should support the company’s defined priorities and will be more specific in nature.

Now that you have identified your annual priorities, move into quarterly thinking. What will you focus on in the upcoming quarter that needs to be accomplished to achieve the annual goals? All team members should have quarterly priorities and an action plan that contains the winning moves with specific dates, items to complete and benchmarks that will guide them to success. If you develop that, everyone in the company is now driving execution planning.

Without a strategy that differentiates your company from the competition, you will quickly find you are just executing a mess. Take the time for strategic thinking and execution planning to ensure that everyone on your team is aligned for success. Great leaders take organizations places they never thought possible.