Your ability to set long-term goals for your business has an inordinate impact on its success. All top executives are long-term thinkers. They project forward five years and figure out what they need to do to achieve their long-term goals. They are constantly asking themselves what they can do to further their business success.

The key to a successful long-term strategic planning process is to identify the core competencies you need in order to position yourself for the future and then set about developing them.

Your job is to constantly think about the future. Through your strategic planning process you must take the necessary steps in the short term to guarantee that you will achieve the profitability you desire in the long term. This ability to think long term has never been more important than it is today. It’s a real key to profitability.

You may have heard it said that when you are up to your you-know-what in alligators, it’s hard to remember you came to drain the swamp. Because of the turbulence of today’s marketplace, most executives act as if they’re firefighters constantly putting out fires. They are totally preoccupied with short-term problems and goals. They intend to spend time thinking about the future but never seem to get around to it.

You need to set clear targets for every part of your business. In fact, your most important responsibility may be to give your employees a clear sense of direction. They can’t do their best without it. According to psychologists, the greatest de-motivator is not knowing what’s expected or being clear about long-term goals.

There’s a simple five-part formula for developing a sense of direction that you can use throughout your career. It’s called the GOSPA formula — Goals, Objectives, Strategies, Priorities and Activities.

1. Goals. A goal is a specific place where you want to be at the end of a specific period of time. For example, your goal could be a certain volume of sales or a certain level of profitability at the end of a quarter or year.
2. Objectives. The letter O stands for objectives. These are the sub-goals you need to accomplish in order to achieve your long-term goal. If your one-year goal is a certain dollar level of profitability, your objectives could be in the areas of sales, marketing, distribution, manufacturing, cost control, staff development, technology and so on. By achieving these objectives, you will achieve your goals.
3. Strategies. The third letter in GOSPA stands for strategies. Your strategy is the method you’re going to use to accomplish the objective on the way to your goal. For example, with regard to sales, your strategy could be to build an internal sales force or outsource all selling to a professional sales organization. In addition, there could be numerous sub-strategies within a single sales strategy.
4. Priorities. The fourth letter in the GOSPA formula stands for priorities. Throughout the strategic planning process, you must know what things you will need to do first. What will you need to do second? Which items are more important and which items are less important? You must continually set priorities.
5. Activities. The final letter in the GOSPA formula stands for activities. These are specific daily functions that are clearly delegated to specific individuals. They are associated with standards of performance and specific deadlines for completion.

If you plan out this process thoroughly, each activity will be determined by your current priorities. The achievement of your priorities will lead to the accomplishment of your strategy. When your strategy is carried out, you will have achieved your objectives, and at the end of the time period, you will have reached your goal.

One of the primary qualities of executives in high-profit businesses is that they are continually working through the strategic planning process. They’re always thinking about the future and about the various things they need to do to make their desired future a reality.

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Brian Tracy is the CEO of Brian Tracy International, which specializes in business training, and the author of the best-selling Psychology of Achievement. For more information, go to www.briantracy.com.