Jeff Stephenson, P.E., is the Team Leader of [...]
Considering what has happened in the US economy, we hate to think where we would be as a company right now if we had not been doing consistent strategic planning. We believe it helped save our business. So it amazes us that others respond with glazed looks of complete boredom when we say we are working on our strategic plan.
In a recent Birmingham roundtable discussion of executives from over two dozen companies, less than half reported their company does a strategic plan. That’s shocking to us because we do strategic planning every single year. Our Sain Strategic System includes multiple elements that all link together.
We’ve been doing annual strategic planning for about 20 years. We’ve figured out what works, what doesn’t, and our system has evolved over those years. The whole package involves research and interviews, planning, implementation and assessments.
Interviews and Research
Over the years we’ve found it’s best to do your homework first. We begin by interviewing 30-50 key clients. The interviews, conducted by our Principals and Managers, focus on market trends, issues the client’s organization is struggling with and challenges for the coming year. We also ask what the client has valued in our services and what advice they would give us.
In addition to the interviews we do ourselves, we periodically have someone from outside the firm do client interviews. We find that people won’t necessarily tell us the hard stuff, but they’re more likely to tell somebody who’s not with the company. Jim Sisson of Vantage Associates Inc., has been most helpful to us in conducting “neutral” client interviews.
We also collect internal feedback. We’ve tried written surveys and focus groups. This year our Team Leaders hosted a listening session with their project management staff. Through email and a two-hour workshop, they identified critical issues that needed to be addressed in the strategic plan.
We do our planning over a two-day period at a location away from the office. All of our Principals and Team Leaders attend, and we bring in an outside facilitator to lead the sessions.
Taking time away from the office to focus on non-urgent but important topics helps us build teamwork, harness our collective brain power and decide what we want to accomplish as an organization in the next year.
The corporate strategic plan that is developed in these sessions becomes the cornerstone for planning within each of our work teams. Connecting team plans to the overall corporate plan helps our staff know what they have to do on a team level to help us achieve our goals. We find that this makes sense to people. They know how they fit within the overall vision and what their contribution will be.
Once we have completed the strategic plan for the coming year, we set up a structure to make it happen. Without an implementation plan, what we achieve would be almost accidental. We’ve found that we get much more accomplished with assignments of responsibility, specific tasks, and deadlines for completion.
The old adage “what gets measured gets done” is so true. Quarterly reviews of the implementation plan are critical to keeping the firm on track and accountable to our process. We have a lot of minds and hands involved in our strategic planning systems. The communication between everyone cannot end when the plan is published; it has to continue throughout implementation.
Each year the Sain Strategic System helps us establish a compelling company vision and support strategies that allow us to guide the destiny of our firm. It has helped us reinvent ourselves in a troubled economy and will continue to be the foundational practice for our future. Sure, there is a cost involved in all that planning, but experience has shown that the pay-off is well worth it.