Strategic Planning - Mapping Your Route to Success

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by Jack Veale

When planning a family trip by car, you select your destination and then map out a route. This same logic holds true in the case of managing your family business. The destination is the set of objectives you wish to obtain, and mapping out the route refers to the strategies you plan to reach those objectives. Strategic planning is the process by which you design a route to take your business to the next level of success.

Are You Ready To Hit the Road?
Are you a family business owner who spends your day fighting fires? Are you frustrated with your management group and stagnating profits? Is going to work not as much fun as it used to be? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, your company needs a strategic plan. Here’s what you need to do before you head out on that highway.

The most successful businesses develop strategic plans that envision the company’s future growth and direction by analyzing the business from various angles to see where it is headed and where it should go. Developing such a plan is paramount in today’s competitive environment. Without one, a business can easily falter.

Starting Out
To start the process, you need to break down the business into functional areas, such as sales, marketing, purchasing and finance. Then have your managers in those areas develop questionnaires or hold meetings with their employees to learn about their department’s perceived strengths and weaknesses, as well as what they see for the future of the company. By doing this, all employees will be involved in some element of the strategic planning process. Employees closest to the work performed or doing the work themselves are a great source of ideas on how to improve the business as a whole. The
strategic planning process is the venue for their voices to be heard.

At this point, it’s time for the company’s managers and executives to schedule several days for the formal strategic planning sessions. These sessions have proven to be most effective when distractions are at a minimum. For this reason, more and more companies have chosen to hold their strategic planning sessions off site as management retreats. Using a proven outside facilitator is also preferred. This facilitator is essential to jumpstart the planning process, provide a neutral perspective, furnish needed skills and contribute innovative ideas. A professional facilitator can be more objective than a senior executive from the company and will be able to produce a more openly creative environment for group discussions. An experienced management consultant can facilitate this process successfully.

Drawing Your Map
When the core group of company managers and officers get together for the retreat, each manager should provide a brief presentation on the perceived strengths and weaknesses gathered from his or her department. From this discussion, you will be able to develop measurable objectives by building on strengths and mitigating weaknesses. Strategic planning objectives can be as broad or as narrow as you desire. Some examples are:

  • Increasing revenue by a specific amount or percentage;
  • Achieving a specific sales level from an identified new target market;
  • Improving the efficiency of warehouse or delivery functions by specific dollars per unit;
  • Cutting overhead costs by a specific amount; and
  • Retaining a certain number of existing customers while budgeting for a specific number of new ones.

Note that all these objectives are measurable. An objective that can’t be measured should be relegated to a “wish list,” since you will never know if you have met it or not.
Once the objectives have been identified, strategies must be developed to achieve them. This is a highly creative exercise in which your managers have the opportunity to question how they do things. Encourage your managers to contribute as many ideas as possible for accomplishing the desired objectives. There are no bad ideas in the strategy development session; some may just need more refining than others. Unless your company’s existing paradigms are challenged, effective change is unlikely to occur. Strategies are company specific and not industry specific. Strategies for a 20-year-old company with a proven record in the industry will differ from a new company’s strategies.

Once strategies have been adopted, it is time for management to take ownership of seeing the objectives accomplished. This is done through action plans developed to implement the strategies. Action plans address what will be done, who is going to it, as well as how and when it will be done. Action steps need to be laid out as measurable milestones so that progress can be tracked.

Once all action plans have been devised and assigned, the strategic planning session ends. Hand out minutes to each participant so that everyone has a record of what transpired. You should disseminate certain information to the employees who didn’t participate so they too will understand the direction you want for your company.

Driving to Success
Your managers should leave the session with a renewed commitment to the company, but as the daily grind begins again, they may get caught up in their daily activities and lose focus of the desired objectives. Because this is an easy trap to fall into, it’s imperative to schedule quarterly planning sessions to address everyone’s progress on the strategic plan. In these quarterly follow up sessions, you may also want to revise the plan based on changes occurring both outside and inside the company and their effect on the original objectives.

Success in the strategic planning process is directly related to the amount of time and effort that the company devotes to the five Cs: Communication, Coordination, Cooperation, Commitment and Change. These by-products of the strategic planning process are invaluable in creating an effective management structure within your company, regardless of the specifics of the plan.

Businesses that plan on being innovators and leaders need strategic plans to map out their routes to success. Please call us for assistance in developing and implementing your strategic plan. We would be happy to help you achieve your business objectives.

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