How much does a strategic plan cost? If you hire a consultant, pull your senior folks away from client-facing business and team leadership for a couple of days, conduct the session off-site to avoid day-to-day distractions, pay for hotel rooms, meals and transportation, it can be an expensive proposition.
With that kind of investment in time, talent and resources, it’s painful to realize that so many carefully written, beautifully bound plans end up on a shelf, rarely referenced. Maybe it’s time to take this time-worn process apart and focus on practical ways to achieve meaningful change in your enterprise in support of that valuable planning exercise.
Having frustratingly trodden this path many times over the years with my own firm (Gensler) and with clients since I retired, I’d like to share my observations and advice.
A well facilitated — by an outsider or by someone within your firm– and carefully thought-through strategic planning process can yield a treasure trove of ideas about what you want your firm to be. It can guide you and your team on how you want people to act and collaborate, what markets you want to serve, and what talent “holes” you have that need to be filled. It can specify desired relationships with the stakeholders (contractors, subs, vendors, government officials) you rely on to accomplish client work.. But a document sitting on a shelf won’t make any of this happen.
From experience, I can tell you your strategic plan only gains value when its objectives are understood and acted upon. And that will only happen of you’re able to instill your objectives deeply into your firm’s culture such that it changes the actions and attitudes of your people.
Here are a couple of ideas about how to put your plan in motion:
A dominant indicator of your success appears when your clients are deliriously happy about the way they’re being treated. Is delirious too grand a word to use? Not at all. , When your teams are listening to your clients, responsive to their needs and wants, consistently checking with them to ensure they feel cared for, they will ask you to do more work for them and recommend you to their friends and colleagues. You can track client satisfaction through all sorts of metrics. Certainly, you can keep a log of repeat and referral business, but nothing is more valuable than a culture in which everyone is expected to have a cup of coffee with a client frequently to find out if all is going well. And this is not just at the principal level, but with all of your team members who have a relationship with a member of the client team.
Innovation is a common goal of most strategic plans. Nice idea, but how does innovation come about? The best creativity occurs when people from different points of view and areas of expertise collaborate to come at a problem from different directions. Sparks fly, and an idea for something never tried before appears. So, how do you keep people from building walls and hesitating to share knowledge, expertise and ideas? ,. Encouraging people to reach out to someone with a different point of view can be intimidating. What if they don’t want to talk to me? What if they look at what I’m doing and say, “That’s really dumb.”
Collaboration requires an open and trusting culture, one in which everyone feels they “own” every project in the office. It requires that everyone feels anything less than innovative and thoughtful reflects negatively on the firm and them personally. It requires they are, at all times, willing to pitch in and brainstorm a problem with a colleague.
Instilling that attitude and culture is not a result of writing about it in a strategic plan. It happens when the firm expects it and team leaders model the behavior as they watch work progressing. It happens when leaders lean over a desk or computer terminal to look for ways to think more creatively about the problem being solved, suggesting the team involved reach out to other individuals in the firm who might offer a unique and inspirational point of view. Who knows better than the leadership team where those specific areas of expertise reside? It is leadership’s responsibility to probe, connect and then follow up to see what happened. That’s how a culture of creative connectivity evolves, not because it is written in a strategic plan. It becomes a way of life.
Take a look at each element of your strategic plan and ask, “What specific action, and by whom, will move us toward our plan goals?” Imbed these actions and behaviors into the way things are done on a daily basis. Avoid the trap of assigning committees , only to have those committees meet once or twice to debate tasks and actions and then revert to old ways of doing things and get lost in the urgency of the work at hand.
These are just a couple of ideas on how you can make the most of that valuable strategic plan, turning it into daily actions that actualize your plan’s aspirational goals. It’s up to you to develop a new way of life in your firm to make each part of your strategic plan come true.