Gone F.I.S.H.in’

Strategic planning often involves the executive team developing a plan off-site, then returning to the company to present it.

But Jamie Gallagher, CEO of Cleveland-based Faber-Castell USA, and his executive committee recognized that approach didn’t work for them. They didn’t have the resources to hire consultants, and they wanted their strategic planning to be participatory throughout the company rather than top-down.

That’s when Faber-Castell CFO Don Fischer told this story: A wise, experienced fisherman and his child went fishing. The father knew what kind of fish he was fishing for. He had the proper bait, the right equipment, and even knew the exact location in the pond to find that type of fish.

The child, on the other hand, put some bait on the hook, tossed it into the water and wondered why the fish weren’t biting.

“The moral of the story becomes, rather than just traveling around the pond, throwing your hook in the water, waiting for some fish, what you really need to be asking yourself is, what is it that I’m fishing for?” Gallagher says. “What is the right bait? What type of equipment will I need to do that? And where, in fact, am I going to find those fish?”

The result was the Focused Initiatives for making Success Happen (F.I.S.H.) plan, which was rolled out companywide in December 2003. Employees were asked to think of themselves not only as employees but also as consumers, and to determine opportunities to be addressed. Fifteen cross-functional teams were formed, and they created a list of 15 initiatives.

“What we learned about the company was a bit about the leadership potential … and the leadership styles of some of our people, and also that good ideas can come from all across the company,” Gallagher says.

F.I.S.H. is now part of the vocabulary at Faber-Castell USA, a professional art supplies company.

“If we are in a meeting and we’re getting off track, somebody will very naturally say, ‘Wait a minute now, let’s really identify what we’re fishing for here,’ and it just becomes part of what we do,” Gallagher says.

Based on research from the “Internet and Web site F.I.S.H team,” the company changed the way it updates information and communicates with consumers via the Web. Another team researched the international market and distribution channels for Faber-Castell’s Creativity for Kids line, a manufacturer of creative activity products for children of all ages that the company acquired in 1999.

“A significant portion of our growth over the past year can be attributed to the international business that we do on Creativity for Kids,” Gallagher says. “So it wasn’t just a few pennies; it really did help improve our performance this year.”

The company has narrowed the original 15 initiatives to eight high-priority issues.

“We’re continually dropping and adding strategic initiatives because some of the ones that you may have thought would have been very interesting opportunities just turned out as being a dead end,” Gallagher says. “So with the help of the group, we dropped it, and now we move on.”

F.I.S.H. team members talk to employees in toy or stationery departments about market trend, and read articles and conduct research on the Internet.

“The sheer amount of information and knowledge that we’ve gained by having everybody involved is much greater than it would have been if it was just an executive committee initiative,” he says.

During first quarter 2005, the company is expected to provide employees with a summary of the past year’s initiatives, and with F.I.S.H. 2005 under way, some teams have changed their composition to keep the creativity flowing.

“(The F.I.S.H. initiative) is a living, breathing entity within the company here — one that we have found out worked really well, and we’re ready to improve it for 2005,” Gallagher says.

HOW TO REACH: Faber-Castell USA, (216) 643-4660 or www.faber-castell.us