Strategy isn’t a four letter word Featured

9:49am EDT July 22, 2002

Successfully growing a business is not an accident. After years of working with closely held, entrepreneurial businesses, I’ve found that most business owners either want to grow or feel they must grow.

The resulting dilemma is how to achieve added revenue, and once it’s achieved, how to remain in control and ensure that the increase in sales results in an increase in profits.

There are obvious exceptions, but most truly successful businesses got there by developing and executing a well thought out plan. Unfortunately, in many companies, planning is a totally foreign concept.

Even when the suggestion to plan doesn’t create heart palpitations, if you put the word strategic before it, jaws drop. No business that desires growth and profitability is too small, too different, too wise or too savvy to benefit from a strategic plan.

Business owners undertake strategic planning processes for different reasons, and I have seen some pretty amazing results: Transformations and rebirths of tired companies, new directions set for fast moving companies and new ideas and concepts that enabled companies to leapfrog the competition.

There are different methods for performing the process depending on the size of the organization. But no matter the size, process methodology affects the results. More important, it can be the difference between simply producing a plan and producing results that really drive the organization.

I have identified the components of the process I consider to be the most important in maximizing the return on a company’s strategic planning investment. Over the next three months I will share my 10 rules for strategic planning for success. Here are the first three:

1) Plan for the plan

This ensures the process is thought out before diving in. Not only will that get it off to a good start, it will help maintain momentum once the process begins. In planning for the plan, the methodology and the members of the planning team are determined, and a timetable for completion is set.

Communication plays an important role in the process’ success, so this is also the time to develop a communication plan.

2) Understand the CEO’s role

Although team involvement is critical, the CEO plays a major role in the success of the process. Inherent in the strategic planning process is the establishment of the company’s vision. In a closely held business, it is the CEO’s privilege and responsibility to set and communicate the vision. (This should be a top priority for the CEO even without a formal planning program.)

But the CEO’s role doesn’t end with the vision. He or she must be an integral part of the process itself. That person needs to guide the process and ensure that momentum and enthusiasm are maintained. The hardest part of the CEO’s involvement is often listening to and accepting input from the rest of the team. If they perceive their involvement is not real, the process will fail.

3) Maximize organizational involvement and communication

There is a direct correlation between the extent of the impact on the organization from the process and the extent of organizational involvement. My personal objective is to get as many people as possible, in some manner, involved. Not everyone will be on the core planning team, but communication can make everyone feel involved.

Communication needs to be ongoing and accomplished in a manner that fits your company culture. It is important that the organization understands what strategic planning is, why it is being done, what it entails, what will be expected of everyone and what the communication process will be.

Next month we will look at the rules for development of the plan itself.

Joel Strom (jstrom@jsagrowth.com) is president of Joel Strom Associates Inc., Growth Management. His firm works exclusively with closely held businesses and their owners, helping them set and achieve their growth objectives while maximizing profitability and value. He can be reached at (216) 831-2663.