Business executives are battling time and the economy, necessitating that every company has a strategic plan.
But all too often, executives stop managing once the plan is written; forgetting that what happens next is the most critical part of the process. Achieving buy-in across the enterprise, cascading the goals down through the organization and following the objectives through to completion is the difference between having a strategic business plan and achieving one.
“Don’t confuse strategic planning with managing strategically,” says Wayne Pinnell CPA, managing partner, Haskell & White LLP. “This time, many of the recessionary-induced changes may be permanent, forcing executives to employ strategic management techniques to re-vision their organizations for success in a new economy.”
Smart Business spoke with Pinnell about the strategic management and planning techniques executives should employ in today’s business climate.
What constitutes an effective business plan in today’s environment?
Thirty-page glossy plans are out — one-page working documents are in — because a short plan gives everyone in the organization a clear, concise picture of the priorities and it’s easier to manage the goals and amend them if the economy shifts. The plan should read like the responses to a Joe Friday interrogation — stating just the key facts. Describe each initiative by outlining where the company is now, where you want to go, when you want to get there and how you plan to get there, and also name who is responsible for each assignment. The plan should be created by those who have a vested interest in the outcome, which can vary by organization, but blending operational managers with strategic thinkers on the planning team often results in a plan that is visionary, yet detailed and realistic.
What’s the next step?
Communicate the plan to every employee in the organization, making sure that everyone buys in to the organization’s mission and understands his or her role. It is important for every employee to know how their particular role supports the overall organization’s business and goals. Short slogans or tag lines of three to eight words are an excellent way to remind employees about the company’s vision; create one and use it on e-mails, stationery and brochures. Executives may not have time to survey every employee to gauge acceptance and understanding of the plan. Make a few phone calls and chat with employees in the hallways, asking them for feedback to validate the effectiveness of your communication strategy.
What’s the most effective way to cascade the goals down to each individual?
While you are communicating the vision, amend the employee performance plans, disseminating accountability and responsibility for achieving the company’s objectives to each individual. Aligning employee compensation with the overall strategy of the company, both individually and on a team basis, adds another layer of reinforcement toward achievement of the larger objectives.
How should executives manage the plan?
After a new plan is introduced, review meetings should be held at least every 30 days, because getting off on the right foot and driving a momentum change are critical to ultimately achieving the plan. Short-term review points provide an opportunity to reset the ‘must do’ actions over the next 30-, 60- and 90-day periods. It is important to distinguish the ‘must do’ items from those you should or could do, as ‘must do’ items are those considered to be critical to success. While staff members should report on their progress during the meetings, it may require that you remind them via e-mail about upcoming sessions, so everyone knows what to expect and to let the staff know you are serious about following the plan through to completion. Appoint a scribe to take notes during the meeting, and then send out the minutes and a list of action items after each session.
Adjust a goal if situations have changed making it unachievable or no longer a desirable outcome. Don’t shy away from holding people accountable or let ‘lack of time’ be an acceptable excuse, as we all have the same amount of time available — it’s just how we choose to use it that makes the difference. Look at any macro objectives in a micro way to see if political, social or economic events necessitate a change and review the assumptions you used in creating the goal to see if they are still valid. In this economy, you may need to challenge your own assumptions more frequently than in the past.
What other steps should executives take?
Too often, executives create a business plan, and it sits on the shelf because there’s enough momentum in the economy to carry the company forward. One of the biggest myths about this recession is that ‘spring is just around the corner,’ so we can just ‘hunker down’ and wait and things will ultimately get better. Executives need to create change, and the only way to move an organization toward a new strategic vision is by managing strategically.
WAYNE R. PINNELL, CPA, is the managing partner at Haskell & White LLP. Reach him at (949) 450-6314 or email@example.com.