Some pundits argue that long-term enterprise planning has lost its relevance in a world defined by nonstop turmoil, change, and chaos. These folks suggest that organizations should focus on operational flexibility and opportunism—keeping one’s options open. Others believe the future is simply too unpredictable, and so do nothing. One consultant I know has even characterized strategic planning as a fad whose time has come and gone. I disagree.
Over the years I’ve worked with scores of A/E/C firm leaders on strategy creation, development, and implementation. And yes, there was a pause in activity after the economic collapse. Lots of business leaders were stunned by the magnitude of the downturn, and struggled for a while to stay in business.
Since then, however, these firms have pulled themselves off the mat, pushed away the doldrums, and returned to the road of success. Plan timetables were revised, strategies adjusted, and budgets recalculated. I’ve been heartened by those who, despite the tough going, have not conceded their dreams. Perhaps you’ve wondered about the relevance and usefulness of strategic business planning in today’s crazy world? If so, consider this list of common A/E/C organization issues, and ask yourself if your firm wouldn’t benefit from real improvement in:
Vision – Vision defines the firm’s desired destination, and most important objectives. Clarifying the vision helps to make sense of the firm’s business opportunities and alternatives. Few organizations succeed without a clear sense of where they’re headed.
Leadership – Strong consensus among leaders is a big deal, but very challenging in the professional services firm. Still, without it the organization simply spins, and in tough times a “paddle faster” directive just makes it worse. Leaders can’t (and shouldn’t) agree on everything, but must agree fully on pursuing the vision together.
Growth – The recession hasn’t reduced importance of growth, only changed for some the amount and pace. And while it hasn’t been any easier, opportunities abound. Marketing and business development capability, strategy, plans, and actions are frankly more important today, not less so.
Operations – Many firms have toned up—trimming staff, cutting overhead, and improving cash flow. Still, there is a lot more left to do to further bolster profitability. Considerable waste remains in project management, client relationships, and corporate support. Attacking these opportunities can yield extraordinary returns, more than paying for the investment in business planning.
Transition – The recession has forced many to rethink exit strategy and timing. Some feel they must focus on shorter term growth and survival. Others fear they won’t get the value that they want or need. But for most organizations the primary challenge is not ownership transition, but leadership transition.
Who’ll run the firm tomorrow can be a very difficult question; answering it well can greatly increase the firm’s value. Despite this truth, too many are still not investing enough in the next generation.
Effective strategic business planning creates consensus and energy in leaders and staff—towards achieving the big stuff—the most important (and often most difficult) objectives of the firm. This process is not just a “touchy-feely” team-building exercise, extended operations meeting, or elaborate ruse for golf (who needs an excuse for that)? Enterprise planning is a deliberate and focused process, involving structured steps, expected outcomes, accountable leaders, and a workable action plan.
If you’ve been holding back, it’s time now to rekindle, refocus, and recommit; to dream more, and to create anew an extraordinary future for your firm. As one CEO recently proclaimed: “We’re planning on growing again next year.”
Is your firm's growth plan a vague wish, or a clearly defined map you can actually use?
Every firm has goals–whether written or nebulous ideas in the minds of top principals. But only by converting those goals into a plan can you unleash growth forces and direct your energy efficiently. Without a structured, documented, and communicated plan, your firm is rudderless.
On September 16-19, a select group of senior A/E/C firm leaders from across North America will gather in beautiful Martha's Vineyard for Breakthrough Growth Planning Strategies: A PSMJ Senior Executive Forum, a frank and open exploration of the decisions that drive growth and how to make the winning call every time, led by PSMJ Founder and CEO Frank A. Stasiowski, FAIA. But, you won’t just be hitting those nails with the same old hammer. In this completely confidential and candid setting, Frank turns traditional thinking on its ear.
You also might be interested in these blog posts by Frank A. Stasiowski: