Better Business Planning This Year

Sep 29, 2003

This is really getting to be the busy time of the year for the ZweigWhite consultants who help firms with business planning. And it’s good to see that many firms are refining their processes so that the time they spend on business planning is time well spent. Here’s some of what we are seeing: More emphasis on clients and potential clients. While there is nothing revolutionary about asking clients what they like and don’t like about your firm’s services, more firms than ever are realizing how critical having this information is as they plot the future course for their companies. Formal studies of current, past, and potential clients can be invaluable to the planning process. The information gained through these studies needs to be tied to specific decisions made on strategy and tactics. Many times these studies are done by outsiders, but some firms have done an excellent job with internal resources. More widespread solicitation of input from throughout the firm. Employees all have opinions, and everyone wants to feel like theirs matters. It matters to them that you ask them what changes they think will help the company to better service clients, what will make the firm a better place to work, and what they think the greatest opportunities and threats are to the firm. Again, this input will be taken seriously as decisions are made by top management that impact the future of the company. The right people at the planning sessions. It used to be that only the principals and/or major owners would be at these planning meetings. But now, more than ever, we are seeing the top HR, IT, finance and accounting, and marketing people at the table. The problems that are being addressed inevitably fall into the laps of many of these people to solve, so they have to be there to give their input. And for firms that tell me they don’t have people in these jobs who can really contribute, I tell ‘em to get someone different in the job then. These roles are too critical in every company to tolerate poor or weak performance from the managers who head up these areas. Better instructions for those doing office/department/market sector plans. It’s one thing to tell each unit to come prepared to present at the two-day planning retreat. Sometimes that goes well, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes certain people get carried away and take way too long. Other times they give too much detail. And still other times the presentations don’t answer critical questions such as how much work are they going to do this year. There really isn’t any excuse for any of this. Each plan should follow a set format for what is to be included and how it should look. Each plan should be presented in summary form quickly (15-30 minutes), with a short time allotted for Q&A afterward. And whoever is running the meeting needs to be sure the agenda is adhered to. More varied and interesting retreat agendas. It’s not good enough to force everyone to sit in a dark hotel meeting room for eight or 10 hours and do nothing else. Agendas are being broken up with recreational opportunities for golf or go-carts or family boating. Family members are being brought along, too, in many cases. We have even seen special tracks for spouses at a few retreats in recent years. More firms are working from breakfast to lunch, taking an afternoon break, and then coming together again in the evening. The important thing is to keep everyone fresh and interested and not bore them with too many hours in a row of sitting in a meeting room! More giveaways commemorating the event. T-shirts, ties, mugs, mouse pads, beach bags, and beach towels…. I have seen more special-purpose merchandise with logos for the company or special logos commemorating the business-planning event lately. Lands’ End is a good resource for clothing items. They have a special catalog for this stuff. But there are many others. Everyone likes giveaways. They are especially appreciated if there’s something there that the whole family can enjoy. It just says “we care about you.” Better/faster communication with employees about the plan. You can’t wait weeks and weeks to review the notes and then send them out along with the quarterly employee newsletter any longer. You have to do it immediately after the meeting. Note-taking is still a real weakness at these sessions. Having a competent secretary there may not even be the answer as the goal is a completed plan document not a word-by-word transcript of everything said. I find that many times whoever is facilitating these meetings is the best equipped to take the notes and prepare a quality deliverable that can then be presented as-is, or quickly edited by the CEO, for immediate distribution, or as back-up to a meeting held with all employees the first work day after the planning sessions. More emphasis on tracking the actual performance to the plan throughout the year. This is being recognized as more and more important. To set goals and then not refer back to them makes them seem unimportant. People forget what the goals are and what they are trying to do. That’s why more firms than ever are preparing monthly statements that show where the firm’s actual performance is compared to the goal. And showing this graphically makes it all that much clearer. How about your planning process for 2003-2004? Have you put some creative thought into how you are going to do it this year? Maybe now is the time. Originally published 9/29/2003

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.