Failing to plan, planning to fail, part 1

May 01, 2017

Strategic planning is the roadmap to your firm’s success. Without it, you might get knocked down and never get back up.

I have a lot on my mind this week, so get ready, buckle up, and let’s go! We can start with a famous quote from Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Similar sentiments were shared by the likes of Dwight Eisenhower and Winston Churchill. Even if those guys were right – we get punched and circumstances change – it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan in the first place.

We’re all extremely busy. It can seem like bombs are going off everywhere. The world doesn’t stop for us to plan. Business is a dynamic, unpredictable, and ever-changing environment. Nonetheless, strategic planning is vital to the growth of your firm. And if you’re not doing it, you need to, because if you’re not growing, you’re failing. Like financial projections looking out five or more years, it is not the strategic plan as written that is important, but the strategic planning process itself.

You may be thinking, “It’s May. I’ve finished strategic planning for the year.” But your strategic plan is a fluid document that should be revisited about once a month. There are several reasons to go through this process and I’ll highlight a couple.

Have you been operating under the assumption that every partner and principal are on the same page? Having discussions on these topics is great, but there is something about putting those discussions into a written document that people must sign off on. You may find there is not as much agreement as you thought.

A plan also serves as a catalyst for change. It provides a platform, a line in the sand, from which you can measure success and track progress. That is the reason I suggest reviewing your plan monthly. And what about a back-up plan? If you can determine who you are, what you believe, and what you would like to achieve, a back-up plan should be unnecessary. In fact, a new study conducted through a joint effort by Wharton and the University of Wisconsin suggests that making a backup plan can hurt performance and reduce the motivation to reach the initial goal.

The question is this: Are you planning to fail? I see this over and over. If you are already looking for excuses or a way out, you may need to reevaluate what is in your plan to begin with. I am not suggesting that you never make a backup plan, just that you should hold off on doing so until you’ve first put as much effort as possible into making your original plan succeed.

Now, if you are not familiar with the strategic planning process, how do you get started? Conceptually, it consists of determining where your firm is today, why you exist or what’s important, identifying the actions you will take to reach your vision, determining who is accountable, and constantly reviewing. Simply Google strategic plans and you’ll see all kinds of platitudes, cliché’s, and buzzwords. That is not how we operate here at Zweig Group. After 30 years of working with only A/E firms, our strategic planning process has been refined to perfection. We deliver an actionable plan where everyone in the firm has a compelling role and can feel passionate about working toward the goal.

Our process involves four phases and additional services as needed. You’ll notice that it fits in with the conceptual framework I outlined above. The first phase is the research phase. We conduct management/leadership interviews, perform an anonymous firm-wide survey, a client perception study, operational and financial benchmarking, and a desk audit in order to really find out where the firm stands.

The second phase consists of analysis. This is compiling data to create an up-to-date picture of what the firm faces, shedding light on the firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, key challenges, specific recommendations, and priorities. To be strategic, the plan should focus as much as possible on the organizational level and key stakeholders, not on the individual level. Individuals will become important later on, when action items need to be implemented.

Phase three of the Zweig Group process consists of a two-day business planning retreat to solidify the vision and the strategic plan. You will leave that retreat with a road map for years to come, plus an operational plan for the coming year. The final phase is implementation, where the focus is on action and accountability to bring the plan to life.

That’s the high-level overview of what we do at Zweig Group. Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about how our process can help you succeed. And stay tuned to Part Two of this article, where I’ll give you an example of a firm seeing massive success after undergoing the Zweig Group process.

Phil Keil is a consultant with Zweig Group’s M&A services. Contact him at

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.