Off the shelf

Sep 17, 2018

When creating your strategic plan, don’t forget that transformative ideas might be buried deep within your organization, so be inclusive with your staff.

I recently overheard a CEO of a large AEC firm say, “We just went through another strategic planning exercise that included our entire management team. My COO and I do not think it is the right direction, but we’ll print it anyway and then do what we think is best.” In other words, the obligatory strategic plan is completed and then put on the shelf until the next one replaces it. It is never used as it was intended. Instead, this tool is largely ignored and any benefits it could have given to the company are lost.

This sort of dismissal is not uncommon. However, the importance of a well-done strategic plan cannot be overstated. The right one can help the company set priorities and create a vision for the future. A cohesive plan offers a way to objectively measure progress and makes sure all facets of a company are aligned, working toward one goal. Whether you choose to use internal resources or outside facilitators, whether you include just your management team or expand to a larger group, whether you complete one every two years or every seven – these factors are up to the company to decide what is right for their situation. The most important thing is to create a document that provides direction for the future of the company. This simple act alone provides tremendous benefits that are so often missed.

Expanding the process. The strategic planning process itself, beyond the final product, can be a great source of alignment for all employees in the firm. When everyone has input in the process, through their respective departments or markets, the outcome delivers a better organizational vision for the future and improves employee motivation.

Input can be solicited in the form of department-level meetings or surveys and consolidated by market or service line. Now you have created an inclusive process that can be used by a smaller or more tightly defined strategic planning group to analyze data and prioritize initiatives. This process can reveal where separate departments are heading and identify trends and new ideas. This drill-down approach helps everyone understand what it will take to align the goals of the entire organization. If the only thing that comes out of a strategic planning process is organizational alignment, it’s a success.

Engaging employees. It may seem difficult or impossible to engage every employee, especially if you are working within a very large or geographically diverse organization. However, employee engagement is critical, regardless of firm size.

There are many ways to achieve employee engagement. For example, employee listening sessions and market research by employees allow voices to be heard. Decentralizing the process also helps groom the next generation of leaders, allowing them to research and determine corporate viability and growth strategies. Large, market dominating, AEC firms have been brought to their knees through a lack of employee input.

Your employees hold vast value for your organization, offering a direct link to clients and a wealth of new ideas. Let their voices be heard. Some of the best and most innovative ideas might be buried deep within your organization.

A formal rollout of the plan can also bolster buy-in. Publish it. Present it. Let your employees know how they fit into the plan. And, as time progresses, maintain consistent communication on the status of the plan. Engaged employees are energized employees. People do their best work when they are making a difference in the company’s success.

Looking beyond the dollars. The best strategic plans generate energy and excitement within the organization. This means looking at your company from a holistic perspective. Mead & Hunt’s strategic plan goes beyond financial metrics. We look at where we are going culturally as a company, what our ethics currently are and will be moving forward, and what values we want to espouse, now and in the future.

During this time of very tight talent availability, it’s even more important for employee retention. Employees want a firm that has a clear purpose and vision for the future. Younger generations want to know where their firm is headed and why. A well-crafted strategic plan grabs attention and gains respect.

A strategic plan provides Mead & Hunt with a company-wide vision for the future, and a chance to benefit from the collective ideas of the entire organization, rather than a handful of vice presidents or company leaders. It offers our employees the opportunity to be a part of something bigger, to contribute to the firm’s overall success. The company’s success rests on our employees’ success, just as theirs rests on ours. By listening to and engaging with our employees, we all win.

So, instead of viewing your strategic plan as an obligation that sits on the shelf for the next five years, take the time to listen to your employees. Engage them. Motivate them. You have nothing to lose.

Andy Platz, PE, recently became CEO at Mead & Hunt. He also serves as president. He can be reached 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.