Roll with it!

Oct 17, 2016

Your firm might want to try rolling business plans with one-, three-, and 20-year projections. It’s a lot of work, but it beats starting over again and again.

It is generally good business to create a business plan. More importantly, business plans should never be too far from reach. Back in the day, Westwood put a lot of energy into creating three-year strategic and annual plans, only to set them on a shelf and revisit them when their timeframe expired. As a result, we were less accountable to our efforts and weren’t making the much needed adjustments to strategies along the way. The true value of the plan was never realized.

Rolling business plans aim to fix all of that. They require routine reexamination to tweak forecasts and tactics throughout the plan’s lifecycle. The rolling business planning process creates efficiencies by no longer having to recreate the wheel every year or so.

Our process starts by creating a 20-year vision plan which is then reviewed and refreshed every three years. From the vision plan, we create three-year strategic plans and update them annually. We also create one-year business plans which we update quarterly. Though it requires a lot of effort, this process greatly reduces the amount of work needed long term to create or adjust each plan. Plans stay fresh and dynamic versus static and stale. Rather than splurging on a big offsite strategic retreat every three years, rolling business planning is more frequently taking moments to stop and evaluate the current market conditions and make adjustments. And, though three-year strategic planning getaways can be great for strategizing and teaming, they likely won’t deliver the best return for the cost if it is the only time business planning happens – and the getaways include only the executive team.

Over the past few years, Westwood implemented the rolling business planning process and now relies on all of the long- and short-term plans to manage our business. Using a 20-year vision plan as a guide, each of our divisions, markets, offices, and corporate functions is required to create individual three- and one-year plans. Every quarter, for one and-a-half days, Westwood regroups and refreshes its one-year plans with actual results and strategies that we can compare to previous plans. This is an excellent tool that helps us gauge progress throughout the year. The best part is that every leader and key staff in all areas of our business gets involved in the business planning process, creating alignment, accountability, and focus on the same end goal. Participation is either live or through video-conferencing. By also reviewing our three-year strategic plan every year, we are able to flag items and adjust strategies in our one-year business plans, which guides quarterly activities and keeps our plans fresh.

Throughout this process, we can quickly tell if we are exceeding, meeting, or falling behind plan or if there are new opportunities to consider. This is a critical function for planning investments for the company. Stepping through our 20-year vision, three-year strategy, one- year business, and quarterly plans, it should be easy to see how each gets more and more defined. For example; if the 20-year vision identifies a new geographic area for office expansion, the three-year strategy would identify the best locations for an office. Likely, an acquisition would be part of our strategy, so the annual plan might specify the type of firm we are looking to acquire. The quarterly process might list a few firms we are looking at. This method allows leaders across the business to offer up ideas and input, which helps us make better business decisions.

Rolling business plans require a significant investment of time and preparation from the leadership and management team. The return is quickly recognized in the trust and alignment created across the company. Westwood shifted to a rolling business planning process because our plans were becoming obsolete faster than we could implement them. A few years back, we finished our three-year strategic plan expecting significant growth within our oil and gas business. Two months later, oil prices collapsed and that portion of our plan was instantly outdated. With this kind of unpredictability, we can be better prepared if we regularly re-examine strategies.

We all want our planning efforts to be fruitful – and the rolling business planning process can help with that by regularly monitoring our markets and alerting us to changes that keep us headed in the right direction rather than blindly down a path that no longer makes sense. With our 20-year vision in place, our business planning process becomes much like sailing. As we keep our sights on our destination, we simply need to adjust our sails and “tack” along the way when we get off course.

Being so far into the future, the 20-year plan can seem almost impossible to create; yet, it is important to have that ultimate goal. The 20-year plan articulates our vision for the future, which is based on our understanding of population and demographic projections, economic and industry trends, environmental issues, and technological advancements. Where is the growth going to occur? For example, if we determine that our 20-year plan is to be working internationally, we will set strategies in our three- and one-year plans that lead us in that direction.

All companies are different in their evolution. As a company that is complex and constantly evolving, rolling plans have greatly contributed to Westwood’s success. We’ve learned that by setting and revisiting our long-term vision and strategies, Westwood is achieving its goals faster than planned. Our rolling business planning process helps us with staffing and balancing resources across the company, in addition to making smart and timely investments. It also creates transparency and regularly generates momentum. Rolling business plans hold Westwood employees accountable at all levels; individually, or as leaders or members of a division, market, or office, and in all corporate service functions. As a result – and as a team – we get things done.

Westwood has a high-functioning team that depends on each other to invest and contribute to the end goal. I credit much of this to having great people on staff and giving a lot of attention to business planning. It isn’t all work, however. By the time we are done with a strategy-packed session, we are all ready to unwind and have a little fun – and our after-session quarterly social events provide just the opportunity to do that. Whether we grill steaks and sip local brews on our office patio or socialize over an appetizer buffet and cocktails at a nearby restaurant, these events are just as important as the business planning meetings. They provide a way for us to unwind, get to know each other better, and build individual relationships and trust, which is really important in helping us achieve our goals.

Rolling business plans can be a lot of work – and they require an investment and commitment to the process to reap the rewards. Every quarter, I’ve watched our planning process become more dynamic, informative, and strategic. I’ve seen our business processes, operations, and culture improve, and notice people getting really excited about their work. Strong direction, clear vision, and strategic alignment are the direct result of a good business plan – and the true value of a good business plan is realized when it’s far from the shelf. The rolling business planning process can help with that.

Paul Greenhagen is president and CEO of Westwood Professional Services. Contact him at

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