Strategic planning for improved performance

Dec 01, 2008

NOW, not later, is the time to take a hard look at your strategic plan for improved performance. The new year is just around the corner. The environment is volatile. It’s hard to see what’s going to happen. Your people are getting uneasy. Your backlog is not as solid as you’d like. Any and all of these are good reasons to reexamine your direction. Here are my thoughts: The strategic plan should guide your firm. It is not a do-all document nor does it need to be perfect. It should, however, lay out why you are in business; what your business stands for; what markets you serve; what makes your offerings unique in those markets; what your basic goals are; and what your basic strategies (philosophies) are for marketing your services, organizing the work, hiring and keeping good people, and much, much more. As it relates to your markets— you better understand them. Who are the buyers and what are they buying today and in the future. What are your best markets? What markets won’t be good in the coming year? What markets should you be in but aren’t? If you cannot answer these questions (and many more!) you need to spend some time and energy to get the answers. I find that the majority of A/E and environmental firms do a fairly poor job at this stuff. Everything in your plan better be tied into your markets or you’re gonna have some problems. As it relates to your employees— you better understand them. What are they looking for from your firm? Are you giving that to them or something less? If something less, what can you do to change that situation? And, if you cannot change it, what are you doing to mitigate the ill effects that will undoubtedly occur on morale and turnover? Just because the job market isn’t what it used to be is no reason to stop caring about your people! They want to see something in your strategic plan that tells them you care— really care— about their well-being. Accept the fact that you need to go through some pain. This pain may take the form of cost-cutting, changing managers who clearly aren’t the right people for the job, or confronting senior owners on their take vs. contribution. Confrontation and pain are probably going to be necessary. Embrace it and see that this is necessary IF you want to come out of this with a healthier company. Get your best minds involved. Of course all your owners and managers and key people should have a chance to shape the strategic plan for your company. But don’t forget to let your outside directors, accountants, attorneys, and even selected clients weigh in on the plan periodically along the way. These are smart folks and you want to take advantage of their input.
  1. TMCAB. Didn’t understand that? I can’t blame you. A lot of your strategic plans read similarly. “AA” refers to “avoiding acronyms.” “TMCAB” means “too many clichés are bad.” Strategic plans that are full of acronyms and clichés are not understandable and, at worst, turn off readers.
Get some good outside help. I am not talking about the psychology professor brother-in-law of your weakest partner, nor the single person management consulting “firm” with a consultant who’s read every management book that ever came out but doesn’t have a clue about how to set strategy for a design or environmental firm such that it grows and is profitable. You need someone (preferably a team) to help with data collection, analysis, and synthesis of all the inputs you’ll be receiving who has experience in our industry. You need someone with some guts to tell you the truth. And, you need someone who has a lot of experience doing this stuff, period, and can point to specific successes. Once your plan is done, publicize it with some hoopla! Make a big deal out of it. Share it with everyone in the firm, your bankers, and even your clients. Don’t be afraid to do so— get on the mountaintop and sing loud and proud. Originally published 12/1/2008

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.