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Friday, January 02, 2009

Keeping things fresh: The strategic plan

This image is from our strategic planning meeting in October. During the Christmas Break, I received a challenging request to change a proposal that would impact on key business decision-making options. The answer: Bring the alternatives -- and decision -- to the company's staff at our regular weekly meeting.

Reader's question:
Happy New Year! Just a question for the blog, I would love your thoughts:

How do you keep your annual strategic planning and quarterly goal setting sessions from getting stale. After three years of strategic planning and goal setting the fresh ideas are fading. How do you get back the rejuvenation and excitement that these activities have brought in the past?

Tim Klabunde,
Director of Marketing
William H. Gordon Associates
Chantilly, VA
Since we've only been holding our strategic meetings for the past 2.5 years, (in fact using the weekly co-ordinating system for that time), I decided to defer the question to consultant Bill Caswell, who advised us on the meeting system. Here is his response.
Why would they get stale? Do your weekly meetings get stale? As long as there is new information to exchange, new employees to indoctrinate, new goals to pursue, new problems to resolve, new challenges to deal with, how can it get stale? Perhaps a ’stale’ planning meeting is one that was not being executed properly. Perhaps not all staff members feel enfranchised enough to participate! I can only speculate because after 20 years of doing this, I’ve never run into that problem (and this includes conducting our own internal planning meetings).
Bill's response brings to the surface the best possible solution for another challenge that emerged during the Christmas break. One of our contractors, a former employee, had proposed working with us on terms within our business structure and risk model -- and, after consulting with everyone in the organization, we decided to accept the proposal. We started work on the initiative, and early signs are the project will work; the question is sustainability.

During the holiday break, the contractor advised me that his compensation is not sufficient, and proposed two alternatives which (using our baseline ratios) could be interpreted in different ways, some of which exceed the operating ratios which we rely on in making our go no-go decisions. A decision to go over these limits has implications throughout the company; both for the deployment of capital, and in respect of fairness and equity with others. (Giving him what he asks, unilaterally, might invite expectations of similar entitlement levels from others.)

The solution: Bring the discussion, with all of its implications, to everyone in the company, and allow the group to decide.

I have authority and responsibility as this business's owner, but I regard my shares as being in trust for everyone working with the company (ultimately, the shares will be owned by this business's employees) and must be thoughtful of the implications and consequences of major business decisions. The project we are discussing only arose after the October planning meeting, but the direction things are heading needs to be reviewed in the context of our shared business values and responsibility for key decisions.

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