The Importance of Strategic Planning

Gary Cohen
Gary Cohen

Successful business owners, executives and managers realize the importance of strategic planning. They know that an organization’s process of defining its direction, and making decisions on allocating time, talent, effort and finances to follow this approach is key to its ongoing growth. But what they may not have considered is how an outsider can guide the process and elicit increased ideas and cooperation.

Recently, a company’s CEO who had heard me speak at a seminar on the topic of strategic planning contacted me as his company was starting its annual strategic planning process. They also wanted to formulate a strong five-year financial plan and cash flow forecast. The leadership team had worked together with a large company, a startup company that they grew and sold, and with their present company. The team was knowledgeable, experienced and very practiced with strategic planning. But the CEO felt they were almost on auto-pilot. He wanted to upset the applecart and asked me to guide their strategic planning process.

First, I met with the owners, executives and key managers and performed an operational and financial assessment. Then we developed a three-month strategic planning timetable. Over the next three months, for each line of business, we gathered historic financial information and key metrics; identified the team leader, employees contributing to success and those who were blocking success and discussed and analyzed the four-fold revenue stability and growth plan. We performed a SWOT analysis which included areas of personnel, finances, technology, competition, perception by the public or our specific audience, innovation and effectiveness, position in the industry and marketing/sales congruence.

Most of the effort was done by the company team. Once per week I met with the CEO and appropriate team members for half-day session, providing oversight to the process while the company team found answers. I helped them to stay on target and often asked questions that they didn’t think of or hadn’t voiced. Emergent ideas were not stifled as this leads to the detriment of thinking about new possibilities and different ways to grow sales and profits. If there were ten new ideas and the group decided after careful discussion that three were to be implemented, we moved way ahead of other companies where ideas are shot down and then no one offers their views. Thoughts and suggestions were drawn out of many employees that may not have been elicited in the past. There was a weaving together of various ideas into a consensus and commitment.

It was amazing after the three-month strategic process ended. We had developed a great strategic plan and, based on our revenue and profit growth assumptions, a five-year cash forecast month by month. We also had combined certain lines of business to more effectively and efficiently manage them. We had discontinued or minimized effort on some lines of business. Finally, we identified the best growth opportunities and channeled increased effort toward those lines of business.

If I hadn’t been asked to help guide the strategic planning process, the company would have developed an effective strategic plan. But, by bringing on board an outside presence to guide their process, we arrived at a strategic plan that will help the company to grow its revenue and profits more effectively and efficiently while fostering team involvement and rewarding all on the team for their efforts. And – isn’t that what we all want?

Nperspective has assisted many clients in improving their business results through implementing or helping with their strategic planning process. Gary Cohen has served in corporate financial management roles for over thirty years and for three multi-location companies with up to five dozen locations with a focus on strategic planning, improving operational efficiencies and maximizing financial outcomes.

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