Richard Mills, Chief Operating Officer of CBIZ MHM, LLC
Having participated in 30 – 40 strategic plans over the last 35 years, when Rick speaks, people listen. Here is a synopsis of recommended strategic plan best practices:
- Use of a facilitator
- Who should participate?
- Accountability / Timelines / Follow up
- How often do you need a strategic plan? How often should you update?
- Use of a facilitator
My experience is that the larger and more complex the organization, the more likely an outside facilitator would be beneficial. Some of the benefits of using a facilitator are:
- Understands the process; communicates the process and gets buy-in
- Manages the process solely and plans appropriately
- May have more credibility as a “outside facilitator”
- Knows how to motivate the group to prepare beforehand
- Knows what information is needed; able to discuss organization strengths and weaknesses
- Can challenge the status quo being an “outside facilitator”
- Not caught up in internal politics
- Can manage strong personalities, hopefully
- Engages the entire group where all voices are heard
- Understands the different phases of a strategic plan
- Gets consensus
- Able to synthesize a broad range of ideas in a concise message
- Knows what the final product should look like
- Knows how to hold people accountable and follows through
- Keeps the process moving
Smaller organizations may want to save money, but a facilitator may be more beneficial to smaller organizations than larger ones.
Finding the correct facilitator is critical. Interview them like you would key employees. Make sure you are comfortable with their communication skills, interpersonal skills and their experience. Finding someone who understands your industry is the key.
Example: For a service industry, we had a facilitator whose only experience was with manufacturing companies. It took him a while to understand we did not make stuff.
On the flip side, we had a facilitator who was helping a membership organization. He had performed 30 to 40 SP’s for membership organizations. He understood the industry extremely well and it made the process so much easier and less frustrating.
From personal experience I have worked with outside facilitators and have facilitated SP for my own organization. If possible I would recommend you use an outside facilitator whenever you are starting a new SP. However, if you are just updating a SP, an internal facilitator is just fine.
Also, some facilitators will work with you on their fees. They can have you take responsibilities for certain tasks which could save you some money.
- Who should participate in a Strategic Plan?
There probably is no right answer as to who should participate. Certainly, the number will be impacted by an organization’s size. Some of the key participants are:
- Senior management: The final decision makers are an essential part of this process. You need their vision and background with the organization as well as their buy-in and approval when finalizing your SP
- Key Stakeholders: Key managers, sales, finance, operations, etc.
- Strive for diversity within the management group
In the early meetings, I also will solicit input from different groups within the organization.
Example: Seeking information from Millennials will give you different information than from baby boomers.
Early in the process I try to get participation from a large group for the vision/mission/SWOT analysis.
As we go through the mission/vision process, the group gets smaller, as you move into goals/ objectives/strategies/tactic/action plans the groups get smaller. Once the plan is drafted, I will expose it to a gradually bigger group for input and feedback.
Example: When I think about participation I think in terms of an hour glass.
I am a big proponent of documenting a strategic plan in detail. I want to be able to share the Mission, Vision and Values with others. Equally important, I want to be able to document our goals, our objectives, action plans, who is responsible, timeline and how you measure.
I think documenting does several things:
- Makes it more meaningful if in writing
- Makes it easier to communicate
- Makes it easier to refer to
- Makes it easier to assign responsibility and follow up when it’s detailed
- Makes a good marketing tool – we share with recruits and at times include in proposals
- Leaders need the full document, or at least the portion relating to them, but maybe staff can get a summary
- We also used it in on boarding new staff
- A detailed SP takes something abstract and makes it more practical
Example: People can act on a specific strategy or tactic, but won’t know what to do with a “vision”.
- Accountability/Timelines/Follow Up:
If you want to make your SP truly meaningful and not a “check the box”, you need to build in accountability, which includes assigning responsibilities, setting timelines and following up. Some of the suggestions are:
- One person should be responsible for the overall SP. Could be the president, CEO or a high level management team member
- Assign a team to every goal, with a team leader responsible for the follow up
- Assign a specific person to every action step
- Establish a timeline for every action step
- Throughout the year, have each Goal report back on progress
- Semi-annual report on the overall progress and status of goals
- An annual report on progress
- If you use scorecards and/or goal setting, make sure there is a connection between the individual goals and the overall goals
- Make sure people are rewarded/penalized for reaching goals.
- Celebrate as an office if you meet your annual goals.
Example: We took our annual revenue and broke it down by partner. The total of individual goals exceeded our annual goal set out in our S.P.
Example: We also set staff turnover goals for individual dept heads that in total agreed to our SP goals.
- How often should you prepare/update a Strategic Plan
- I like my strategic plan to cover five years, but understand that it becomes difficult to project past three years
- I like to review and update annually, but don’t change overall goals, but may modify strategies, action plans and tactics
- Every three years may revise goals, especially the measurable parts (grow 5% vs. 6%), along with strategies, etc