Case Study: Strategic Planning

Case Study: Strategic Planning

The CEO of a retail company with over 200 employees approached North Star Facilitators to undertake a strategic planning workshop in which he wanted to include the five members of the senior management team.

Our first question to him was “Why a strategic plan now?” He gave us several reasons.

  • The company had undergone a substantial increase in sales.
  • They had recently hired several new senior managers.
  • The company had acquired an existing business and the two business cultures were quite different from each other.
  • They had plans to grow substantially in the next five years.

Due to all these factors, the CEO thought a strategic plan would help them get focused on goals and “get everyone on the same page”. He also mentioned in passing that the company, despite being in business for many decades, had never done a strategic plan. They had business plans and financial plans but not a strategic plan.

Why a Strategic Plan?

Most executives are familiar with business planning. A business plan is typically written each year and includes things such as a marketing plan, cash flow projections, a mission statement, and target markets you are pursuing. They are all about getting the business going and keeping it going. Often they are required by loaning agencies to get seed capital.

Strategic plans are higher level plans which are done every three to five years. They include future visioning, identifying key external and internal challenges, setting priority directions for the next two to three years and developing one year implementation plans. Strategic plans accommodate or initiate big changes in your organization. They are also very useful for start-up situations in that they help focus the founding members on a shared picture of the future and how they agree they will get there. They compliment business plans but neither is a substitute for the other.

This company was a good candidate for strategic planning because of their recent substantial changes, the new team members and the desire to initiate radical new growth. We asked if other staff members might fruitfully contribute to the sessions. Together, we determined that staff members responsible for IT should also join the sessions, as technology development was a critical element to their future growth. We arranged initially for a day and a half to do the foundational pieces of strategic planning (i.e., vision, blocks to vision and strategic directions). The group decided after these sessions that they would benefit from having North Star also assist them with implementation planning in another half-day session to develop detailed one year accomplishments and action plans for each strategic direction.

The Strategic Planning Sessions:

We began with a review of the company’s past in relationship to their industry. We then had them think about where they wanted to be in the next five years i.e. “the future.” Once the group had agreed on five to seven key future outcomes, they had a thoughtful and honest conversation about what was going to get in their way in achieving any part of this vision.

The next step was to define actions that would help them move towards every aspect of their vision while simultaneously dealing with their obstacles. Once the group had defined these actions, they were able to organize them into 2 to 4 broad strategic directions that would show every leader in the company where they needed to put their energy and focus. Participants were then able to analyze the company’s ability to move forward on any of these strategic directions defining success indicators and one year accomplishments for each major strategic direction.

Because they had identified their desired outcomes, the actions needed to achieve them and potential obstacles, they were able to quickly create action plans that laid out the who, what, when, and how much of every major project they were going to take on. Getting all this down on paper was really exciting and motivating to the group and they looked forward to their next meeting to evaluate their progress.

Maintaining the Strategic Plan:

A good strategic plan is a powerful motivator for change and regular progress updates are crucial to maintain that momentum. The next steps then are to regularly check in on progress and changing circumstances with the support of an outside neutral facilitator. This ensured that group members did not become complacent, it made them accountable to each other, and enabled them to quickly change directions when external circumstances changed.

In addition, North Star was hired to help the sales teams understand, affirm and add their own thinking to the corporate plan. The sales teams created strategic plans for each of their outlet stores that complement the overall corporate plan and ensure everyone has ownership and motivation for building the company from “good to great”1 .

Typically, North Star continues to help organizations stay on track by coming back for a half day every six months or year to review progress and help them untangle any snags in the process as they move along.

1 Refers to Jim Collins’ business best seller book “From Good to Great.”