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CASE STUDY:

Good Strategic Planning Helps a Firm Thrive

A multi-office planning firm engaged us to help formulate a strategic plan. This planning was not the first such effort by the firm. While past efforts had varying degrees of success, the principals felt that generic strategic plans lacked adequate understanding of the fundamental nature of firms in the design disciplines. We collected information about the firm that helped us understand the firm, the specific issues and opportunities facing the firm, the professional aspirations of the firm's principals and other key players, and the successes and shortcomings of previous strategic planning efforts.

We then engaged in two strategic planning efforts that helped the principals define vision and goals, identify opportunities leveraging current strengths, limitations that needed to be addressed, and various aspects of the culture and leadership, most notably having to do with the appetite for risk. Growth proved to be an overarching goal, but the risk adversity of many within the governance group increased the degree of challenge in identifying and agreeing on the strategy to achieve it.

With our help, the Strategic Planning Group identified and discussed various strategies — incremental growth based on broadening the services provided to existing clients, key hires with market presence in new geographies, market-oriented international relationships, mergers, and acquisitions.

The firm's strong recent profitability allowed it to consider opportunities that would otherwise have been out of reach, and their strategic planning effort concluded with the firm targeting incremental growth in its domestic arenas and faster growth in targeted international geographies. The firm moved quickly in both aspects, both with our help. It developed and implemented a more focused marketing program to expand its services within its existing domestic client base. It recruited a planner with strong marketing skills and a strong geographic presence in the Middle East and Asia, and it reinforced its overseas strengths further by relocating some talent already in the firm who wanted to be part of the new office.

Still warranting attention will be how the firm's leaders and senior managers will support, monitor, and manage the expanded operations. Those with such responsibilities moved quickly to delegate some of their existing responsibilities to give them the necessary time and learning opportunity to take on their expanded commitments.

Some observations:

  • The adage that if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there is true. Our experience tells us more: It tells us that a strong vision that inspires people is more effective than an unclear or uninspiring vision with a strong management plan. Too often, we observe dissatisfaction with planning efforts — before our involvement — because they focus more on managing the effort than on articulating an inspiring vision.
  • Understanding risk and how to mitigate the risk associated with strategic opportunities are critical to a plan than might noticeably and positively alter a firm's course.
  • Profitability enhances the ability to consider new goals and strategies. Without strong profitability, strategic planning options are severely limited.
  • Unmonitored, unmanaged strategic planning initiatives might succeed, but the likelihood for success increases with the appropriate combination of leadership, guidance, monitoring, and management of new activities. Finding the balance among those attributes can challenge even leaders with relevant experience.