Strategic planning is an essential process that organizations undertake to define their long-term goals, allocate resources effectively, and adapt to changing environments. As businesses and institutions navigate increasingly complex markets, most companies do not have the requisite skill sets to fully develop and implement a strategic plan. This article provides a comprehensive guide to strategic planning, the role of strategic planning and management consultants and details their significance, responsibilities, skills required, and the strategic planning and execution process they follow.
Why You Need to Hire a Strategic Planning Service
The business environment is becoming increasingly complex for companies of every size. The role of strategic planning and management consultants has become invaluable because the right strategic planning firm will have consultants who are skilled at working with a leadership team in the design and development of a strategic plan and will have additional resources to help with implementation across all functional areas. Strategic planning firms should be considered your bench strength. They provide subject matter expertise that a company is lacking in its own organization and can provide a rich library of best practices and knowledge of how other companies in your or adjacent industries do strategic planning.
Strategic Planning Basics
Strategic planning needs to follow a process. It is done step by step and as the process continues, many of the steps are done concurrently. There are 3 levels of strategic planning in a typical process.
Level 1 – Strategy and Analysis is primarily the domain of the board of directors and the senior leadership team. The language for this level consists of a lot of complex analysis and dialogue. It consists of tools like 5 Forces Analysis, market research, value proposition, PEST analysis (which looks at political, economic, social, and technological factors), and many others that are not needed in other parts of the organization. These tools provide leadership with a powerful base of information about the needs of their stakeholders, markets, customers, and the current state of the business. Once strategies have been created, it is necessary to understand operating gaps (those things it currently does not do well) and strategic gaps (those things it needs to do in the future to successfully implement defined strategies) and create strategies and tactics to address those gaps. The company will also need to set objectives in this stage driven by the company’s Most Important Goal and supporting strategies. This will require a series of metrics that will tell the company how it is doing relative to the implementation of its plan. These metrics will typically include financial and project related timelines for that purpose.
Level 2 – Knowledge and Change Management, is the bridge between strategy and results. It is about the full engagement of all stakeholders, alignment, agreement, skills, and team optimization. It is primarily the domain of middle level leaders because it requires:
- Proper consideration of people and teams.
- A full understanding of the skills and capabilities required to close operating gaps and strategic gaps.
- The skills needed operate the future state.
The language for Level 2 consists of skills maps, team optimization, performance management, cascading objectives, and other tools and techniques. Middle level leaders will need to plan the organizational strategies and tactics required to have people who can implement change and operate the future state. Most organizations fail at implementing strategy because they spend too little time thinking through this stage, have not been professionally trained in the use of strategic thinking or tactics, and they do not engage all stakeholders properly.
Level 3 – Implementation is what moves the strategic needle forward. If Levels 1 and 2 are done properly, then the operating teams have the right human resources, skills, technology, and financial support for implementing strategies and measuring material results. Level 3 is primarily the domain of project teams, individual contributors, vendors, and process owners which are referenced as others in the chart below. It is about technology, process reengineering, analytics, measurement, and continuous improvement. This is where new products, services, systems, business processes, and supply chains are transformed into the future state. The language of Level 3 consists of the application of technology, business process re-engineering, and the tools from the Six Sigma toolkit.
Alignment and buy-in are critical to the successful implementation of strategy. The development of a company’s strategic plan and the layers of the organization with primary responsibility for developing each level is illustrated below.
You cannot start at the top or in the middle. Without a strong and well-developed Stage 1, you run the risk of Anti-Strategy and if stage 2 is not fully developed, then ineffective change management and poor leadership will guarantee that fully realized results will not be achieved. Notice that for each level there is a primary group of people who are responsible for developing the plans and subsequent implementation.
- Other Stakeholders
Leadership and employee engagement across all three levels is critical to the effective development and implementation of strategy. Each management layer plays a key role in creating the company’s strategy. The C-Suite owns strategy while Mid-Level leaders own organizational-related activities and other stakeholders own implementation. Each stage has its own language and requires a distinct set of tools which have their own unique sophistication and required skill sets. Each stage requires different training and objectives that are tied to strategic objectives. Each level of the organization is accountable to different things.
The Role of a Strategy Planning Consultant
Strategic planning consultants play a pivotal role in guiding organizations towards success by offering expertise in developing, executing, and monitoring strategic plans. Their external perspective and specialized knowledge provide fresh insights that internal teams may overlook, and the consultant will be supported by subject matter experts in market research, analytics, organizational development operations and technology. Consultants bring objectivity, experience from diverse industries, and an understanding of best practices to the table. Strategic planning firms will have developed a planning model and strategic planning playbook that they use to create a complete strategic plan. This holistic view enhances decision-making and fosters a comprehensive approach to addressing challenges in the market and in implementation.
Responsibilities of Strategic Planning Consultants
Strategic planning consultants will work with a company’s leadership team to ensure that a strategic plan clearly articulates the direction of the company and its Most Important Goal. A strategic planning expert will have the tools and additional resources required to provide information and facilitate the process in the following areas:
- Assessment and Analysis: Consultants begin by assessing the organization’s current state, market trends, and competitive landscape. This involves gathering data, conducting market research, and evaluating the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT analysis).
- Goal Definition: Once armed with insights, consultants help organizations articulate clear and achievable goals. These goals and objectives support the company’s Most Important Goal and align with the organization’s mission, vision, values, and leadership traits taking into account stakeholders’ interests.
- Strategy Development: Consultants work closely with key stakeholders to devise effective strategies to achieve the defined goals. This involves formulating action plans, determining resource allocation, and setting milestones.
- Implementation Planning: Consultants assist in translating strategies into actionable steps, outlining responsibilities, timelines, and performance indicators. This ensures a smooth transition from planning to execution.
- Change Management: Introducing strategic changes often requires shifts in organizational culture and processes. Consultants aid in managing these changes by fostering buy-in, addressing resistance, and facilitating communication.
- Implementation: A strategic planning firm will have resources available to help with the implementation of a strategic plan across all functional areas with the ability to provide training and guidance on the use of implementation tools and process reengineering.
- Performance Monitoring and Evaluation: Consultants establish mechanisms to track progress and measure the success of strategic initiatives. They identify deviations from the plan and recommend corrective actions as needed.
- Adaptation and Continuous Improvement: In dynamic environments, strategic plans may need adjustments. Consultants facilitate a continuous improvement cycle, helping organizations adapt to new challenges and opportunities.
How to Select the Best Strategic Planning Consultant for You
Each company and the industry it serves has unique needs. While there are many requirements to consider when selecting a strategic planning consulting company, there are some essential skills for Strategic Planning Consultants:
- Successful strategic planning consultants possess a diverse skill set that enables them to tackle complex challenges and drive meaningful change within organizations.
- Analytical Skills: Consultants must be adept at analyzing data, market trends, and organizational dynamics to identify patterns and make informed recommendations.
- Communication and Facilitation: Effective communication is crucial for consultants to articulate ideas, facilitate workshops, and foster collaboration among diverse stakeholders.
- Problem-Solving: Consultants are often engaged to solve intricate problems. They need to approach challenges creatively, employing innovative solutions to meet strategic goals.
- Industry Knowledge: A deep understanding of the industry in which the organization operates allows consultants to provide relevant insights, best practices, and tailored strategies.
- Project Management: Given the project-based nature of strategic planning, consultants need strong project management skills to ensure timely and efficient execution.
- Change Management Expertise: Consultants guide organizations through change. Proficiency in change management principles helps them mitigate resistance and ensure smooth transitions.
- Leadership and Influence: Consultants often work with diverse teams, requiring strong leadership skills to guide and the ability to inspire stakeholders towards a common vision.
- Strategic planning workshops: No two companies have the same needs and skill sets. The right consulting firm will have a series of assessments and workshops available to be able to teach the skills necessary to carry on without them.
- Adaptability: The business landscape is ever evolving. Consultants must remain adaptable to new technologies, trends, and methodologies.
The best strategic planning consulting services firm will have a well-defined strategic planning and execution process that is understandable and be able to provide consulting resources with industry knowledge and operational experience.
How Much do Strategic Planning Consultants Cost?
Strategic planning consultant fees can vary greatly and are dependent on the size of the company and the number of resources the company will use for the development and implementation of its strategic plan. The cost of developing the strategic plan will include the cost of the consultant(s) and there may be additional costs associated with market research, assessments, training workshops, travel and living expenses and others. In most cases, the strategic planning consulting firm will not quote implementation costs until after the strategic plan is completed and both parties know the requirements for implementation.
Working Effectively with Your Consultant
Once a strategic planning consulting company has been chosen, it is important that the company creates a strategic planning team that includes a sponsor/leader and a cross functional team from multiple levels of the organization. Some strategic planning consultant models will have supporting teams that are focused in three areas:
- Market Facing: All strategies and tactics associated with the customer.
- Technology: The strategies and tactics required for the technology backbone to properly support the desired future state.
- Value Added: A team that is responsible for the products and services required by the customer base.
The team(s) will work with the strategic planning expert that has been assigned to the project to put together a project plan that outlines the detailed steps, deliverables and timelines associated with the project. Today, strategic planning is done both virtually and in person.
The strategic planning project plan will include assessments, research, analysis, and a series of meetings with the strategic planning team(s). Each meeting will have a specific agenda and strategic planning work elements that the team will be required to complete prior to the next meeting. In between meetings, it is not uncommon to have training workshops with the team based on their needs. The consultant will schedule routine check-ins with the various teams to assure that the schedule is adhered to and roadblocks to completion are addressed.
When a leadership team makes the investment to hire a strategic planning firm, it is important that they fully embrace the process and commit to the work that needs to be done to create a strategic plan for the company. Other members of the organization will know about the work and will have expectations about the result.
What to Expect Once the Strategic Plan is Completed
Many companies make the effort to create a strategic plan and then little happens. The strategic plan should include the following items:
- The plan itself consisting of detailed strategies and tactics for:
- The overarching company level.
- The markets it serves.
- The technology it needs.
- Operational needs to effectively build products and deliver services.
- Supporting market and customer research
- Detailed implementation timelines and objectives
- Project charters for projects that are critical to successful strategic planning execution.
- A rollout and change management plan.
- A clearly defined set of organizational activities that will provide the right structure and skill sets required to operate in the future.
- A calendar for routine review of the plan’s implementation
Strategic planning consultants are instrumental in guiding organizations through the complexities of modern business landscapes. Their expertise in assessment, goal setting, strategy development, and execution ensures that organizations remain agile, competitive, and aligned with their long-term objectives. By possessing a diverse skill set and following a structured process, these consultants help shape the future of organizations, enabling them to thrive in ever-changing environments. As businesses continue to navigate challenges and seize opportunities, the partnership with strategic planning consultants remains a crucial asset in achieving sustained success.
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