Successful companies do not hesitate to use a strategic planning consultant to help them identify the best opportunities for growth. They recognize that a consultant can bring a fresh and independent perspective, as well as tools and methodologies to support smart business decision making.
Fortune 500 companies have the resources and in-house expertise to put a Strategic Planning team together.
However, small companies are in a different position. They often lack the resources and expertise. In addition, management cannot afford to be solely focused on the planning effort and neglect the day-to-day operations.
Now, this does not mean that a small company should not do any strategic planning to set a course for the future. On the contrary, especially small companies need to be very thoughtful about where and how to deploy their limited resources to get the best ROI.
An experienced consultant provides expertise and can enhance the team, guiding the planning process to be more thorough, objective and rational.
A Strategic Planning Consultant Adds Value
Strategic Planning meetings run by an executive usually turn into staff meetings. The right questions are never asked, the status-quo does not get challenged and group-think goes unchecked. Sensitive issues are carefully avoided, past failures get swept under the carpet, and organizational weaknesses do not get addressed. Different strategic options are not thoroughly explored, preventing the organization from identifying new growth opportunities and reaching its potential.
An experienced consultant brings experience, knowledge and a fresh, objective perspective – independent from company culture, office politics, personal sensitivities, and groupthink. The consultant facilitates the planning process and serves as a sounding board for management.
It is not uncommon for management to feel uncomfortable about bringing in someone from the outside. As a result, the planning effort suffers. Or a consultant is brought in too late. Valuable time will have been lost, and there are fewer opportunities left to turn the business around.
The Role of the Strategic Planning Consultant
Companies that understand how to get the most benefit from working with consultants want them to be candid, conduct a critical evaluation, make recommendations and help plan for change. The last thing you want is a consultant who simply rubber stamps the status-quo.
It is the consultant’s job to work closely with management in obtaining and analyzing information and making smart business decisions. That requires developing a deep understanding of the company’s culture, leadership, market position, strengths and weaknesses, and opportunities.
Here are the key things you should expect from a Strategic Planning facilitator:
1. Providing a Process – The consultant should provide an effective process to analyze and understand the organization, its competitive position and a method for developing comprehensive solutions.
2. Asking Probing, Challenging Questions – To maintain the integrity of the process and prevent it from becoming a token effort, the consultant needs to ask tough questions. Answering these questions may sometimes be uncomfortable, even personal, but they shed light on the key reasons for the company’s lack of performance.
The consultant should not avoid stepping on toes. It is essential to the success of the Strategic Planning process that key issues are exposed and discussed in a mature, professional, objective and rational manner. There is no room for sacred cows or taboo topics. Anything and everything should be open for discussion.
3. Challenging the Status-Quo – The company’s performance cannot be improved if the status-quo is never challenged and management is not willing to discuss the changes needed, let alone implement them.
4. Conducting an Honest Assessment – Consultants should call it as they see it. They must openly discuss organizational, individual or group weaknesses with the executives. It is the consultant’s professional obligation to conduct a candid assessment and report the results.
Difficult issues must be discussed with management and the need for real change explained if the planning effort is to be successful and impact the company’s future. Leaving sensitive issues unaddressed weakens the organization, and prevents it from finding real solutions.
5. Keeping What Works – Of course, every business has certain strengths and things that work well. A consultant should recognize that and focus on preserving the successful elements of the business.
6. Identifying What Doesn’t Work – The consultant must deliver objective information about the company’s weaknesses and what’s not working. Addressing these weaknesses becomes an integral part of the strategic planning process.
Some weaknesses may need to get corrected, others simply limit the number of strategic options available to the company.
7. Doing Analysis and Being Involved – It is the consultant’s responsibility to develop a sound understanding of the client’s business as well as the company’s organization. This insight is important to properly evaluate the business and recommend ways for improvement.
In addition, the consultant enhances the planning team, working right alongside with management, carrying out market research, doing analysis, formulating and evaluating strategic options, creating financial projections, and so on.
8. Linking Strategy with Execution – The purpose of Strategic Planning is not to create a thick, impressive looking document that sits on the bookshelf, but to develop a detailed action plan for achieving growth that can b e executed.
Without the skillful implementation of the action plan the company is no better off than it was before the Strategic Planning effort. The consultant can be the watchdog, making sure that the execution stays on track.
Consider Hiring a Strategic Planning Consultant
A strategic planning facilitator brings a fresh, independent perspective, and expertise. In addition, the consultant can become an integral part of the planning team, taking care of assignments where the company lacks the resources. Next time your small company is thinking about developing a strategic plan, consider hiring a consultant.