Every business needs a strategic plan that sets the direction on how to beat the competition and achieve success. But, managers are not always familiar with or well versed in strategic planning. If you’re a business owner or CEO, you may ask yourself the question “Should I hire a consultant for strategic planning?”
A strategic planning consultant works with owners and CEOs to identify new opportunities for growth. The consultant advises on business strategy and helps create a detailed action plan.
Why Is Strategic Planning Important?
Strategic planning is about deciding the longer-term direction of the company for achieving success. You need to figure out what the company needs to do to beat the competition and achieve its growth goals.
Without a clear plan, a business is like a ship without an engine and without a rudder. Subject to the weather and the currents, with no control over where you’ll end up.
Good strategic planning is proactive and takes an external perspective. It starts by collecting marketing intelligence and conducting thorough analysis to support smart decision-making. Decisions about entering or exiting markets, developing new products, creating partnerships, and so on.
The key to a good plan is knowing what to focus on and what not to do.
Developing a strategic plan is not something only for Fortune 500 companies. Smaller companies have fewer resources to waste and need to be especially careful which opportunities to go after. These companies need to be very selective about how and where to deploy their resources to get the best ROI. They cannot afford to waste time and money chasing shiny objects.
What Is a Strategic Consultant?
Strategy consultants have specific expertise creating business strategies and developing a strategic action plans.
Working hands-on with business owners and CEOs they help companies develop breakthrough strategies that set a clear direction for how the business is going to achieve its growth goals.
Why You Should Hire a Consultant for Strategic Planning
Often, planning sessions led by an executive fail to produce breakthrough results. Old topics get rehashed, the status quo does not get challenged. The planning team avoids sensitive questions.
As a result, you’re likely to end up with little to no changes to the existing direction of the business. The new “strategy” is going to be pretty much the same as last year’s.
Or, worse yet, you don’t end up with no strategy at all. But instead, a number of short-term decisions that lack cohesion and that don’t impact the longer-term direction of the firm.
What Does A Strategic Consultant Do?
Depending on how familiar management is with strategic planning, strategy consultants serve strictly as advisors or be very actively involved in all aspects of the strategic planning process or something in between.
Using a formal process, strategy consultants pay great attention to producing a better outcome. A well-defined, competitive business strategy, and a detailed action plan. And, of course, clarity and consensus about where the business is going.
Here are some of the areas where strategy consultants can make a difference in the success of a company’s strategic planning:
Comprehensive business assessment
A strategy consulting engagement should start with a comprehensive assessment to find out about the current state of the business.
This assessment is important to get a good understanding of the company’s strengths and weaknesses, capabilities, what’s working and what’s not, key markets, major competitors, etc.
Often, surveys are carried out as part of the assessment to capture the Voice of the Customer. Customer feedback is invaluable to figure out which improvements are necessary.
As an added benefit, the business assessment usually provides quick insight into “low hanging fruit” opportunities to move the needle.
Facilitating the strategic planning sessions
An important aspect of business strategy consulting is facilitating the planning sessions. Skillful facilitation makes the meetings more effective and productive by:
- Coaching, advising, and guiding the planning team
- Providing a structured process
- Keeping everyone focused and engaged
- Addressing the key issues
- Avoiding pitfalls in the planning process
- Guiding discussions, brainstorming, and decision-making
- Maintaining the agenda and project documentation
- Without the distraction of running the meetings, managers can participate more fully
A strategy planning consultant provides proven methods and tools
An experienced strategic planning consultant will use a proven planning method and tools. This creates an effective process and ensures that nothing gets missed.
A robust process results in a more thought-out business strategy and a detailed strategic plan.
Encouraging open and frank discussions
As “outsiders”, strategy consultants offer a fresh, independent perspective. Not held back by corporate culture, office politics, or a “Not-Invented-Here” mindset, they are able to bring up challenging topics. Getting the planning team to acknowledge these topics and have them think outside the box is key to solving the challenges the firm is facing.
Experienced strategy consultants create an environment of trust and openness. This encourages critical issues to be discussed in-depth and without fear of repercussions.
A strategic planning consultant is a change agent
An experienced consultant is aware of the corporate culture and possesses a professional “bedside manner”. But, this does not mean they cannot bring up sensitive topics and ask probing questions. On the contrary, avoiding touchy subjects has a negative impact on the outcome and turns strategic planning into a rubber-stamp exercise.
After all, the company hired a consultant to help them improve the business. Leaving things the way they are is not the goal. Strategy consultants are change agents.
Sounding board for new ideas
Because of their experience and independent perspective, strategy consultants are in a great position to act as sounding boards for new ideas.
At the same time, through their probing and questioning, they will also trigger new ideas to further explore for their potential to improve the competitive position of the firm and grow the business.
Conducting market research and analysis
Decision-making that impacts the future of the business requires good information. The planning process must be data-driven and based on facts. Shooting from the hip, wishful thinking, guessing games, or winging it is not how you develop a smart growth strategy.
Working with the management team, the strategic consultant collects market intelligence, carries out market research, and conducts analysis, such as a feasibility analysis.
Creating sales forecasts, financial models, and conducting “what-if” analyses are other areas where a consultant supports the planning team.
Maintaining the documentation
It is important that the planning process gets documented properly. Good documentation is needed for progress reviews, to refresh everyone’s memory about key decisions, and for next year’s strategic planning effort.
The consultant makes sure that all documentation is correct, up-to-date, and easily accessible by all members of the planning team.
Developing the strategic action plan
The consultant plays an active role in formulating business goals, strategies, tasks, budgets, and timelines in the strategic action plan.
The comprehensive action plan is the company’s step-by-step playbook for success.
Supporting the implementation of the action plan
The entire planning effort will have been a waste of time if the company does not follow up on the strategic decisions. It’s the implementation that brings the strategy to life.
Unfortunately, many strategic initiatives fail due to a lack of committed execution. Avoid this situation, you don’t want the plan to sit on a shelf collecting dust.
To prevent this from happening, the consultant can stay engaged to support the implementation. Encouraging and advising management along the way.
Also, the consultant’s feedback on the outcome of the strategy helps to formulate course changes, if needed.
The Bottom Line
Clearly, hiring a strategic consultant to support your firm’s strategic planning effort has tangible advantages.
As an outsider “looking in”, they challenge the status quo, question assumptions, point out blind spots, and shake up groupthink.
An experienced strategy consultant coaches and advises management through each step of the planning process. The outcome is a well-thought-out business strategy and a comprehensive action plan.