If you’re a business owner or CEO, you may be asking the question “Should I hire a consultant for strategic planning?”
Every company should have a strategic plan that defines how it’s going to achieve success. Without it, a business is like a ship without an engine and without a rudder. Subject to the weather and the currents, no control over where you’ll end up.
A strategic planning consultant partners with owners and CEOs on identifying the best growth opportunities. They help formulate the business strategy and create a detailed action plan to make it happen. Without implementation, the action plan is just a piece of paper. A consultant committed to success will support the management team in the execution of the strategic plan.
Why Is Strategic Planning Important?
Strategic planning involves setting the longer-term direction of the company. It deals with making smart decisions about what the company is going to beat the competition and achieve its growth goals.
Strategy is about focusing on the right markets, selling the right products. Which markets to enter, which ones to exit. It’s about defining a clear positioning and value proposition to stand out in the marketplace.
Also, strategic planning needs to explore the benefits of partnerships, M&A, and joint ventures. Strategy touches on all aspects of the organization and what the marketplace will look like in the future. This is important to strengthen the competitive position of the company.
Don’t think that developing a strategic plan is not just for Fortune 500 companies. Smaller companies have fewer resources. Therefore, these companies need to be very careful about how and where to deploy their limited resources to get the best ROI. They just cannot afford to waste time and money on initiatives that don’t pan out.
So, yes, it’s important to conduct strategic planning if you want to take the initiative and to define how the business is going to achieve growth.
Why Should You Hire a Consultant for Strategic Planning?
Often, planning sessions led by an executive don’t produce breakthrough results.
Old topics get rehashed, the status quo does not get challenged. Sensitive questions are avoided.
The result is little to no changes to the existing direction of the business. More than likely, you end up with basically the same “strategy” as before. Or, no strategy at all.
Another problem is that the resulting “strategy” is not a strategy at all. But a number of short-term, operational decisions that don’t actually define the longer-term direction of the firm.
Using a formal process, an experienced consultant produces a better outcome. A well-defined, competitive business strategy, and a detailed action plan. And, above all, clarity and insight within the organization about where the business is going.
Here are some of the areas where a consultant contributes to making strategic planning more effective.
Comprehensive assessment of your business
First, an objective and comprehensive assessment needs to be conducted to find out about the state of the business and its competitive position.
This assessment is important to identify the company’s strengths and weaknesses, capabilities, what’s working and what’s not, key markets, major competitors, etc.
Often, a detailed survey is carried out as part of the assessment to capture the Voice of the Customer. Good customer feedback is invaluable in figuring out what needs to be improved.
Insights from the assessment usually trigger the first ideas about what needs to change to grow the business.
Facilitation of the planning sessions
First of all, a consultant makes the sessions more effective and productive by:
- Coaching, advising, and guiding the team on making smart decisions about the future of the business.
- Keeping everyone focused and actively involved.
- Making sure the key issues are brought up and that no shortcuts are taken.
- Keeping track of all discussions, brainstorming sessions, and decisions.
- Maintaining documentation.
Without the distraction of running the meetings, managers can now more actively participate in the discussions.
The consultant provides planning methods and tools
Another advantage of working with a consultant is being able to use proven planning methods and tools. As a result, the structured approach to gathering market intelligence, identifying and evaluating options, and decision-making produces a more robust business strategy and a detailed strategic plan.
Open and frank discussions about the business
As an “outsider”, the consultant offers a fresh, independent perspective. Not influenced by corporate culture, office politics, groupthink, or a “not-invented-here” mindset.
Consequently, a good consultant creates an environment of trust and openness in which important issues can be discussed freely, honestly, and without fear of repercussions.
Expertise and unbiased advice on business strategy and planning
Working with a consultant, the team will learn more about the planning process, methods, and tools. This knowledge-transfer aspect has benefits far beyond the initial planning project.
On subsequent strategic planning efforts, the planning team will already be familiar with how to conduct strategic planning. Less distracted by the technicalities of the planning process, managers can focus more on the issues and making smart decisions. The sessions become more productive.
A strategic planning consultant is a change agent
Of course, being aware of the corporate culture and showing a professional “bedside manner” are important traits for a consultant. Yet, they should never avoid bringing up sensitive topics and asking probing questions.
The essence of strategic planning is about setting a new direction and creating a competitive advantage. Avoiding touchy subjects turns developing a business strategy into a futile exercise.
Keep in mind, the company brought in the consultant to help them with creating a plan to improve the business. Rubber stamping the present situation and leaving things the way they are won’t help. A good consultant is a change agent.
Market research and detailed analysis
Obviously, strategic decision-making requires good information. The planning process must be data-driven and based on facts. This is not the time for shooting from the hip, wishful thinking, guessing-games, or winging it.
To be successful, the planning team needs to have ownership of the research and analysis and be actively engaged in gathering information and evaluating options.
Using their experience and knowledge, a consultant actively supports collecting market intelligence, carrying out market research, and conducting analysis.
In addition, the consultant works with the team on creating sales forecasts, financial models, and conducting “what-if” analyses.
Detailed strategic action plan
Clearly, every step in the planning process needs to be documented properly. Good documentation is important for reviews and to refresh your memory about key decisions.
All project documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc., should be easily accessible to the planning team for reviews and making updates.
The consultant makes sure that all documentation is correct, up-to-date, and properly maintained.
Putting everything together, a consultant works with the management team on clearly formulating and documenting business goals, strategies, tasks, budgets, and timelines. The strategic action plan captures all of this information. Successful implementation is more likely with a detailed and comprehensive action plan.
It is very important that management takes ownership of developing the action plan. It should be their plan for the business, not the consultant’s. The consultant serves as a coach and advisor. They cannot step into a management role.
Implementation of the action plan
Clearly, the entire planning effort is futile if the strategic decisions don’t get implemented. It’s the implementation that brings the strategy to life.
Unfortunately, many strategic initiatives fail due to a lack of committed execution. You don’t want the plan to sit on a shelf collecting dust.
Ideally, the consultant stays on board for the implementation, encouraging and advising management every step of the way.
Also, the consultant’s observations on the effects of the strategy provide input for formulating adjustments.
The Bottom Line
Hiring a consultant to support your firm’s strategic planning has clear advantages. As an outsider “looking in”, they challenge the status quo, question assumptions, point out blind spots, and shake up group-think.
An experienced strategic planning consultant coaches and advises management through each step of the planning process to produce a smart, well-thought-out strategy to beat the competition and a comprehensive action plan.
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