Every business needs a strategic plan that sets the direction on how to beat the competition and achieve success. However, managers are not always well versed in strategic planning. If you’re a business owner or CEO, you may be asking yourself the question “Should I hire a consultant to help with our strategic planning?”
A strategic planning consultant works with owners and CEOs to identify new opportunities for growth, advises on business strategy, and creates a detailed action plan.
Why You Should Hire a Consultant
Often, planning sessions led by a company executive fail to produce breakthrough results. This is because old topics get rehashed, the status quo does not get challenged, and sensitive questions are avoided.
As a result, they’re likely to end up with basically the same “strategy” as the year before.
Or, worse yet, no strategy at all.
But instead, a number of short-term, tactical decisions that lack cohesion and that don’t really impact the longer-term direction of the firm.
By hiring a strategy consultant a company can prevent these issues and take strategic planning to a higher level.
What Is A Strategic Consultant?
A strategic consultant is an experienced business consultant who specializes in helping companies formulate longer-term, strategic growth plans.
Depending on how familiar the company is with the strategic planning process, consultants either serve strictly as advisors and coaches, or they can be very actively engaged in the process, or something in between.
The result of a strategic consulting engagement is a well-defined, competitive business strategy and a detailed action plan. And, just as important, clarity and consensus about the future of the business.
Here are some of the ways strategy consultants make a difference:
Comprehensive assessment of the business
First, every strategy consulting engagement should start with a comprehensive assessment of the state of the business.
This snapshot 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. Customer feedback is an invaluable component of the assessment.
Often, the business assessment uncovers “low hanging fruit” opportunities. Quick and relatively easy to implement actions that move the needle.
Facilitating the planning sessions
A key benefit of engaging a strategy consultant is the facilitation of the planning sessions. This makes the process 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 now participate more fully in the discussions.
Providing a proven planning methodology and tools
An experienced consultant brings a proven methodology and planning tools. This creates an effective process and ensures that all key issues are identified and properly addressed.
Clearly, a robust planning process improves the chances of a better, more thought-out business strategy and a detailed strategic plan.
Encouraging open and frank discussions
As an “outsider looking in”, a consultant offers a fresh, independent perspective. Not constrained by corporate culture, office politics, or a “Not-Invented-Here” mindset, they can bring up challenging topics. Getting the planning team to think outside the box is key to solving the challenges the firm is facing.
In addition, it is important to create an environment of trust and openness. This encourages in-depth discussion of critical issues, without fear of rejection or repercussions.
A consultant is a change agent
A good consultant is aware of their client’s corporate culture and demonstrates a professional “bedside manner”. However, this does not mean they cannot bring up sensitive topics and ask probing questions.
On the contrary, avoiding touchy subjects turns strategic planning into a rubber-stamp exercise.
Keep in mind, the business hired the consultant to help them develop a plan to achieve growth. Leaving things the way they are cannot possibly be the right solution. To be effective, consultants must be change agents.
Sounding board for new ideas
With their independent perspective, consultants 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
Clearly, decision-making about the future of the business requires good information. Planning must be data-driven and based on facts.
Shooting from the hip, wishful thinking, or winging it, that’s not how a smart growth strategy gets developed.
Working with the management team, a consultant collects market intelligence, carries out market research, and conducts analysis, such as a feasibility analysis.
In addition, creating sales forecasts, conducting financial analysis, and conducting “what-if” studies are other ways a consultant supports the planning effort.
Needless to say, accurate and detailed documentation is important to the planning process. Up-to-date documentation helps with reviews, refreshes everyone’s memory about key decisions, and serves as a starting point for the following year’s strategic planning effort.
The consultant can make sure that all documentation is correct, complete, and up-to-date.
Developing the action plan
The consultant coaches the planning team in formulating business goals, developing strategies, defining tasks, and setting budgets and timelines.
All decisions and action items are clearly documented in the action plan.
Management’s active involvement in the formulation of the action plan is important to make it firm’s playbook for success.
Supporting the action plan implementation
Needless to say, the entire planning effort is a waste of time without follow-up. It’s the implementation that brings the strategy to life.
Unfortunately, many strategic initiatives fail due to a lack of committed execution. The last thing you want is a good plan sitting on the shelf collecting dust.
To prevent this, the consultant can stay involved, supporting the implementation, 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 many advantages.
An experienced consultant coaches and advises management through every step of the planning process. The outcome is a well-thought-out business strategy and a comprehensive action plan.