A different view of strategic planning

A business owner from Maryland called me the other day to talk about the various economic indicators all of us are trying to deal with in this redux, Weimar-like economy. Humbly successful, blessed with superlative management staff and inquisitive by nature, the business owner waxed prescient trying to chart an adaptive course for the second half of this calendar year.

At that moment, I informed him that my frame of reference is to “suggest” that owners move away from the annual obligatory strategic planning session conducted in January and reposition their chronological calculus into six-month timeframes, establishing semi-annual planning sessions in January and July.

I believe business owners should compile their Cycle 1 successes and failures, discuss them openly (e.g., strategically, tactically, financially) with their management team, and propose a brand-new course of action for Cycle 2.

To be clear, the July meeting is not building upon the January meeting; it is replacing it. This renewed conversation among the company’s management team invites critical thinking to return as an evaluation mechanism spanning only the past six months.

This session also serves as an entrepreneurial catalyst capable of reigniting excitement, insight and renewed hope for a timeframe close enough to be imagined, achieved and validated. The destination, the path and the team are new again.

By redefining the planning process from once to twice a year, the organization implicitly encourages more crisp, accelerated communication to its employees, revived commitment to its customers based on recalibrated goals and a fresh perspective to an energetic company culture.

Current data, a new plan and organizational rebirth foster enthusiasm to attack the second half of the year, compared to the defeatist mindset of simply “playing out the string” for the next six months. Some base that action solely on the assumption that “existing” information from January is still valid.

Schedule the Cycle 2 Strategic Planning meeting for the second week in July. Use available year-to-year data, tracking monthly-trends, extrapolating that path through Dec. 31. Determine goals, allocate resources, align expectations and celebrate a new beginning visualizing second-chance success, instead of posturing with the pretense of being a leader, visionary and capitalist by holding fast to an outdated mindset.

By way of extension, I ardently suggest these sessions also adopt a sense of contingency. By that, I mean develop a secondary plan driven by dire economic conditions. Such contingencies are not rooted in pessimism; they are premised on preparation. Having the management team consider the other side of the coin forces them to reconceptualize how they view customer service, employee retention, cost containment and organizational culture.

Second, as a derivative of the semi-annual strategic planning schedule, it is strongly recommended that landscape companies adopt quarterly budget reviews rather than annual or 6-month budgets. The numbers are simply changing too rapidly to presume sustained confidence, accuracy or clairvoyance.

The third aspect of this new planning model identifies robust monthly cost containment plans through the end of this fiscal year. A sense of urgency, underscored by meaningful impact, characterize this deliberative approach. Considerations like converting variable interest rate loans to a fixed rate, reducing the company’s debt to equity ratio, debating outsourced services, revisiting decisions to either lease or buy equipment and vehicles, evaluating the status of worn tools, outdated office equipment and desired facilities management projects, and yes, even employee layoffs should be openly discussed.

Times are changing; thoughts must change as well. If revenues slide and costs become more disproportionate, the nature of “real” cost cutting likely to populate the management team’s beliefs must become more meaningful, practical and immediate. “Real” cost cutting alternatives must be prioritized and planned, never denied or delayed.

Landscapers are currently operating in very uncertain times replete with dire economic conditions, social strife and political regret. Accordingly, it is sincerely recommended they take an adaptive approach to address these difficulties by increasing the frequency with which they conduct their strategic planning, budget calculations and cost containment activities to ensure their ongoing success.

Cream of the Crop features a rotating panel from the Harvest Group, a landscape business consulting company.

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Carita Koen

July 2022
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