It is easy to have thoughts, aims and aspirations but a significant challenge to translate them into a document your colleagues can buy into. Harder still to make them a reality.
In many instances ideas remain just that, never taken further because other things get in the way, such as regulation or advising clients.
Advice firms that have a written strategic plan with allocated actions and timescales that are updated regularly and refined in light of experience are more likely to build greater value than ones that do not.
So, how do you turn ideas into such a document? Here is a 10-step guide.
- Know your vision and mission before deciding your strategy. A vision statement outlines what a company wants to be in the future and a mission statement describes what a company wants to do now. You and your colleagues should be able to agree and articulate these before discussing your strategy.
- Distinguish between a business plan and a strategic plan. A business plan is typically used to start a business, obtain funding or direct operations for an established business. A strategic plan is used for designing, implementing and then managing the direction of a business. It is a document used to communicate the organisation’s goals, the actions needed to achieve those goals and all other critical elements developed during the planning process and subsequently. The two plans cover different timeframes as well. A business plan will usually be for 12 months to coincide with the company or partnership’s financial year, while a strategic plan will typically be for a minimum of three years.
- Write in a style that reflects the culture of your business. The plan should be a document you and your colleagues can understand and identify with. Do not make the mistake of adapting one off the shelf that is written in a style too formal or technical, otherwise it will fail to get the buy-in you need and therefore fall at the first hurdle. If you feel more comfortable producing a PowerPoint document than a Word one, or vice versa, do so. Follow the way you communicate elsewhere within the business.
- Recognise that less is more. A good strategic plan is one that people find interesting and intelligible. They should want to read all of it. Length is not a good measure of the suitability of a document but be aware of the readership and, at the very least, produce a summary. A document 40 pages long for a firm with five to 10 advisers is probably overly detailed and risks failing to get the interest of some employees.
- Be specific about what you are seeking to achieve. Many strategic plans have worthy and laudable ambitions, such as “to become the most professional financial firm of financial planners” or “to become the largest firm of wealth managers in the region”. Terms such as these need to be quantified and a clear pathway to achieve them set out alongside the benefits that will be delivered.
- Remember that actions speak louder than words. This follows on from the last point; there needs to be specific and tangible actions allocated to individuals.
- Involve and communicate with the entire business. A common error is to limit the development of the strategic plan to senior managers – typically the directors or partners. Seeking input more widely should lead to greater buy-in and commitment to the objectives.
- Regularly review the plan. A good strategic plan is one that not only has the full support of all the decision-makers in the business but one that is regularly reviewed and updated to reflect the progress made and the challenges faced. Progress should also be quantified. All too often, strategic plans are put in proverbial drawers and left to one side. The plan should be reviewed annually and be a formal board agenda item. In some companies the plan is reviewed at an annual planning away day.
- Seek external input where needed. It will sometimes be appropriate to obtain external views; perhaps at the outset or as the execution of the plan progresses. If there are non-executive directors, they should be involved as a matter of course.
- Communicate the business’ objectives to centres of influence. Elements of the plan can be communicated to professional connections to build profile and generate business. A business that is seen to have a strategic plan and is demonstrably executing it is likely to engender greater confidence.
Roderic Rennison is director of Rennison Consulting