By Jeff Resnick
The latest edition of the GRIT Report speaks volumes to the need for our industry to actively engage in transformation. The days of complacency driven by stable revenues and happy clients are over. By this time of year, many firms have conducted some level of planning to set the stage for a successful 2016. The challenge for any strategic planning exercise is to produce insight that meaningfully impacts a firm’s ability to succeed. Almost half of the insights providers responding to a question about strategic planning in the GRIT Q3/Q4 2015 survey self-describe the caliber of their organization’s strategic planning capabilities as “strong or very strong”. However, given that more than three-fourths of insights providers say they need to transform all or part of their business to remain competitive, by definition about one-fourth recognize the need for change while being forthcoming about the fact that they do not have the skills to do so.
Strategic planning is generally defined as “the planning of all the activities of a business to ensure competitive advantage and profitability”. In other words, informing the transformational process when required. Importantly, the root of successful strategic planning is developing a deep understanding of the sectors you serve, having intimate knowledge of your clients’ business needs, ensuring the right skill sets exist to meet those client needs and staying abreast of competitive issues impacting your firm’s future. I’m frequently asked how small and medium size firms can effectively engage in strategic planning initiatives without breaking the bank or requiring the dedication of enormous amounts of professional resource. As 2016 draws ever so close, consider the following three actions to enhance your success and maximize the probability of your survival through today’s market disruption as well as that which will certainly continue to occur in the future.
Initiate a customer advisory board. According to the GRIT report, almost one-fourth of insights providers say they currently have a customer advisory board that provides input to the strategic planning process for their business. Customers are an exceptional source of information about what they need that they are not getting as well as a great source of competitive information. If you take no other action to generate strategic insights about where to take your business, initiate a customer advisory board. When implemented correctly, the ROI will be huge.
Commit to staying informed about trends impacting your customers. Expand your horizons by listening to one Ted Talk a month. Read the Harvard Business Review or another publication that exposes you to emerging ideas. Set Google alerts for topics impacting the industries and clients you serve. Attend industry conferences your clients’ senior executives attend. Discuss implications of what you learn with others in your firm.
We generally say we do these things, but let’s admit there is often a gap between intention and execution.
Assess whether the critical skills you need to succeed in the market exist in your company. Designers and data visualization experts, data scientists, marketing or business strategists and social media experts are the most in-demand skills according the GRIT survey. While not all businesses will need these skills, it is likely you need at least one. If you do not have the right skill sets to succeed and a partnering or subcontracting arrangement doesn’t make sense for your firm, face the reality that you may need to swap out employees to gain the required skills if revenue cannot support an additional hire. Failing to acquire these skills is not an option.
Getting started with finding the path to provide your organization with the future insight it needs to transform and stay relevant may require baby steps at first. While I do not want to undervalue the insight generated from a comprehensive strategic planning effort, some information trumps no information every time. Starting down the path of strong strategic planning is an imperative. If your organization falls short of the required information you need to plan for the future, take the first step with one or two of these recommended actions. You will find it invigorating and informative at the same time.