Unfortunately, strategic planning gets a bad rap at a lot of companies because it' s perceived as a useless exercise. But at many innovative, well-managed companies--particularly open-book companies--it's the foundation on which everything else is built. The more you plan, the better you get. Some introductory tips:

  • Make planning a collaborative effort. You need a lot of information about customers and competitors, so ask as many people as possible to get involved in researching the market, advises Kevin Ruble of The Pearl Group, in Dallas. Check out competitors' Web sites. Look up ratios in theMillion-Dollar Directory. Survey your customers to find out their plans - and send them agift or an honorarium to say thank you.
  • You can' t do without contingency plans. Nothing is so demoralizing as acompany that' s way off plan with nothing to fall back on. SpringfieldReManufacturing Corp., based in Springfield, Mo., expects every business unit to have new products or services in thepipeline for quick introduction if projected revenues aren' t materializing. (Also: what willyou do if demand far outstrips your plan?)
  • Planning is a year-round process. Ask salespeople to do a 12-monthrolling forecast, so that when planning time comes around they have a leg up. Askmanagers or line employees to research new market developments midway through the year.Hold formal sessions for reviewing the plan once a quarter.

Copyright 1999 Open-Book Management, Inc.