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Supercharge your strategic planning; a high performance process for accounting firms

Supercharge your strategic planning;
a high performance process for accounting firms

Is your firm’s strategic planning process a speed bump or super charger of change?

How do you progress from a ‘tick the box’ exercise, to a planning retreat that drives genuine innovation, capacity and growth for a firm?

Accounting firms must embrace agile business planning processes if they want to keep ahead of competitors in an ever-changing market.

If your strategic planning retreat is drawn out, lacking creative thinking, not addressing burning challenges and you are not successfully implementing key actions, you are going to be left behind by more nimble competitors. Rather than just doing ‘a little bit better’ than previous years’ results or repeating actions not implemented last year, we suggest firms evolve their approach when running strategic planning retreats to achieve greater impact.

Recently, Mindshop’s Founder, Dr Chris Mason created a process and various resources to help improve this planning process for Mindshop member firms. We felt other firms around the world would value the insights from it, so have shared the elements below.

An annual business planning process
The increased complexity in our markets suggests that strong leadership should play a key part in our annual business planning process. Rather than starting the planning retreat with a blank sheet and discussing what the key issues will be, we are suggesting that the leadership team develops a one-page plan with attached commentary on what they think the plan could be and allow participants to look for ways to identify missing information and to improve strategies and actions.

This approach enables the planning to be done in a virtual or hybrid format rather than face-to-face as normally done for retreats. The planning process is applicable to any organisation however the strategies and actions listed in the generic plan example is written around an advisory firm. The process we suggest is as follows:

1. Planning preparation
We suggest a diagnostic to identify decision makers’ opinions regarding how well you are doing on certain key elements of the business. The data from the diagnostic can be segmented by departments or levels in the organisation and reports generated from these groups. A typical diagnostic can cover strategic areas such as:

– Leadership
– Compensation
– Profitable growth
– Value-added services
– Personal development
– Technology
– Communication
– Culture
– Clients

The diagnostic results may require subsequent group meetings or individual interviews of key employees to understand specifically what the results mean. Once the key issues have been identified then the key issues in the resulting business plan can be addressed. Here’s an example diagnostic.

2. Drafting the plan
Develop a draft one page plan and commentary using findings from the diagnostics and any discussions. Send this to retreat participants to look for missing information and to improve strategies ahead of time, this allows for reflection and incubation of more great ideas. 

At this point of the process you may wish to use other planning tools to flesh out strategies and actions as part of this plan. A bullet point analysis of the Now and Where positions are added to the plan. A commentary around each of the strategies and actions is developed to enable the plan to be understood by all. Once the plan is drafted it can be circulated to the leadership team of the firm for comments and their suggestions regarding missing strategies and actions and improvements integrated into the plan. Once signed off, the next step is to develop the retreat agenda.

There are a number of resources available to Mindshop firms that assist with this process:
1. Example strategic one-page plan
2. Example commentary explaining the one-page plan contents in detail.

3. Developing the agenda
Once the plan and commentary are signed off by the leadership team, an agenda for the planning retreat can be developed. Keep operational issues to a minimum as the focus of the retreat needs to be on strategic matters. If the retreat needs to be run in a virtual mode, then it is recommended that a maximum of four hours per session is used. An afternoon session followed by the next morning session of four hours each should be enough for reviewing the plan, commentary, and covering other strategic administrative issues.

Send the agenda along with the draft plan and commentary to attendees at least a week before the retreat to enable them to review the documents and discuss content with leadership team members or each other before the retreat.

4. Retreat facilitation
Run the retreat over two half days or a full day (unless virtual) where most of the time is invested in discussing the draft strategies and action plans one by one. These days should be facilitated by an experienced internal advisor or a good external facilitator.

It is not essential that decisions are reached at this point, the benefit will be from the group discussions and innovative ideas brought forward for improving the plan.

Keeping detailed notes or even recording the sessions will ensure that these good ideas are not lost. Taking photographs of any flip chart / whiteboard notes is a useful way to record group discussions and to enable integration of the best ideas into the draft plan and commentary.

The ideal outcome is to integrate the groups’ edits into the documents shortly after the retreat so that the revised plan can be circulated to all participants. Other key employees not participating in the retreat should be updated on the key outcomes through a briefing and/or overview report of the key strategies and actions.

5. Implementation
One of the weaknesses of the planning process is often a failure to implement. Look at the Mindshop Change Success Model to increase your probability of implementation success from 30% to 80%. By integrating each of these factors into the plan, we can be more confident of the successful implementation of any change initiatives.

Many accounting firms are adopting an agile approach by establishing smaller project teams working on a time frame of just 4-6 weeks to get issues to a business-as-usual point. For example, if business advisory is determined as a key strategy, then in that 4-6 week time frame we can establish where the advisory strategy is now, develop a vision for how we would like to be in say 12 months’ time, and then develop specific actions to enable it to be business as usual on completion of the initiative.

These actions may include things like, starting a training program for client-facing staff, building an advisory focused landing page for the website, building proof of capability assets, developing an outline of advisory service lines and commencing a contact program for clients and prospects. 

6. Finalising the plan
Post the retreat key ideas are integrated into the plan and commentary and then circulated to the retreat participants for comment. The process for implementation should be reinforced so that where possible the leadership team drives each key strategy to a business as usual (BAU) state within a 4-6 week timeframe. This may constrain the implementation to only one or two strategy implementation activities at a time. Lessons learned from the implementation process can be used to further improve this process.

Other members of the firm will be involved in this implementation as required. KPIs will be identified, measured, and reported on to ensure that the process is monitored and improved. Monthly reporting to the leadership team on the implementation process will ensure accountability.

Summary
This process, driven by data from a pre-retreat diagnostic results in a proposed plan with commentary developed by the leadership team. The draft is then circulated to key leaders with incubation time to develop clever strategies and improvements. The plan is then implemented using an agile team process, all leading to a high probability of change success for the firm.

If you feel your firm would benefit from access to the resources supporting this process plus thousands of other Mindshop resources to help within your firm or with the delivery of business advisory services to clients, please reach out to your local Mindshop Regional Manager.

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