Family Business Quarterly
For family businesses, strategic planning “can be an exciting, compelling, energizing concept that sets your company free-a process that’s not designed to lock doors, but to open locks.” But developing a successful plan hinges on anticipating and managing the roadblocks that come with family ownership.
So said Barbara Shomaker, President of Accord Limited, a Chicago consulting firm, who recently presented a workshop on “Strategy: Planning, Design and Implementation” during an Executive Breakfast sponsored by the Northeastern University Center for Family Business. Shomaker provided a detailed written framework for family business leaders wanting to develop strategic plans, paying special attention to the challenges of developing plans for businesses that are family-run.
She prefaced her remarks by describing a strategic plan as a business road map that “creates longer-range vision and defines two-to-three-year goals, strategies and tactics that will give your business a competitive advantage.”
Drawing from her in-depth family business experience, she gave NUCFB members the following guidelines for maximizing the success of a plan.
- Seek the right group of core planners.Planning, she said, should involve individuals who understand the business and how to make it grow, including “someone who understands the economics of the company, someone who understands sales and marketing and someone who understands how your products are manufactured and move through the pipeline.”In a large or mid-size company, she said, the ideal planning group would include six to eight people to maximize creativity, productivity and momentum.
- Agree on critical owner strategies.Before brainstorming starts, owners should hold family meetings to agree on issues that will influence the final plan, including requirements to enter or stay in the business, roles of inactive family shareholders, stock ownership for non-family members and in-laws, family compensation, performance/dividend expectations, retirement decisions and leadership succession. Once owners have reached consensus on these areas, they are ready to move on to the most critical issues-the ultimate objective of their company and its future business strategies.
- Seek to merge owner strategies and business strategies.In family businesses, Shomaker said, there are likely to be “more than one set of realities floating around.”Owners who are actively managing the business, as well as inactive owners, will have definite but potentially conflicting views on the organization’s ideal direction. She advised members to develop an ultimate business objective and future strategies by gathering input from active owners. She then recommended educating inactive owners about the vision during family meetings, and looking for a common strategic ground. “My own bias is for a participative process that is not necessarily democratic,” she noted.
- Gather input from the oldest generation.The most senior active owners are “the linchpin to the planning process,” Shomaker said. “It’s such a mistake not to bring them in, even if a leadership transition is about to occur. They provide input that allows your group to make critical decisions in context.”
- Base decisions on concrete data.“Collect enough advance information about your company so that you can make decisions in the planning room,” Shomaker advised. Develop preparatory materials that address the strategies/needs of key stakeholders; industry, market and technological trends; and current internal performance. Require participants to study the materials in advance so that they can hit the ground running during your meeting.
- Conduct a SWOT Analysis.Use your meeting to conduct a soul-searching analysis of your business’ Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). Address such questions as: “How do we know that our perceived strengths are our genuine strengths? Who says they are?””What are the weaknesses that are shooting us in the foot and preventing our growth?” The plan itself will include your mission, vision, goals, action plans and systems for monitoring results. Draft an initial plan, give the planners two weeks to mull it over, and then meet for one more day to put it into final form.