CategoryStrategy and Planning Archives — C. Lynn Northrup, CPA, CPIM

What is Strategic Planning?

January 12th, 2021

Everyone talks about doing strategic planning, but how many really understand it. I think it is simple and can be in three steps:

  1. Where are we?
  2. Where do we want to be?
  3. How do we get there?

How many businesses really take the time to stop and address these questions? Many organizations just go from day to day and never dig into the real issues raised by these three questions.

Strategic planning isn’t easy, but the payoff can be huge. It can alert organizations to opportunities in addition to challenges that lie ahead. We operate in a complex and rapidly changing world and gaining insight into the future can make the difference between success or failure. It can help avoid trouble or help to maintain control during a period of rapid change.

Assessing where we are involves looking at financial history, marketing, competition, problems, and opportunities. Pulling all this information together is hard work to create a foundation for planning.

Where do we want to be provides the results for visioning, innovation, and looking beyond right now. I think visons are the result of dreams of where we want to be. We then need to convert them into measurable goals and objectives. This can include profit and sales targets, market share, and ideas for new products and businesses.

We create strategies into how we get where we want to go. This is the nitty gritty of how we accomplish goals and setting new directions to take us into the future. Strategies can include some old established ideas in addition to new concepts that are completely out of the box. The planning process will detail the costs, resources, projected results, and a timeline for meeting our objectives.

The result of our planning boils down to what we need to do today to make the future be what we want it to be.

Urgency Creates Change

January 2nd, 2020

Change starts with a sense of true urgency and in most cases needs to be created to make things happen. The enemy of urgency is complacency. Complacent people don’t look for new opportunities and they pay more attention to their internal feelings than external feelings. They tend to move slow when they need to move fast. What ever worked in the past is what guides them.

While anxiety and fear can drive behavior that might be mistaken for urgency, the resulting actions tend to be non-productive. This is called false urgency resulting from failure. The thought process from a sense of false urgency usually is not productive and proactive. It typically is mindless wheel spinning that creates no positive results.

A true sense of urgency is created and recreated by communicating the existence of great opportunities together with the existing hazards and roadblocks. People engaged in a true sense of urgency exhibit a strong need to move and win, now. The biggest challenge about creating a sense of urgency is taking the first step in initiating the action needed to succeed in a changing world. Real urgency isn’t a natural state of affairs because it needs to continually be created to get change initiatives moving and in the right direction. In a constantly changing world, the good news is that there are an over abundant number of opportunities that can be utilized to create true urgencies.

A true sense of urgency evolves from a set of feelings that creates a compulsive determination to move right now. True urgency is a process of winning the hearts and minds of the people needed to make change happen. Mindless emotion doesn’t get the job done. Winning change strategies utilize sound, ambitious, but logical goals using methods allowing people to experience the feelings that embrace the determination needed to make things happen.

The strategy for producing a true sense of urgency focuses on creating very alert, visibly oriented action, aimed at winning with daily progress toward achieving the vision and goals targeted at core emotional feelings. Here are the four tactics needed to make this strategy successful:  

  1. Reconnect internal reality with external opportunities and obstacles using data, people, video, and other media.
  2. Avoid acting anxious or angry and always effectively demonstrate your own sense of urgency in meetings, one-on-one interactions and other communication with the people engaged in the change process.
  3. Take the opportunity to determine if crises can be used to your advantage and always proceed with caution.
  4. Remove the negative and urgency skeptics and keep the group complacent to avoid destructive negative urgency.

In addition to these four tactics is the necessity of keeping up the pressure to maintain a sense of continued urgency. The trap that can occur is achieving success and then losing your momentum of continuous improvement. Short-term success does not always translate to long-term results.

Here are some thoughts on maintaining urgency after making a successful change. Always be on the alert for potential declines in the sense of urgency. Realize that complacency can set in so be ready with backup solutions to maintain momentum. Take advantage of new developments to apply to change initiatives and improvements. Essentially, building a culture acting with a high sense of urgency will focus on the strategy for producing a true sense of urgency and application of the four tactics that are needed to make a positive change become a constant.

Aging and Retirement Challenges

October 27th, 2012

Aging and retirement is supposed to be the time to relax and enjoy after the result of years of hard work. Don’t we wish it were that easy? Even if you are one of the lucky ones who planned and saved in addition to having a plush retirement pension, don’t think you’re out of the woods. The best way to deal with these challenges is to create a vision for your retirement.

This process isn’t easy, but it will pay off. Here is what I want you to do. Commit your retirement decision process to writing since it will make you think more clearly and improve your chances for success. Develop a vision of what you want or plan to do in your retirement years.

Here is a checklist of seven things to consider. Begin thinking about each of these questions and it will help you create your unique retirement vision. Start your thinking process and begin the process of creating your vision.

  1. What are your hobbies and what will be your fun activities in retirement?
  2. Will you need to continue working or make a career change?
  3. Where would you like to live (geographically)?
  4. What are your housing requirements?
  5. What is your state of health and are there any issues?
  6. Have you planned your retirement finances?
  7. Have you considered the need to provide eldercare giving?

First, write down answers or thoughts for each of these questions. It will start you to think about things that had not previously entered your mind. Your thoughts will shift and change. These changes are normal. I have provided a decision guide in the appendix, which will help you through the process of developing a good retirement vision.

Having fun in retirement and hobbies should be the easiest part of the vision process. Everyone has dreams about what to do in their leisure time. In some cases, the things you would like to do will take precedent over the things you have been doing. It may be golf, gardening, or travel. Maybe it will be a combination of a number of things. Things you wanted to do but you have put off because of work.

Some people have dreamed about pursuing a hobby when they get to retirement. The difficulty is that dreams and reality don’t always mix. What they imagined things to be turn out to be different. After a person has worked for a long time at his profession, it is tough to turn off the switch. They find that they have a tough time leaving the work routine. This is something to consider in your planning process.

For baby boomers getting ready to retire or change their life, this is an essential step. Going through the process of thinking about the future will pay big dividends. I think these seven steps will help clarify your thinking and planning.

5 Steps in Achieving Success

October 20th, 2009

Everyone wants success. The difficulty with achieving success results because it hasn’t been clearly defined. I am going to give you a 5 step approach to achieve success and build the value. The secret to creating value and achieving success starts with a vision for what you want to achieve and how you define success and the steps that are associated with it. The 5 steps necessary to achieve success are:

1. Create a Vision for Success

2. Set Objectives

3. Develop a Strategy for Making it Happen

4. Build Action Plans

5. Evaluate Performance

Following these 5 steps and documenting them are essential to keep your life or your business on track. This doesn’t need to be a complicated process, and in fact, the simpler the better. However, putting these steps into a written document is essential and helps to build the commitment necessary to convert the vision for success into reality.

1. Create a Vision for Success

A mission statement should be brief and focused. It can be nothing more than a few words or phrases that provide a description of how you define success for you and your business. It should become a living document about where you’re headed going down the road. When you define where you are going you have a better chance of getting there.

Your vision statement should spell out where you plan on going and the steps required for getting there. There needs to be a link with the goals and objectives required for achieving the desired level of success. The best vision statements are simple and straight forward. Keep it simple and spell it out in contrast to just thinking about it. Writing the vision versus thinking about it is usually the difference between success and failure.

2. Setting Objectives

After establishing a vision for success, the next step in the process it setting goals and objectives. Setting goals and objectives stems from the vision statement and assessing current performance and the major issues that need to be addressed and how they relate to strategy to accomplish your objectives.

Objectives should specify measureable results that need to be accomplished together with a target date or a time span for completing it. Objectives should be as specific and quantitative (measurable and verifiable) as possible. Development of objectives should specify only what and when it needs to be accomplished and should not venture in to the why and how. Objectives and goals should relate directly to crafting a strategy to achieve your objectives.

3. Develop a Strategy to Make it Happen

Strategy corresponds to the actions and approaches necessary to achieve your objectives and fulfill your vision. The components of strategy include deciding on those attributes which offer the best chance to achieve your objectives or to gain a competitive edge. Strategy is where you focus on the skills, expertise, and competitive capabilities that will set you apart from your rivals.

Strategy is about being different in contrast to something that everyone is or should be doing. It boils down to making the tough choices that create a sustainable competitive advantage. These choices are those that allow you to change the rules in your favor.

4. Build Action Plans

Action plans are when you need to get more specific to clearly identify what has to take place. They represent an opportunity to test and validate your objectives. In addition, they provide a basis for communication for others who need to contribute to or will be affected by what takes place.

The following basic components should be part of the plan development. First, document the specific steps that will be required. Next, it is important to identify the people who will be held accountable making sure that each action step is completed. Developing a timetable getting things done is essential. Make sure to determine what resources will be needed to achieve your objectives. Finally, it is critical to provide feedback mechanisms to monitor progress.

Documentation provides a basis for monitoring the progress of each action step. Incorporate this documentation into a schedule that spells out what needs to get done and when.

5. Evaluate Performance

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is a term frequently associated with achieving results. Monitoring and evaluating performance is essential if your vision is to become reality. It might be necessary to reevaluate your strategy depending on how things are working out. Assessing the financial impact is essential in determining if you are achieving the level of expected results. Regularly evaluate your resources. Do you have everything in terms of personnel, materials, information, and other resources to support your vision and strategy? After establishing the vision, the strategy, objectives, and action plans, it is essential to monitor the few vital factors that let you know whether or not you are on track or if modifications are necessary. Continually check your progress and respond appropriately.

Final Thoughts

When creating a vision and converting it into reality is not only critical, it is essential to put it into writing. Written goals and objectives are more likely to be accomplished. Make this a habit and I think you’ll start to see success. Written plans represent a commitment that translates into success.

Basics of Strategy

July 31st, 2009

Gaining an understanding of strategy and its objectives is essential not only for business, but in everyday life. I teach this topic to my accounting and finance students and thought it would make a good blog post.

Competitive strategy is really about being different and selecting a different set of activities capable of delivering a unique mix of value to customers. In the process of selecting a different set of activities it boils down to the choices you make to change the rules in your favor so you create a competitive position that eliminates the competition.

Choices to change the rules should include setting the right goals. A sound strategy might be to achieve superior profitability by not becoming too big or growing too fast. It might involve becoming a technology leader. Strategy needs to have continuity and is something that can’t be constantly reinvented. It boils down the basic value you are trying to deliver to customers. It is important to maintain a strategy that is consistent in the face of a multitude of changes.

A good strategy will ensure that its components will drives competitive advantage and sustainability. There should be a simple consistency between each functional activity and the overall strategy. This will occur when activities are reinforcing and there is an optimization of effort. A good competitive strategy will grow out of the entire system of activities.

Essentially there are five steps in developing strategy which are presented as follows:
1. Formulating a strategic vision of the organization’s future business composition and the direction on where the entity is headed.
2. Setting objectives.
3. Crafting a strategy to achieve the desired outcomes.
4. Implementing and executing the selected strategy efficiently and effectively.
5. Evaluating organizational performance and making appropriate corrective adjustments wherever necessary.
These five primary tasks become a continuous loop whereby you are observing, orienting, deciding, and acting on necessary adjustments as needed. In the current economic environment, organizations need to be agile and quick in making these decisions.

Good strategy can involve a variety of approaches. This might include a variety of cost approaches ranging from low cost/low price, differentiation, to a specific market niche. Other approaches include responses to changing market conditions, moves to secure a competitive advantage, geographic market coverage, and vertical integration. In addition strategic approaches include financial approaches, human resources, R. & D., marketing, manufacturing, and collaborative partnerships and alliances. The development of the strategy will certainly consider some of these options.

In addition to various approaches, there are some fundamental components of strategy. Foremost, it will be essential to decide what product or service attributes offer the best chance to win a competitive edge. The next step is to develop the skills, expertise, and competitive capabilities that will set the business apart from rivals. Your choice of strategic components should insulate the business as much as possible from the effects of competition.

Attempt to evaluate your firm or company as to whether it is either conventional or reactive. Another way of looking at the evaluation is to determine whether your firm is distinctive and far-sighted. One way of assessing this is evaluating which issues absorb management’s time and attention. How does management’s point of view regarding the future measure up against the competition? Are you better at improving operational efficiency or at creating new businesses? Is the company’s agenda determined by actions of competitors or is it set based on your own unique vision of the future? Within the organization, what is the balance between anxiety and hope?

Finally, it is essential to assess the quality of your strategic market leadership in terms of the customers being serviced today in contrast to those you expect to service in the future. This same question can be directed to your current competitors and who you expect to compete against in the future. Where are your profits earned today and versus where they will be earned in the future? Effective strategy is dependent on resolving the key questions of what drives your business today in contrast to what will provide the competitive advantage in the future. In too many instances, organizations fail to address these issues and follow the course of plodding from day to day with not real thought of the future.

Creating Client Value

July 8th, 2009

How valuable are CPAs to their clients? What do clients want their CPAs to do for them? These questions have puzzled me and frustrated me for some time. After giving this some thought I reached the conclusion that clients don’t receive value and CPAs don’t provide the value they are capable of delivering.Creating value lies in the pursuit and development of value propositions. Value propositions aren’t defined in the tax code or in generally accepted accounting principles, yet it is the secret to greater profitability which is created by providing needed and necessary services. Clients want more than taxes and accounting from CPAs. They want and need help with their businesses, especially when economic conditions are tough. This means defining customer value in terms of what services CPAs provide and how they do business with their clients. Here is where you can link price together with reliability, dependability, and convenience of the service provided.

Far too many CPAs provide a service, but miss out on providing and building client value. This occurs because they haven’t taken the time to develop the knowledge and understanding as to what clients really need. You need to ask the key questions of clients so you know what they expect of you and how they think you could help them address their challenges and opportunities. This most likely means the ability to provide them with management consulting in strategic and operational areas.

Developing a basket of services which provide value will allow you to value bill. This begins with understanding clients needs and translates into increased profitability for you relative to the hours expended. You now have a choice on what you charge because the client is receiving greater value from the services you provide.

You might end up servicing fewer clients and receiving greater revenue. Providing added value services to clients you truly want to work with ends up being a win/win situation. You can develop some ideas relative to the types of services by reviewing the list of services I offer both to clients and as resources to CPAs.

Employing a value proposition strategy to your practice is an effective way to re-engineer what you are doing by giving clients the services they need and want. Providing added value to clients puts you in the driver’s seat and lets you value bill in contrast to just being paid for the hours you charged to an engagement. It also creates a better overall client experience since it enhances the flow of communication and avoids difficulties and problems which can occur.

You can now start charging the maximum amount that a client is willing to pay which results in greater revenue and a more productive work environment. You will have happier clients since they now perceive they are receiving the value they wanted and are willing to pay for it. Your practice should grow because happy clients talk and this should translate into increased work. This is truly a way of working smarter and not harder.

Defining Your Mission

June 5th, 2009

What is a mission or vision statement? In brief terms, a mission statement is a description of how an organization defines success and where it is headed going down the road. In order to be successful, a mission statement needs to be more than just words or phrases. An effective mission statement needs to be a living document that provides the necessary focus for all levels of the organization.Despite the importance of defining a mission, there have been a lot of failures to create any change in organizational performance or in what people are doing to accomplish results. One of the big problems is that mission statements fail to effectively communicate to employees on where the company is headed. Mission statements also fall short on linking strategic direction with specific goals and objectives at all levels of the organization.

It is critical for organizations to define their future business direction so employees clearly understand where they are going and how they will get there. From this platform, organizations need to develop a definition of success and a process for setting goals and objectives. Together with these steps, it is critical for the entire organization to have clarity on its sources of strength and competitive advantage.

Once organizations get these step right, they need to move forward to clarify “the what, where, and how” of competitive success. This message then needs to be effectively communicated to employees and other people who have a stake in its success. A process of setting goals and objectives at all levels of the organization needs to be complete so everyone is on the same page in order to achieve a successful execution of the mission.

In many instances I think the objective setting process can be simplified. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but there needs to be buy in at all levels and everyone needs to know their role and how they fit into the plan. Defining an effective set of objectives might sound easy, but it is a tough job and is critical to achieving success.

The key to a successful mission or vision statement boils down to the following three steps:
1. Where is our business going?
2. What are our objectives?
3. How will we accomplish our objectives?
After these three questions have been answered, the key to success is to effectively convert the answers into performance objectives for employees at all levels of the organization. Organizations that commit to this process with focus and determination will be the winners.

Getting Virtual Consulting Help

May 27th, 2009

In the current economic environment there are lots of business owners struggling to deal with issues and problems and no idea on where and how to get help. Likewise there are CPAs who are asked by their clients for assistance in areas where they lack the knowledge and experience to provide support. It is a perception that help has to be geographically accessible. The reality in many situations is that there are virtual means of accessing the necessary experience and assistance.Many services, including training, can be provided virtually using the telephone, e-mail, and conferencing tools. I selected the areas of my expertise that could be delivered virtually. It is possible to review strategy and operational situations by using my questionnaires and experience in effective ways. Another situation faced by many companies is that they lack the financial expertise to provide the financial and controllership skills required to survive the current difficult economic environment. Virtual tools are available to share financial information and in many instances an experienced financial manager can provide the needed suggestions that can make the difference between success and failure.

Internal controls represent an area where CPAs need some assistance so they can avoid reinventing the wheel. In many instances I can provide instant answers to questions and provide suggested solutions that could otherwise take hours to solve. Based on working with the COSO internal control framework and assessing audit risk, I can provide direction and advice to practitioners and even help them review their work papers to minimize their risk.

My dealings with family-owned businesses have provided me with firsthand experience in working with succession and planning issues including estate and trust planning tools. It is like having someone working in your CPA practice where you can discuss and review a problem for potential solutions.

Some other areas where virtual assistance is available are cost management, operations and supply chain management. Why struggle with these areas when help is a phone call away. I can also provide assistance with strategic planning and share checklist and questionnaires that will allow you to facilitate development of strategic thinking with your clients. If you are a business looking for assistance, I can provide virtual support and training in these and other specialized areas.

You may not have given thought to using virtual support or training, but it available and utilized all the time. It is a cost effective way to receive the assistance you need. Give me a call to discuss ways that I might be of assistance.

Economic Crisis

April 23rd, 2009

It seems like economic crisis and tough times are all we hear about these days. In a recent publication of Accounting Today an article appeared talking about the need for CPAs to step forth to provide assistance to small businesses. We need to provide guidance but small business people have to make a paradigm shift and realize they need help. They have been used to going without financial assistance for far too long and CPAs have been too focused on tax returns and financial statement preparation. Change needs to happen if businesses are to survive. My web site contains a lot of information both business owners and CPAs can use to survive the recession.CFO and Controllers of larger companies are also in a survival mode. They are laser focused on cash preservation and cost reduction. The key areas of focus include the following:
1. Preserving cash
2. Reducing costs
3. Reducing risk
4. Understanding expenditure patterns
5. Plugging holes in the dike
Over emphasis and indulgence on these factors can lead to overlooking some potential opportunities.

I think small business and larger organizations are missing the boat by placing all the emphasis on cutting back and hunkering down. Risk management should include looking for opportunities in addition to potential risk events that could adversely affect the company. Risk management should include considering opportunities to do a better job of purchasing and improving visibility on spending. Cash conversion efficiency includes managing accounts payable and inventories. These two areas represent a significant source of extra cash. It deserves additional focus and effort that will produce extra cash and liquidity.

Risk management includes effective planning and development of value propositions. Reevaluation of business strategies must be addressed since the old business model has shifted. New product lines and new markets need to be evaluated. More than likely the old rules no longer apply. Survival will depend on creating new visions and new strategies. These strategies then need to be linked to new marketing and sales programs. One of my clients is now spending a significant amount of effort developing new products and markets because the streams of revenue that existed just a few months ago no longer exist.

Operations and strategic planning when combined with sound financial management concepts and methodologies represent exactly how businesses need to deal with the economic crisis. Linked to these concepts are lean accounting and value stream analysis based on the voice of the customer.

I think this back to basics approach is what is required to cope with the challenges we face and represents the road less traveled to build healthy businesses and an economy that will survive the test of time.

Components of a Winning Strategy

February 25th, 2009

Deciding on what product and or service attributes will provide the best chance to win a competitive edge strikes to the very heart of how to develop an effective strategy. There are a number of approaches that can be used to craft a winning strategy. In this post we will identify some of the more common techniques that can be deployed.One approach many companies use, especially during difficult economic conditions, is a low-cost and low price approach. An alternative approach is one of differentiation and selection of a specific market niche. Differentiation can represent a more profitable option.

During a turbulent economy you will see a number of companies making moves in response to the rapidly changing industry conditions and other factors that develop in the external environment. This is one of the reasons adopting and maintaining a strategic focus is so essential when times are tough and competition heats up. Many of your strategic choices will go beyond just pure survival; they will be to secure a competitive advantage.

Another element of strategy relates to geographic market coverage and the extent of penetration in the market. Companies who got stretched with excessive capacity will have to consider adopting this approach to secure markets and customers to consume this capacity. One approach that some businesses have followed is deciding to pursue vertical integration to enable more sales to existing customers.

There are a number of different financial value propositions that are used by companies as a component of their strategy. Additional choices include the application of human resources, research and development, technology, and a variety of marketing promotions. Linked to these options will be manufacturing and operational approaches that fit with these choices.

A unique approach to strategy as we proceed into the 21st century is collaborative partnerships and strategic alliances. This seems to be a growing trend since it is difficult to be all things to all people making this a choice of necessity.

Strategic choices require developing skills, expertise, and competitive capabilities that set the business apart from rivals. The goal is to insulate your business as much as possible from the effects of competition. From this step you need to perform an analysis of the strategic variables and match them with your capabilities as well as your competitors. Strategic and competitive analysis is a critical component of crafting a winning and sustainable strategy.

You need to carefully think about your point of view relative to the future and assess how it stacks up against your competitors. Are you a risk-taker or just a rule maker? Another question that begs answering is what percentage of your effort is focused on catching up to competitors versus building business advantages that will take your business successfully into the future. It is critical to evaluate your agenda and determine whether you are setting it or if it is being driven by the competition.

While times are tough and success doesn’t come easily, it is imperative to think into the future and set the course for where you plan to be in five to ten years.