Strategic Planning & Organizational Reviews


Our involvement in strategic planning goes back to the mid-1980s, when we were contracted by the Ontario Ministry of Skills Development to develop their curriculum for teaching managers about strategic planning. Companies were buying personal computers in a wild frenzy and everyone was getting funded for training in Lotus 1-2-3 and Word Perfect. The problem was that productivity was not increasing at all -- because people were simply "spinning their wheels" faster. Each business needed to know where it was headed for the computerization to be at all useful.

At the time there were few books about strategic planning, and most of those were rather obtuse academic tomes about planning in the world's largest corporations, not at all practical for small- to medium-sized business or non-profits. So we interviewed everyone available, read what we could, then created a course that was immediately implemented. We led a number of training exercises and shepherded strategic plans into creation for many small businesses and organizations. When we followed up months later, it was very gratifying to see the transformation of the organization and improvement in the managers' competence and confidence.

Essentially, the process of jointly developing the plan, with its broad goals and action list, are the most important deliverables of the strategic planning exercise. In our experience, few companies derive much (any?) benefit from slavishly updating and maintaining a thick plan document; by contrast the process of creating the plan is always of great value.

How long does a planning process take? With a month's notice and basic preparation, a facilitated process can be completed in two weekends to a point where a subcommittee can clean up an action list, and start on the really productive part -- implementing action items.

What is the cost to hire a facilitator? Expect to pay about $1,000 to $1,200 per day, plus travel and lodging, for an experienced facilitator.


My first exposure to an organizational review was on the receiving end, when I was plunked into The Grey-Bruce Women's Centre as the interim (pregnancy leave) replacement for the executive director. It was weird enough being a man running a women's centre (believe me, the staff also thought that was weird or worse), and then the first document I was handed was a consultant's report. Apparently there had been much discontent and disagreement, resulting in the Board commissioning an outside expert to interview staff, managers, directors, founders and other stakeholders. The consultant had produced a report listing 125 recommended changes. I called it a list of action items, and quickly came to understand this was the best money that organization ever invested in its 15 years of existence.

I went to the Board and got their agreement to seize the opportunity to transform the entire organization. They endorsed the concept of having two directors, two managers, three staff and myself meet every Tuesday for a brown bag lunch (bring your own) meeting at which we'd review the recommendations one at a time. If everyone present agreed with proceeding on a recommendation, the managers could immediately move to implement it without seeking approval from the Board.

The result? An amazingly rapid transformation of the entire organization, with minimal acrimony. The changes ranged from the small-but-important-to-some, such as repainting the staff kitchen area and buying a new fridge, to the larger, such as creating an explicit mission statement & guiding principles and then overhauling the corporate identity to match. An annual direct mail fundraising program was launched that raised enough money to put the organization on a solid financial footing. Better security was installed for the shelter building ... We implemented 80% of the recommendations within three months.

Why was this exercise so successful? Much credit has to be given to the Board who had the insight to admit that an outsider would be able to gather information and ideas far better and more objectively than anyone who was already closely involved in the situation. And certainly the consultant was very perceptive and possessed experience with other organizations, so she did make up a great action list. (Remember, everyone had to agree on implementing a recommendation, so the list didn't have to be 100% perfect -- some items never got implemented.)

Having some wise outsider review your organization may seem scary, but in two decades since seeing that first report at the Women's Centre I have never heard of a situation where it wasn't money very well spent.

By the way, if a CEO or executive director is paranoid about what all might be found, he or she can simply write into the contract that the report is strictly confidential and only those recommendations approved by the CEO will be released. The process can be called an organizational review, organizational audit, internal audit, consultant's survey, etc., and it can focus on a single operational area or the entire organization.

Another way to view an operational review is as an insurance policy. It can reveal to a chief executive or Board Chair the "blind spots" that can harbor both threats and opportunities. A review can feed into the financial audit, since legally the directors must be knowledgeable and inform the auditors of all material risks and potential liabilities. Recognizing there is increased regulatory requirement and consumer demand for corporate social responsibility, an operational audit could be directed to the other two bottom lines as well: measurement of the company's environmental and social performance. Some insurers are now requiring statements, with supporting documentation, about potential social and environmental liabilities.

What's the cost for an organizational review? For a small organization (under 15 staff), expect to be paying in the range of $500 to $1,000 per day for the consultant, for a minimum of 10 days. The more people to be interviewed and more processes to be examined, the higher the budget and the higher the likely productivity gain!

Here at Trelawny, we've conducted organizational reviews (sometimes the contract was written as "Research, Analysis and Report on XXXX Process") for a many government branches and boards, and sometimes for non-profits and hi-tech businesses. The consultant can generally cross status lines and silo boundaries much easier than anyone from within the organization. Because I had no axe to grind and was perceived as somewhat impartial, I could interview -- and get frank answers from -- deputy ministers and front-line staff alike. Most external stakeholders (think: clients, funders, regulators) were also very willing to provide their take on the situation at hand, and offer solutions. If handled well, the research phase (aka intelligence gathering) can often pave the way for successful negotiation/agreement on the recommended actions.

We have a roster of extremely clever individuals we can select from to partner with me, depending on the client's field and needs. This pool of expertise includes world-class accounting and internal audit experience, publishing, engineering, sales, financing, marketing, technology, operations, etc., etc.

If you are a CEO or Director, and have a situation that must be addressed, we'd be happy to discuss it in strict confidence. The first hour consultation is always free.

More services: see Presentations & Training

SAMPLING OF CLIENTS... Red Cross Society... BC Ministry of Forests... Simon Fraser University - Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing... Carmanah Resources... Georgian College... Department of Fisheries & Oceans (Canada)... The Women's Center... Ontario Ministry of Skills Development... The Lung Association... BC Ministry of Environment, Lands & Parks... Trafford Holdings Ltd... Grey County Board of Education... BC Systems Corporation... BC Ministry of Small Business, Tourism & Culture... Forest Practices Board... Ontario Fisherman magazine... BC Ministry of Energy, Mines & Petroleum Resources... Forestry Canada... BC Cabinet Secretariat... James Pratt Consulting... Glen Margaret Publishing... Royal Roads University... BC Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Foods... Tom Thompson Art Gallery... ABQ Communications... Association of Canadian Publishers... Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association...

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