How do you build up your firm's plan to the point that it effectively guides decisions and resource allocation, while still being flexible enough to meet the changing conditions of your firm and marketplace?You must integrate planning into your management's culture.

Easier said than done, right?

The bottom line is that the more you plan, the better you will get at it - as an individual and as an organization. With more planning, you will be able to anticipate situations, avoid problems and capitalize on opportunities in your client base and marketplace.

Building planning muscle is not easy, but it is well worth the effort you put into it. Just ask partners in successful practices all over the country. Success at a high level is no accident. Firms do not perfect their planning overnight; it takes a lot of practice and some trial and error along the way to become extremely effective in this area.

We've all seen these ads - "Do you want washboard abs? No problem! I have the exercises for you to achieve guaranteed results fast!" It seems that gimmicky promises of success, with little work attached, flood the media. When things seem too good to be true, we know they generally are. I'll be upfront - you must invest the time, energy and effort into the planning process to be successful.

During the planning, be sure to integrate brainstorming and filtering of ideas. Then, the best action items can be solicited, discussed and selected. With the correct focus, your planning muscle will build each quarter, allowing you to become more accurate with your projections and more aware of the action items that will support your projected goals.

WARM UPS

In order to get started you need:

* Pre-scheduled days for strategic planning meetings (including yearly planning days, quarterly update days, and monthly status-update days). Regular review of the plans will enhance firm performance.

* Participation from partners and key executives. (This is critical for input and buy-in.)

* Goals for what you want to achieve in these meetings (e.g., strategic plan projections, action items for the yearly meeting, reporting for the quarterly and monthly meetings, etc.).

REPETITIONS

Be patient with the planning process, because at times it can be especially tedious. Know that this investment in your planning will pay off many times over. It is critical that you also maintain the momentum and push forward by referencing your plans repeatedly so that your leadership adopts a proper planning focus into the firm. It's not effective to develop a plan and then only review it once a year. An important part of the planning process allows for confirming accomplishments along the way. It must become part of a system.

It's not necessary to schedule your yearly planning days back to back. It may take three or more days to effectively plan - especially if your firm is not seasoned in this area. You may want to insert a day of rest between planning days. This gives your partners ample opportunity to rest and "marinate" the information so that good decisions can be made.

Over time, with proper emphasis and effective preparation, planning can be one of your firm's biggest strengths. The strength of your planning muscle will directly correlate to the strength of your firm's bottom line.

Angie Grissom is vice president and director of consulting for Five Star3's Rainmaker Consulting Group, specializing in a broad range of marketing, communications and strategic planning skills.

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