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Strategic Planning

How do you do strategic planning at your company? Who's involved in strategic planning? What levels of management are included in the process and to what extent is each level involved? What specific role do you, as CFO, have? Do you do off-site or on-site? How many days? Do you use an outside facilitator?

Answers

Topic Expert
John Kogan
Title: CEO/CFO
Company: Proformative, Inc.
(CEO/CFO, Proformative, Inc.) |

This can go bottoms up or top down. I see a lot more of the latter. This varies entirely from CEO to CEO and depends on who is in their "circle of trust". It also depends on how deep the CEO wants to go in the organization. So the group could be the CEO and CFO alone cranking something out for the VCs or could be the extended executive team plus any strategic players in the organization preparing the first of many rounds, eventually to be presented to your public board.

On-site vs. Off-site?
Depends on whether you have an on-site location where the team can truly get away from it all. And I mean get away from it ALL. There is nothing more annoying than having countless interruptions by admins, phone calls and email checking. Which is why off-site is my preferred venue.

Duration?
One to two days. More than two days and you must be in serious trouble. Less than one full day and you can't get deep enough.

Moderator?
Depends on how much the team needs to come together and how much they need help extracting ideas. Some teams work well together and are always airing new ideas, these groups don't need much help and a moderator will not be a great investment from most angles. However, there are plenty of teams which could use some with objectivity and idea extraction. For those, a moderator can work well. However, there are moderators and there are moderators. The best are amazing (and amazingly expensive). The "not best" can be a disaster - worse than the problem you came together to solve with your team. Get references (I've got a great one if you need).

Other Stuff:
-I like it when the CEO turns off his/her cell phone and tells everyone else to do the same. You can put email/phone checks into the agenda, but while people are talking, turn the phones off or you will never have undivided attention.

-Always create an agenda the CEO is bought in to. Give homework so people come ready to discuss ideas. If they come to the meeting with nothing prepared you will spend all of your time on initial fact-finding and won't get to the good stuff.

Rajeev Seshadri
Title: CFO
Company:
(CFO, ) |

Doing it both ways is the best method. The CFO takes the lead and with the CEO's input does the top-down plan. Assumptions, as always are critical, as is a 'what-if structure to the model with KPIs called out.

Secondly, the bottom-up approach to aid employee buy-in and to get the risk factors all documented is the next step. Both off-site and on-site approaches have their pros and cons. The CFO should take the lead on this as well and collate the input into a business model.

Using a professional moderator has its plus points, but it is unlikely that domain-specific knowledge can be brought to bear unless the moderator is from the industry.

Its fun to compare the results of the 2 models.

We recently did this exercise, and found that the 2 models were very close, albeit the bottom-up process uncovered several new insights, and constraints.

The danger of the top-down only model is that it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e. only 'good' assumptions are made in order to meet the vision of the founders/Board/shareholders et al.

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