After being hired at Luckett & Farley, it didn't take me long to realize that I had hit the employee jackpot. From exceptional benefits to the 100% employee ownership to the incredible work culture, I knew that I had it good. In the beginning, I was so mesmerized by the obvious benefits at Luckett & Farley that I nearly missed a key aspect that truly distinguishes us as an employer of choice – Strategic Planning.
Separate from a marketing plan, Strategic Planning focuses on key issues that can threaten A/E firms success and profitability like high turnover and retention problems, ownership transition and leadership succession. I was first introduced to this concept during our annual Strategic Planning meeting. Although I was encouraged that Luckett & Farley had a plan for the future, I have to admit that I didn't really “get it.” I failed to grasp the importance and lasting impact of strategic planning. It wasn't until I read the book Strategic Planning for Design Firms that the light bulb went off in my head.
Strategic Planning challenges A/E firms to ask tough questions addressing the firm’s key issues, it encourages firm’s to develop a plan and vision for the future and it provides tools for the implementation of long term goals. As an Employee-Owner, I was excited to see that many steps of the strategic planning process had already been addressed by Luckett & Farley. Although I was absolutely convinced of the value and need for a strategic plan, deeper thought led me to question - what is my role in Strategic Planning? Are there ways I can contribute? What are the ramifications if I don’t become involved in our Strategic Planning initiatives?
I had the incredible opportunity to ask Ray Kogan, the author of Strategic Planning for Design Firms and Luckett & Farley’s Strategic Planning consultant, these very questions. He was generous with his time and his answers. Below are a few highlights of our conversation.
Keri: I am well convinced after reading your book about the value of strategic planning. It was very illuminating because I could see the many ways strategic planning is at work within Luckett & Farley - seeing our business practices align with your prescription for success allowed me to easily connect the dots. However, I am the Director of First Impressions, basically a customer service oriented, glorified receptionist. I am not a CEO, architect or engineer. Many would say that in the grand scheme of the company my role is not critical to the establishment and success of a strategic plan. What would you say to the skeptics? Why is it important that a receptionist “gets it” or understands the importance of strategic planning?
Ray: I really believe that every employee at any level of a company should understand the direction of the company, what its keys to success are, what obstacles might stand in the way, and what they can contribute to the cause. In the case of a "glorified receptionist" your role is arguably more crucial than many of the staff architects or engineers because of the amount of personal or phone contact you have with Luckett & Farley's clients, potential clients, teaming partners, and potential employees. For many important people, you are the first Luckett & Farley person they interact with.
Keri:I know you mention the importance of gathering feedback from all employees to determine key qualitative information such as the level of satisfaction, perception of performance, operational effectiveness and areas for growth within a company. But are there other ways to involve employees at all levels in the creation and implementation of a strategic plan?
Ray: You're right about gathering input from all employees…in fact we'll be doing just that in our upcoming strategic planning. At your CEO's request, we are administering an all-employee online questionnaire with five narrative questions exactly the same as what I will be asking in the interviews I'll be conducting. In that way, every single employee will have equal input into the planning process. We work with lots of firms, but doing this is as inclusive as it's possible to be, and represents a commitment that not many firms are willing to make.
Keri: What is at stake if employees fail to “buy in” to strategic planning? Are there key areas of missed opportunity when employees don’t take their role within strategic planning seriously?
Ray: It does happen, on occasion, that an employee or even a manager doesn’t "buy in" to the direction the firm determines for its future. While it's difficult to see this happen, I believe it's better in the long run for those employees to make their own decisions regarding their careers, even if it's not staying with the firm. Over the years I have seen too many cases in which the firm struggles on with one or more employees who don't "get it." It's like walking with a pebble in your shoe: you can still walk, but every step hurts.
After speaking with Ray, I am convinced more now than ever on the importance of strategic planning. I am also fully confident in my ability to meaningfully contribute to the process. I am glad that Luckett & Farley gets it. We are creating a critical roadmap for the future. I am excited to be a part of our success story.