Cracking the Strategic Planning Code – Ideas from the Experts

By Larry Cassidy, Marc Emmer, Diana Ho, Brian Oken, Steve Phillips & Paul David Walker

When the topic of strategic planning comes up, some individuals get very excited about the planning process while others consider it just a waste of time. With so many different styles and approaches, we thought that we’d ask a number of experts for how they approach this topic and the top three key points to think about before your next strategic planning meeting.Team activity

Larry Cassidy

Strategic Conversation

My view of so-called “strategic planning” is that today it is less an event and more an ongoing conversation. The most effective organizations are evolving, and for me that moves viable strategic thinking away from being an annual event and toward an ongoing conversation.

The idea that we can somehow nail down where and how things are (and, projected, where and how they will be into the future), and then craft a lasting response, is ineffective. The world in which we operate is constantly changing; thus, we too must participate in that same game, which requires a continuing and continuous conversation.

As that applies to crafting strategy, I recommend frequent sessions in which the “team” comes together to discuss the future. For each session, step one is to identify the most important questions which must be answered; step two is to arrive at agreement on the answers; and, step three is to define action steps based on those answers (what, why, who, how, when, resources and milestones). As you prep for these ongoing sessions, consider:

  1. Inviting more of, rather than less of, your management and supervisory team. Interesting ideas often come from the “less likely” participants. And participation invites a sense of “ownership.”
  2. Requesting from the attendees, in advance, the questions they feel are the most important to the firm’s future. You may be surprised at what you get.
  3. Building each session around a few key questions, using multiple breakout groups to discuss each question, and mixing people and functions within breakout groups for each topic discussion (thus creating fresh energy and different chemistry around each question).
  4. And, inviting a few key outsiders to participate in each session (good strategic thinkers, creative types, folks who will challenge and “stir the pot”). You will find their input tends to raise the bar for those on your team.

Marc Emmer

Strategic Planning: The Entrepreneurs Dilemma

There is one thing that almost all entrepreneurs have in common; they want to grow. Yet determining where and how to grow can prove elusive, even to the most savvy strategists.

Which wayOften, management teams face gut wrenching strategic choices. While growing a core business incrementally offers a high probability of success, companies with a singular focus are subject to concentration risk that inhibits enterprise value. The more the company grows, the bigger the problem becomes. A diversification strategy reduces concentration, but growth far afield from one’s core competency, increases the probability of failure.

Often, entrepreneurial companies also lack the talent to focus on transformational business model innovations that could drive competitive advantage. Unfortunately, many companies create a 12 month forecast within their core business, and pass it off as a strategic plan. A well thought out vision balances the short term and the long term and clarifies the company’s value proposition and strategic priorities.

Here are some success factors to consider before engaging in strategic planning:

  1. Market Analysis-A thoughtful review of trends in the industry that will impact future demand.
  2. A level of preparedness on the part of the participants so that they are in a position to make fact-based strategic decisions.
  3. A process that enables execution on strategic objectives.

As we approach the time of year when many companies formalize their business strategies, it is important to structure a framework that ensures that management takes the time to think, both about the core business and potential disruption. Great companies weave strategic thinking into their management DNA and then convert strategies into actionable measurable tactics that drive results.

Diana Ho

The Art of Strategic Planning

Strategic planning has fallen in and out of favor numerous times since my earliest days as a planning facilitator. While my experience base and process toolbox has grown over the years, so has my “beginners mind.” Rather than bringing a methodology that works for all, I approach each planning engagement as a blank slate, pay attention, listen deeply and design each process based upon the unique characteristics of the client mtg

Every organization has a strategic plan whether they know it or not. The opportunities embedded in a “strategic planning process” include a) making the plan explicit, b) aligning expectations, c) leveraging resources and d) building a skilled planning- and accountability-minded team. The process of planning is equally as important, if not MORE important, than the resulting “plan;” and the effectiveness of any planning process is directly correlated to the extent that it is aligned with the leadership/power structure of the organization. So design the process well, Grasshopper!

When considering external resources, decide where your needs lie along the continuum of “expert” (who will tell you what your process and strategy ought to be) and “facilitator” (who will leverage your organizational resources, ask questions, provide options, build capacity and hold your feet to the fire).

Three things to consider before having a strategic planning meeting:

  1. What is the organizational “appetite” for planning; should we be thinking in terms of a “planning meeting” or a “planning process and mindset?”
  2. Who needs to be at the table?
  3. What are the organizational and personal rewards and consequences for planning or not planning?

Brian Oken

Strategic Planning for the Rest of Us

If you’re like most of us, you’re leading a small to medium-sized business with limited resources, no time and a million things you need to get done. To get the best results, I believe you should narrow your focus, engage your team and make your efforts count.

But before you proceed with any group planning activities, you should:

  1. Be clear about what you want for your business. Do you want to grow market share, sell in the near future, build a legacy…?
  2. Have a competent management team in place.
  3. Decide whether you’re going to use an outside facilitator or Do-It-Yourself.

Here’s my approach to strategic planning:

Be focused and realistic. It’s impossible for any group to successfully accomplish more than 1 or 2 strategic goals a year because of all the associated projects and tasks. If you global-teamtry to do too many things at once, it will dilute your focus and compromise your results. Remember, you want to actually achieve these goals.

Generating great financial results is a team effort. Your plan and strategy (and the reasons for them) must be presented in such a way that everyone in your company can easily understand them. The plan must also connect daily activities to company goals. This is the only way your employees will feel connected to your overall vision. People need feedback and need to know their efforts are making a difference. Be transparent about your results and celebrate your successes!

Implementing a strategic plan is a methodical approach and an ongoing process to help you and your team work smarter and get better results. But in order for this to happen, your plan must drive the agenda of your staff meetings and be referenced and updated on a regular basis. Once you see how an effective plan can help you achieve your goals, I doubt you will ever operate without one again.

Steve Phillips

The Strategic Planning Meeting – Turbo charge your approach!

Strategic planning is by its nature, time consuming and hard! Assessing the environment and the company and then positioning and aligning resources takes tons of effort. So much effort that many Fortune 500 companies just don’t do a good job. And… it’s these companies that rarely hit their potential. But true strategic planning, (like what McKinsey or BCG does) can easily cost $1M or more. So what is the answer? How does a company do great planning at a small fraction of the cost? I think a turbo charged approach meets most everyone’s needs. It’s quick, uses your best people, gets everyone bought in to the implementation of the plan, builds-in an accountability system, and gets it mostly right. Think of it as a leveraged approach.

So what is the process for a turbo charged approach? It’s easy! I find it most useful to use a third party (not the CEO) to organize the process, collect and analyze the data, set the objectives and outcomes for the meeting (with the CEO) design the agenda, and to facilitate the meeting. In this way, people can do their work and the third party can do all the leg work. Then when it’s most important, everyone can meet and use their time together wisely.

So how to approach turbo charged strategic planning?

  1. Pick a third party to organize and drive the process. It can be a senior level consultant (like me 🙂 ) or an internal specialist but it should not be the CEO or President. They have much better things to do than the leg work that it will take to make the meeting effective.
  2. Collect valid data. Some folks like to collect both external data and internal data but some are fine with just picking the brains of their top folks on what we really need to do next to be most successful. (Remember, this is a leveraged “turbo charged” approach). I suggest the third party personally interview participants for about 60 minutes each. This should be plenty of time to assess what should be done next year.
  3. Create a specific and detailed agenda based upon what you learned from your data analysis. This should also include the specific outcomes and objectives for theteam lightbulb meeting and detailed agenda items. Too many times people just put topics on the agenda without ever fully considering: the type of item, the champion of the item, the outcome of the item, the process for the item, the time line for the item, the pre-work needed to be ready to efficiently use time, etc. Creating a great agenda is an art and time consuming. There are many considerations and it often takes much longer than anyone expects but when done right, huge amounts get accomplished in the meeting seamlessly and the group actually enjoys the process (and if I have my way, walk out of the room a more effective team. See #5).
  4. Use a professional facilitator for the meeting. I am not just saying this because I am one. I am saying it because it works a thousand times better than not having one! I would much prefer to be maximizing everyone’s time and using each person’s brain in the room rather than have one of those folks worrying about lunch, the air conditioning or making sure the conversation stays on point. A pro will pay for themselves a hundred times over.
  5. Use the strategic planning meeting to tune up your team. There is no question that teams outperform groups of individuals on complex tasks about 99% of the time. It used to be that we did “teambuilding”. Now I find the best way to build your team is while they are working on a real project. A professional will know how to do this seamlessly and effectively and at the same time you are setting up your plans for the future. It’s a win win win win. Better strategy, alignment, direction, and teamwork!
  6. Do quarterly follow-ups to create a built-in accountability system, adjust the plan as needed, speed up the team, and continue to develop toward high performance. It only takes about 4 hours for the quarterly meeting to meet its objectives but most groups try to leverage or maximize their precious little time together. High performing teams will rotate who is in charge of each meeting and give them total freedom to run the session where and when and how they see fit. They can be at client sites, hotels, new offices, wherever will work for the theme of the day. Most groups put in place a ¾ day or all day quarterly meeting and use the extra time to develop everyone, either with team building, leadership development, site tours, or expert panels or guest speakers. It is a day everyone looks forward to. And then once a year, usually 4th Q, we do a longer retreat to close the year formally and kick off the next, all in alignment with the executive committee and shareholders meetings.

So there you have it. A leveraged approach to your strategic planning. Pick a third party to run the process, collect and analyze data, create a specific and detailed agenda, hire a professional facilitator to run the meeting, and create a built-in accountability system that ensures people stay on track and in alignment. This process works like crazy, takes very little time, is not terribly expensive, uses your people where they are best and does not waste their time. It creates ownership and buy-in, decreases resistance and makes full implementation almost assured, creates strategic alignment, builds your team and helps them to achieve and stay at high performance. It gives you a full opportunity to participate as a leader, makes everyone smarter and leaves your organization aligned, agile, collaborative, and highly productive.

Paul David Walker

Understand Present Reality

There are flows of intelligence that manifest as multidimensional streams of cause and effect at every level of life. These flows have momentum and move forward with or without you. In business these flows are formed by market wants and needs. As you consider your business strategy, it is important to understand these flows and position your window of opportunitycompany to use these flows, like a surfer at the sweet spot of a wave, to move forward accurately. It is pointless to try to swim against the current. As you ride these flows forward you will be able to see opportunities as they emerge before your competitors. The objective is to find emerging trends that lead to a window of opportunity, as we do with our clients illustrated here.

The Right Plan For You

It is dangerous to develop a strategic plan that does not take into account your companies true capabilities. If a surfer chooses a wave that is too big for their skills they will be drowned or seriously hurt, the same is true of a company. It does not serve well to develop a business strategy that requires more resources, talent, or momentum than the company can realistically achieve. Find a place in the flow of your market that acerbates you, not one that will drown you and your company. Once you succeed and gain power and skill, develop a bigger plan.

Explosive Targeted Actions

After understanding your place in market trends, build a simple focused strategic plan. Then eliminate all activities that do not support that plan. Make sure every executive understands that this is not a drill. It is a road map for all actions. Paint a compelling picture of the outcomes at every stage in your plan and develop the courage to act. Teams with clear missions, a sense of urgency, the stillness of a master, and explosive targeted actions are the ones that will win in the 21st century. Those that hesitate will lose. To summarize:

  1. Understand present realitytarget road
  2. Develop the right plan for you, not a grandiose fantasy
  3. Commit to explosive targeted actions


Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014

Larry Cassidy has been a Group Chair with Vistage International (formerly TEC International) for over 27 years. He currently works monthly with more than 50 Southern California executives, in three chief executive groups and one group of key executives, regarding all aspects of their businesses. Larry can be reached at and 714-460-3090.

Marc Emmer is President of Optimize Inc. a management consulting firm specializing in strategic planning. Marc is the author of Intended Consequences, Design the Future you Wish to Create. Marc can be reached at or at 661-296-2568.

Diana L. Ho is a seasoned facilitator/executive coach, percussionist, book-binder and kick-ass project manager. She began her career in retail merchandising and was Vice President and division head in a Los Angeles management consulting firm before founding Management Arts in 1995. Contact her at or 310-475-6563.

Brian Oken has a 20 year track record as a successful President/CEO, having effectively guided organizations through aggressive revenue growth to sustained profitability. Throughout his career, he has been involved in managing, operating and strategically positioning companies in the public and private/family sectors. He is well known for improving the profitability of organizations while also creating great places to work. Prior to opening his own firm, Brian spent two decades running manufacturing and service based businesses as President and CEO. His accomplishments include significantly growing income and cash, being listed on the Inc. 500/5000 fastest growing company list, engaging in international strategic alliances and the launching of numerous successful new products. CEOs, Presidents and business owners call on Brian as a trusted advisor to help grow their companies, make better decisions with greater returns and create the highest performing workplace cultures. Brian can be reached at or 310-466-2804.

Steven Phillips, Ph.D., Founder and CEO. In his relentless effort to deliver uncommon results, Dr. Steven L. Phillips has built an enviable reputation for his senior team consulting service that focuses on results-driven off-sites for senior leadership, strategic planning, and executive leadership. Dr. Phillips has helped thousands of individuals and organizations establish new levels of teamwork, transformation, and performance, all specifically targeted toward bottom-line results. Dr. Phillips has extensive experience as an Organization Development professional. For many years he served as a SVP Chief Talent Officer for a privately held 1B company with 10,000 employees. As a consultant, he has worked with Senior Executives at Microsoft, PepsiCo, Viacom, Mattel, Boeing, and many others, helping individuals, teams, and entire organizations successfully implement change. Steve also works one-on-one with Presidents and CEOs helping them strategize for powerful and successful leadership. Additionally, Dr. Phillips creates customized team development activities for executive teams designed specifically to shorten cycle time to high performance. Dr. Phillips’ best-selling books are used in corporations throughout the world. His latest book, The Senior Leadership Off-site Playbook, is soon to be released. Steven can be reached at or 310-456-3532.

Paul David Walker, Founder & CEO of Genius Stone Partners was part of building the first leadership firm to align Strategy, Structure and Culture, and has been a business leadership adviser to the CEO’s of Fortune 500 and midsize companies for over 25 years. He is the author of Unleashing Genius: Leading Yourself, Teams and Corporations, two other books, and will publish a new book called Invent Your Future. He has succeeded by unleashing the genius of the people around him and is known to be a visionary leader and master of collaboration. Paul can be reached at or 562-233-7861.


Inspiration and Techniques for Building Championship-Level Performance
Lighthouse clients have one thing in common – all are committed to boosting the performance of their organizations. So, we are pleased to introduce our clients and friends to Boaz Rauchwerger — speaker, trainer, author and consultant.  We highly recommend Boaz to you. Ask him to deliver one of his inspirational programs at your next executive retreat or strategic planning session.

One of our favorite Boaz programs is “Playing Like a Championship Team Every Day”. It helps you build on the strengths of everyone’s individual differences. This program helps you discover five steps to get everyone to join the building crew and resign from the wrecking crew. This is a very powerful and inspirational program that receives rave reviews every time.

• Master five techniques to inspire others to perform like champions
• Six recognition techniques including the powerful “good finder” program
• Learn four ways that your team can gain a competitive advantage
• Identify the three prerequisites for maximizing the team’s results
• Learn the two forms of keeping a daily score so everyone wins

Who is Boaz?
Over a 30-year span, Boaz, author of The Tiberias Transformation – How To Change Your Life In Less Than 8 Minutes A Day, has conducted thousands of seminars internationally on goal setting and high achievement. He has taught over half a million people how to supercharge their lives, their careers and how to add Power to their goals. His innovative program, for individuals and corporations, is a simple and highly effective process for high achievement. He was voted Speaker of the Year by Vistage, an international organization of CEOs and business owners. How to contact Boaz – Want more information on Boaz’s Power Program, including “Playing Like a Championship Team Every Day”? Just click here and we’ll be in touch.


If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA 90403, (310) 453-6556, & our website:

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, 360s, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. Other areas of expertise: Executive on boarding for success, leadership training for the 21st century, exploring global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training and operational productivity improvement.

To order the books, Cracking the Personality Code and Cracking the Business Code please go to

Narrow the Gap in Your Organization Between What We Want and What We Get

By Larry Cassidy – Excerpt from Cracking the Personality Code

[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]J[/dropcaps]ack was in his late thirties. He had worked for large companies for fifteen years and finally decided to take what he knew and start his own business. He ran the numbers, talked to friends and advisors, and determined that with hard work he could get by in the first year, and from the second year on, do very well.

music directorIt was the “hard work” that was the problem. Not the actual work: Jack worked 12–14 hour days. The problem was that Jack only had so many hours in a day. He could not get all the work done. So he decided to hire an office assistant to take tasks off his back and free up time to go after the big bucks.

And then Jack hired a few production employees. Then a shop manager. Next a sales person. Then a bookkeeper, and of course, an office manager. As year #2 rolled on, Jack looked up and he had a—a—a company. A real company, with real people. Eight employees, soon ten, not long until twenty or even thirty.

The more employees, the more variety. Of course, Jack wanted different skills to match up with the different challenges faced by the firm. The problem to which Jack awoke at the dawn of year #3 was two-fold: employees who varied from what he wanted in terms of skills and capability; and employees who just didn’t “fit in” (get along with, work well with, or act as team players) with the other employees.

How could Jack have avoided this uneven performance or behavioral mismatch? How do you avoid the same issues? Actually, there is no way to get it right all of the time. These are people we are hiring and with whom we are dealing. However, we can narrow the gap between what we want and what we get, often by a considerable amount. We can do this by a series of thoughtful steps that lead up to the actual hiring:

  1. Define the values and environment that you wish to promote in your firm.bridging the gap
  2. Define the position for which you are hiring, including core skills and related behaviors required for success in the position.
  3. Utilize a capable mechanism to identify and source qualified candidates.
  4. Utilize interview techniques and questions that focus on whether the candidate has performed successfully in the past on comparable challenges.
  5. And—utilize a valid testing instrument to assist in determining appropriate interview questions and to define possible issues to be explored with the candidate.

In the main, this book deals with assessing the candidate and his/her “fit” and, as part of the process, utilizing an evaluative instrument. In other words, Step 5 above. There are several of testing instruments available. Most have value and can provide direction and/or insights you would not experience without such an organized look at the candidate.

book cover design key picThe book will talk about the details related to using a testing instrument in hiring. In creating a lead-in for this discussion, my observations are as follows:

  1. Other than “socializing” reasons (i.e., we tend to like to work with and around other people), we hire others to extend our work footprint. That is code for: we hire others to do work we do not want to do, or do not have time to do, or cannot do as well as the person we hire.
  2. We pay the person we hire “out of our pocket.” In other words, what the business makes is now split between you and whomever you hire. So if you are going to hand over part of the loot, you had better be getting something very good in return.
  3. A good place to start is that the person hired creates more additional loot than you pay the person. The greater the excess, the greater your return on hiring the person (if you buy a machine, you expect a return; why is spending comparable dollars on an employee any different?).
  4. Thus, doing the very best job possible of assessing the candidate is important (even crucial). Can he/she do enough more, or do something better by enough, to create revenue adequate to cover his/her cost plus create an attractive return?

If it were my dollars in play, I would use all types of useful tools in making this assessment. That includes a quality-testing instrument.

I would pick carefully the instrument and, every bit as important, the person administering the instrument and assessing the results. I would discuss with the administrator all aspects of the position and related behaviors.

Finally, I would understand that any instrument is just one input to the hiring process and decision (along with the resume, interviews, discussion among interviewers, references, etc.). The results are to be respected, but not to be held as determinant.

I welcome you to check out this insightful book and to the opportunity to explore using quality testing instruments to improve your hiring results, along with your bottom line.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014

Larry Cassidy is a Senior LCS Consultant and a Chair with Vistage International for the past 27 years. He currently works with some 50 executives every month and has facilitated over 1,300 executive group meetings, and participated in 12,000 face-to-face discussions with chief executives about all aspects of their businesses. He prepared for this journey at Miami University (Ohio) and Northwestern (MBA); as a Marine Corps officer; with public companies (General Mills, Quaker Oats and PepsiCo), private, family and foreign-owned firms; and, in the 1980s as General Manager and CEO of local companies. He does executive coaching and also serves on advisory boards. You can reach Larry at

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA 90403, (310) 453-6556, & our website:

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, 360s, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. Other areas of expertise: Executive on boarding for success, leadership training for the 21st century, exploring global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training and operational productivity improvement.

To order the books, Cracking the Personality Code and Cracking the Business Code, please go to


InBoarding Sets Up Employees for Success

By Larry Cassidy

[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]I[/dropcaps]f onboarding is such a great business idea – and it is – why should it be reserved for only new employees? Maybe the time has come to give in-boarding a try.

Onboarding = Success

climbing ladderOnboarding is more than just a solution for employees with the new job jitters. Getting new employees ready to be productive is one of the toughest jobs managers face. Failure to set new employees up to succeed can lead to a slow ramp up to productivity, unhappy new hires, and, ultimately, failure to meet your critical business goals. Rather than recruiting, hiring and throwing employees in the deep end of the pool (“Sink or swim!”), there are much better onboarding practices to increase the worker’s odds of success.

To many a business school professor, onboarding is known as organizational socialization mechanisms. In layman’s terms, this means the ways new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and corporate culture to become effective team members. Think beyond just a simple new employee orientation. The process might include formal lectures, videos, training booklets, computer-based simulations, and even such basic steps as having someone welcome the newcomer and take them to lunch the first day.

This is a far cry from what we called onboarding when I was a captain in the Marine Corps: boot camp. Obviously stress reduction was not on our priority list. While there are no drill instructors at your company yelling at new recruits to drop and give me twenty (at least I hope not), the purpose is the same. You want to prepare newcomers for success in the organization.

More than 80 percent of organizations reported that they have either formal (i.e., written, documented, standard) or informal onboarding programs and/or practices, according to a study by the Society for Human Resources Managers (SHRM).  The vast majority of organizations indicated that providing communication, training and resources is extremely important for the successful adjustment of new hires.

So, one in five business leaders are still holdouts, reasoning that traditional human resources orientation sessions are good enough. They fail to see the cost/benefit payoff of investing so much time and energy in the new hires. This is miscalculated reasoning.

Public and private research has proven that onboarding leads to such positives as higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater commitment to the organization, and stress reduction. Advocates say onboarding does more than shorten the learning curve of new hires. The ultimate payoff is reduced turnover and getting productive workers to increase their tenure at the company.

But Why Just the Newbies?

If you agree with the mounting evidence that onboarding is the way to go, here is an important question: Why wouldn’t you do the same to accelerate the progress of the employees you already have? There is no reason to think that it is too late for the rest of the roster who arrived after onboarding began or have already gone through onboarding.

Consider it inboarding, an extension of the idea of onboarding. The purpose of inboarding is to set existing, rather than new, employees up for greater success. You want the same payoffs: higher job satisfaction, better job performance, and greater commitment to the goals of the organization.

Employees are not set-it-and-forget-it machines. The need for input is ongoing. Many inboarding communications tools and channels can be used to continually get the information across. If onboarding is like an inoculation, then inboarding is like booster shots.

When I was president of a 150-person consumer optical company, I discovered there are two groups of employees that are ideal candidates for what I now call inboarding: all employees and specially selected employees.

All Employees

paint rainbow

First, let’s consider all employees. That’s right, all employees. Do you have employees you don’t care if they are successful or not? If yes, I recommend you get rid of the position or get rid of the person in the position (maybe that should be called offboarding, but that is a whole other article). In today’s world of lean companies and global competitiveness, every employee counts.

I am a believer that you help employees be more successful at accomplishing corporate goals if they know what’s going on, where the company is going, why it is going there, what is expected of them, how they can contribute and what the payoff is for them.  A leader wants to know the answers to those questions, and so does the entire team.

Treat your employee base like adults who are as interested in the future and success of the company as you are. Here are the tactics that can make inboarding work. Try town hall meetings, roundtable discussions, and even monthly newsletters (just the facts, not the fluff).

Please understand… I am not talking rah-rah, go-team-go cheerleading sessions. This is honest sharing of information. The important news to always stress is where are we going, why it is important, what the opportunities are, what we need from you the employee, and what is in it for you. Bottom line: We get more business, everyone is more secure.

There is an old adage: “If you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t matter what road you take.” In my experience of coaching more than 300 companies, the information about company success metrics does not easily filter down from the management team and supervisors to the rank and file. People are often in the dark on how they relate to success. Everyone who goes to work wants to go home feeling they accomplished something and that it was important.

Here is one technique I recommend. Set up idea exchange sessions comprised of representatives from various functional areas of the organization. Have them share why they think another area is important. They might make comments like: “Marketing is important because if we don’t have a steady stream of customers we are out of business.” “Operations is important because if we don’t deliver on time that hurts our cash flow and reputation.” “Accounts receivable is important because if they don’t do their job we don’t get paid by customers.”  Having that feedback from other people in the organization can really open their eyes to the fact that what they do really matters. They come to work with their heads held a little higher and their focus more intent.

Specially Selected Employees

The other prime candidate for onboarding is specially selected employees who possess high potential for growth. These are the people you know would like to be major players for you as you go down the road. Inboarding can focus on a number of actions to get them ready to become better, rather than pigeonholing them in the job they already have.

Many managers are afraid to groom a high performing employee for promotion, because they hate to lose someone good. Wrong, wrong, wrong. A manager’s job is to grow their people and find the right new person to replace them.

finish lineWith a small to medium company there can be a challenge to find slots to move a high performer up a ladder. Unlike the days when I was an executive at General Mills, in a small organization there are not as many opportunities for promotion for an up-and-comer.

The solution is for Project work is another inboarding technique. You might say to one of these special employees, “You have a chance to be a manager, but right now we think you are short on finance. So I am going to give you a project that lets you get your nose into the numbers.”get about the vertical ladder and, as proposed by Vistage speaker and consultant, Amy K Hutchins, consider a horizontal ladder. This means moving employees laterally into new and different experiences. Moving sideways can keep the employee fresh (not too different from how the military cross trains its personnel).

Maybe the solution is as simple as cross training. The restaurant chain, PF Changs, took two important actions during the recession.  First, they got rid of everything on the expense side that did not enhance the customer’s dining experience. Second, they did a great deal of cross training, which allowed them to reduce head count because kitchen staff could fill in for wait staff and vice versa. More important, morale went up because the employees better understood what it took for the entire restaurant to be successful.

Final Thoughts on Inboarding

Inboarding should be done on a regular, continual basis. If you do it episodically, then the employees tend to look at it as something the leaders do when something is wrong or when you get a big order. Communicating on a monthly or quarterly basis is something to strive for, but not less than every six months.

Don’t neglect the social side. Functions like the company picnic and the holiday party are important. So is the celebration for the big win. In my experience, companies who celebrate victories do better over time.

up the hillBreaking bread is also a proven strategy. Regularly take a cross section of employees out for a lunch discussion. If you show genuine interest in your employees, they will know that you care. Then they are more likely to open up to you on what is really going on. Tagalongs are another strategy. Have a younger employee shadow you for some client meetings, lunches and project work.

Overall, the inboarding payoff can be enormous. Never forget, it is the leader’s job to create employee alignment with personal goals, management objectives, and company goals. Inboarding will give you better players and deeper bench strength. Technology is great, but technology doesn’t give you the edge. Business is still about people.

Action Item List

Now it’s time to try out the ideas shared in this article. To receive the specific action items list, please click here and sign up for our Keeping on Track Newsletter:

For more information on how to get an inboarding or onboarding program started, please contact Dana at (310) 453-6556, ext. 403 or

Larry Cassidy is a Senior LCS Consultant and a Chair with Vistage International for the past 25 years. He currently works with some 50 executives every month and has facilitated over 1,200 executive group meetings, and participated in 11,000 face-to-face discussions with chief executives about all aspects of their businesses. He prepared for this journey at Miami University (Ohio) and Northwestern (MBA); as a Marine Corps officer; with public companies (General Mills, Quaker Oats and PepsiCo), private, family and foreign-owned firms; and, in the 1980s as General Manager and CEO of local companies. He does executive coaching and also serves on advisory boards. You can reach Larry at

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA  90403, (310) 453-6556, & our website:

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, workshops, and executive & employee coaching.

To order our books, “Cracking the Personality Code” and “Cracking the Business Code”, please go to


Planning For The Upcoming Recession!

By Larry Cassidy, Ted Margison, Paul David Walker

[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]S[/dropcaps]pring time is upon us and it is time for house cleaning and planning. Many of you are familiar with the economists, Alan and Brian Beaulieu and how their economic forecasting helped in preparing for the last recession as well as for the financial impact that it had on most companies and individuals. They have presented another opportunity for us to be aware of in the coming future. They are projecting that sometime between the later part of 2013, we will be heading into another much milder recession that will continue through 2014.

We thought that we’d share some ideas from our Lighthouse Consulting team, so that you and your organization can begin to prepare and take advantage of the opportunities that could be just around the corner. We’re going to focus in on management, leadership and operations:

Management – Larry Cassidy

I would start with the following caution: whenever times get even a little better, it is an invitation for overhead creep. Put another way, a little bit of success invites a lot of looking at maps Given that truth, and the fact that many businesses have experienced at least somewhat better times, it is likely time to grab the pruning shears.

  1. First, I suggest this process: go through every expense on your P&L, and ask the following questions: “Does this expense truly touch our customer and/or make his/her experience better? If not, is it at least critical to our future success?” Prune any expense which does not meet one or both tests.
  2. Second, take a stethoscope to your balance sheet. Get rid of bad inventory (it is rarely a “too much” thing, usually a “wrong stuff” thing). Your first loss is your best loss. Move it! Then get on and stay on your receivables. Both need to come down and cash needs to go up.
  3. Third, be sure you have top people in key positions. You will ask more out of the team in tougher times, so be sure you have quality and you trust the players. Then have the team cross-train all hands. Every employee should be able to do at least one back-up job adequately. This creates flexibility and can reduce headcount.
  4. Finally, make sure your critical systems are operating smoothly. The last thing you will want to do is have to plug “holes” with bodies.

Leadership – Paul David Walker

Take Market Share Now

hands holding up bizpeopleDuring a recession relationship is more important than ever, because it is relationships that will hold you, your customers and vendors together.

Together, during a recession, you can increase market share easier than increasing profits. If you, your customers, and vendors survive and / or thrive during weak demand, you will rise together as demand increases, which it always does. Here is how you do this.

Recession Value Proposition

Adjust your value proposition to fit the new economic circumstances, and train all people who interact with customers to implant this in the minds of customers. For those of you who are in the B to B space, at some point in time your customer will be in a meeting with corporate leaders asking, “What vendors can you eliminate? How can we reduce our costs and be more appealing to our customers?” At that time you want the voice in the back of your customer’s head to be saying that your company is a keeper for the reasons you have implanted. Likewise, if you sell to the consumer, you want the consumer thinking that your products will help them live better in this economy. The consumer advertising, packaging and PR should be positioning your brand as the answer. Your new value proposition should to targeted and ever present.

One of my B to B customers mission is to provide “Engineered Solutions” that improve the efficiency of their client’s factories. They explain, “We will work with flexibility and expertise.” They are making sure all their customers have this on the top of their minds. Another client, who sells to consumers, vision statement is: “Better Products … Better Life.” They are sure their advertising drives home how their products provide twice the value at lower prices. They are working on getting this message into the scripts of their customer service teams around the world. The most successful businesses during a recession implant their new value proposition at every contact with customers. This makes the relationship strong, and creates hesitation before a customer changes brands. That relationship will benefit all as the tide rises.

Extend Your Team

Make it clear to your vendors and customers, that we are all in the same boat floating on a low tide of demand, and that we must work together for mutual success. Continuously reach out to customers to understand their changing needs and wants and make temporary deals with the customers and vendors that will carry all through changing economic dynamics. If your customer needs a price break, ask your vendors to reduce their prices. If they need to reduce their inventories, get your vendors to help you create just-in-time inventory programs. Find out what your customers and vendors need to help their business prosper, and have the flexibility to change your products or services to fit. Do not get stuck in business as usual. Business as usual will be a death sentence. Build a community of strong relationships with your customers and vendors.

Talk about your mutual missions and synchronize them so all can succeed during economic change. Make it clear to all that you and your company are committed to mutual success. Let them see and feel your commitment to mutual success.

Attack Weak Competitors

As your competitors fail to adapt to the changes in the wants and needs of the market place, their customers will be moving. Be sure they move to you. Conduct research to determine your competitor’s weaknesses and focus on acquiring their customers, who will be frustrated with those weaknesses. If your value proposition is right, and being communicated in the market place at every point of contact, they will come to you. The most venerable competitors have the following weaknesses:

  1. Overextended credit
  2. Old technology
  3. Cash flow problems
  4. Poor customer service
  5. Inability to adjust prices
  6. Lack of flexibility

Once you understand the nature of the weaknesses of your competitors, select the three weakest and develop a strategy to acquire their customers.

Position yourself as the life raft for the customers tied to a sinking ship. People in corporations tend to change at a slower rate than people in the market. Be ahead of the wave of change and find competitors who are not. Business has always been driven by relationship and trust. During high demand it may not be as important because of the lack of supply for surging demand.

During economic and social change when demand is falling, relationship and trust are even more important.

If you have ridden the wave of demand, maximized your profits and weakened your relationships, it is past time to change, but never too late. Do not hesitate, find and communicate the correct value proposition for your business, extend your team to include customers and vendors, and rescue customers from the sinking ships of your competitors.

Operations – Ted Margison

Interestingly, the key things a company should do in preparing for a downturn are often the same things they should do in preparing for an upturn.

  1. Streamline and standardize processes; you will need to be able to do more with less. Automate as much as possible in order to respond more quickly to changing bizpeople buildingdemands.
  2. Design processes for flexibility and adaptability. As customers change to accommodate changes in their marketplace the transaction size will often vary dramatically from what you have been used to. As well, new types of demand can arise as companies look for different ways to provide value to their customers, which might result in new types of demands for your business. You should be doing the same by looking for new types of opportunities.
  3. Understand the decision-making processes that drive demand for your product or services. Better visibility on what drives customer demand means better predictability for you. Do this with each of your key customers in particular. Then work with them to make sure you can respond to their changing needs in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Final Thoughts

According to Dana Borowka, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC and author of Cracking the Personality Code, hiring the right people is key to future growth. If you would like additional information on raising the hiring bar, please click here to see an article on this subject: Cracking The Personality Code: Hire Right The First Time.

In our blog, we are sharing more specific ideas in these various areas. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact any of our consultants. Also, if you have additional topics that you’d like us to address either in our Keeping On Track publications or Open Line monthly web conferences, please let us know. We look forward to hearing from you.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA 90403, (310) 453-6556, & our website:

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. To order the books, Cracking the Personality Code and Cracking the Business Code, please go to