NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. This week on the NVTC blog, Gretchen Frary Guandolo of Clearsight Advisors shares how the opportunity for big data professional services firms has never been greater.


Total big data revenue (software, hardware and services) reached $18.6 billion last year, up from $11.6 billion in 2012 (according to Wikibon), an impressive 58% growth over the previous year. No doubt the big data market is enormous and growing quickly, but one of the main inhibitors to growth is the lack of professional services firms focused around big data. Software, hardware and diversified IT services vendors are all on the hunt for the same target – professional services firms of scale focused on the strategy and implementation of big data projects. Clearsight recently represented Think Big Analytics in their sale to Teradata, a transaction that underscored the skyrocketing demand for big data services.  The sale process was highly competitive with bidders from several different market segments.  The opportunity for big data professional services firms has never been greater. The drivers behind the strong demand for big data services, include:

  • Few IP/tools exist that allow business users to easily implement and access Hadoop data in an uncomplicated, user friendly fashion
  • Special knowledge is required to navigate all the privacy/security/compliance moving parts and their implication on big data
  • A practitioner of big data is necessary to translate and mediate between all constituents around the table – line of business, c-suite and IT departments – to ensure a successful outcome.

As more companies boast successful Hadoop/big data projects, demand continues to grow, but there remains a divide in the approach to tackling big data projects. Big data consulting firms develop their own IP and toolsets because simple, business user- focused analytic packages accessing Hadoop data are not yet widely available. Software and hardware vendors have a challenging time selling their infrastructure products and deploying Hadoop solutions because their sale process requires a more consultative sale, implementation discipline, and technology skills of a big data consulting firm. The shortage of big data professional services skills is acute. As a result, at Clearsight we expect to see the larger product vendors, IT services firms,  ad agencies and many other sectors continue to hunt for acquisition targets to increase their big data services capabilities and address the growing need for big data professional services.

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Notes from the Silicon Valley Cybersecurity Summit

September 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs | Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

NVTC is inviting members to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. Kathy Stershic of member company Dialog Research & Communications shares her insights below.


I was fortunate to attend Silicon Valley Cyber Security Summit over the summer, where I spent four hours indulging in the subject. The panel discussions were excellent, bringing perspectives from security technology providers, pundits, the Department of Homeland Security, congressmen, senators and executives from the outstanding Silicon Valley Leadership Group (#SVLG).

The first discussion centered around progress to date with Obama’s Executive Order (EO) issued in early 2013, and the potential for more formal cyber policy or regulation coming from the Congress. The cybersecurity problem offers a rare opportunity for the public sector to lead in a critical technology domain, but all of the day’s speakers emphasized the requirement for public-private partnership in addressing the challenge. There has actually been some good news around the Cybersecurity Framework, an outcome of the EO being driven by NIST, in which participation is voluntary but to which 3,000 private sector representatives have actually contributed. While governments actively push such information to the citizenry, companies need to share a lot more about what’s happening to them, what they’re learning and how they’re defending themselves – competitive concerns are keeping this constrained to date. Still, some progress is being made.

One of the biggest eye openers was the claim by several speakers that the public is just not engaged in this issue and therefore practices poor digital ‘hygiene’. I found this surprising and uncanny in the aftermath of the Target and Nieman Marcus’s attacks last fall, and the Aug. 5 revelation that a Russian crime ring had stolen 1.2 billion user name and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses.

Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) extolled the virtues of his and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act bill, which made it through the Intelligence Committee but still faces stiff opposition from privacy advocates. Everyone agreed that what would spur Congressional action would be a real crisis – a big attack that causes a real national issue. We hope that we don’t have to endure a crisis to make progress, however. It is also possible for Federal agencies like HHS, DHS, the SEC and others to impose cyber regulations within their domains – some are already doing so. And states are stepping up too, with a plethora of unique policies. Beyond the U.S., each country will have its own policies as well.

In my opinion, the core issue behind the discussion was trust – citizens don’t trust the government, businesses don’t trust each other or the government, and the government doesn’t trust other governments. One speaker even joked that in the Silicon Valley, the NSA is seen as an ‘advanced persistent threat.’  Everyone is waiting for a cybersecurity crisis, which I believe will sooner or later. Let’s hope later.

My next post will discuss the country’s shortage of skilled cybersecurity workers.


Contributed by Kathy Stershic, Principal Consultant, Dialog Research & Communications

kstershic@dialogrc.com

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NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. This week, Elizabeth Harr of member company Hinge Marketing shares five reasons social media impacts your business in a measurable way.


With numerous social media platforms to keep track of — each their own little world with a specific set of participation standards — it’s no wonder that many marketers are asking “is this worth it?” Between the tweets, shares, status updates, pins and likes, maintaining a strong social media presence can be time consuming and confusing. Social Media Examiner’s latest industry report revealed that marketers spend a minimum of six hours per week on their social media accounts — nearly an entire day’s work.

It’s understandable that you’d want to see measurable impact from your technology firm’s social media marketing if you’re putting in all that effort. social-media-tree-icon
Perhaps the easiest way to answer the question of “is this worth it?” is to look to your clients. How are they researching their technology needs? What factors are they considering when making a purchasing decision? Where are they looking? More often than not, your buyers are starting with a basic online search, glancing through the first page of results, and checking out their options from there.

Combined with a well-rounded digital marketing strategy, social media can add the extra boost your technology firm needs to get you on that first page of search engine results. Once prospective buyers find you, social media can play a role in closing the sale. And to really drive home exactly why social media marketing is “worth it,” here’s a list of benefits that can help improve your bottom line.

5 Ways Social Media Marketing Benefits Your Technology Firm 

It Boosts Your Search Engine Rankings

Your buyers aren’t likely to look past that first page of results. Luckily, a strong social media presence can help your technology firm be one of the first options they see. Having more backlinks to your website helps to improve your ranking and social media is the perfect platform to share those links and increase your search engine optimization.

It Increases Referral Traffic

Thanks to Google Analytics, you can see exactly what types of posts on which social media platforms are driving traffic to your site. Learn from your results and focus on the types of posts that are generating the most visitors.

It Helps Establish Your Brand

When a prospective buyer finds your website, they’re probably going to poke around to see if your priorities and personality match their own. Social media is a great way for potential clients to get to “know” your technology firm. The information you share can help position you as a trusted authority in your field.

It Can Build Your Contacts List

You can use your social media accounts to promote premium content that drives visitors to your website. In order to download the content, ask visitors to enter in some basic contact information to build up your email lists. Sticking to requiring nothing more than a name and email address will help increase your conversions for the content.

It Can Be a Great Promotional Tool

Promoting offers on social media requires you to walk a fine line. Your followers don’t want to see an excess of promotional content, but you can still publicize offers as long as they’re mixed in with predominantly informational content.

Though the time commitment of social media marketing might seem overwhelming to your technology firm at times, employing it as part of your digital marketing strategy can help you acquire new clients. Between increasing your online visibility, driving traffic to your website and establishing your credibility in the industry, social media is, without a doubt, “worth it.”

Check out Hinge’s free Social Media Guide for tips on increasing your social media footprint.


Elizabeth Harr is a partner at Hinge, a marketing and branding firm for professional services. Elizabeth is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, brand building, and communications. She is the coauthor of Inside the Buyer’s Brain, How Buyers Buy: Technology Services Edition and Online Marketing for Professional Services: Technology Services Edition.

 

 

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How to Use Equity to Incentivize Employees

July 31st, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off)

NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In his latest post on the NVTC blog, Matt Rajput of CohnReznick shares his insights how to attract and retain employees through equity compensation.


Technology company executives are continually challenged with how to attract, retain, and motivate key employees. Technology start-ups, in an effort to conserve cash, are known for streamlining operations and offering employees thin compensation and benefits packages until they land on more stable financial ground.

One idea for attracting and retaining employees is to include an equity component as part of the complete compensation package.  This can be in the form of common stock, stock options, profits interests, phantom stock, and other forms of equity.

Issuing equity to employees is a great opportunity to give employees a stake in the future of the company because the value of their stock, stock options, or other equity instrument is tied to the performance and growth of the company. This concept of ownership also creates inherent advantages as employees who become owners themselves (or have the option to become owners) will work harder to improve the business, because it will drive more value to their options.

Equity compensation promotes employee retention as vesting terms or restrictions typically require employees to remain with the company for a certain period before they are fully vested in the equity. For example, an employee can be given 100 stock options, in lieu of or in addition to an annual bonus, but the options have a four year vesting term requiring the employee to vest in 25 options each year. In this circumstance, the employee would have to remain with the company for four years to fully recognize the entire value of the 100 stock options. If the employee were to leave after two years, they would only be vested in 50 stock options leaving 50 options on the table.

Equity is also a very important carrot that can be used to attract talent.  In a competitive market, the ability to offer a prospective employee a stake in the upside of the company’s growth could be a differentiator in closing the deal.  Even if the company has the ability to pay market salaries, many astute tech executives continue to look for an equity stake.

Another attractive element of this type of compensation is that it is a cost-effective way to offer employees additional compensation that may be worth a great deal of money in the future as the value of the company improves over time.

However, implementing an equity compensation plan does not come without challenges. Some employees may not want to wait a few years for a liquidity event to receive the compensation for the work that they are currently performing. Long vesting periods, tax consequences, and high exercise prices are all characteristics that make equity issuances less satisfying to employees than cash compensation. Additionally, non-public companies may have a hard time getting employees to realize the value in an equity instrument that cannot be easily turned into cash.

Despite these pitfalls, many companies, both public and private, continue to utilize various forms of equity compensation to keep their employees motivated, well-compensated, and engaged.


Matt Rajput, CPA, is an Audit Senior Manager with CohnReznick LLP and a member of the firm’s Technology Industry Practice. Working from the firm’s Tysons Corner office, Matt has eight+ years of experience servicing publicly-traded and closely-held companies in the technology sector and he routinely provides services to private equity and venture capital backed companies. Contact Matt at matt.rajput@cohnreznick.com. Follow CohnReznick’s Technology Practice on Twitter @CR_TechInd.

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NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In the post below, Derek Alden Elder of member company Salient Federal Solutions explains how professional development is essential for success.


Today’s government, industry, civilian, and institutional professional leadership all agree on one thing: Professional development is vital to success. Yet it is becoming harder each and every day to find time for it. This is driven by many factors. The most obvious, of course, is the continual reduction in force to accommodate todays lower cost requirements. These strong economic and political headwinds demand we make a difference.

With less people doing more work it is impossible to ignore the implications to the remaining forces’ availability to support seemingly non-essential requirements, such as further developing their applicable capabilities through professional development, training, and education. We must have a relentless commitment to our customers, colleagues and our communities. Salient Federal Solutions believes that a viable solution exists which will mitigate this issue and we use it today.

In a rapidly changing environment, infusing current work requirements into the training our warfighters receive today is essential to increasing effectiveness within an experiential modality while also serving the trainee by assisting with the execution of their deliverables and concurrently advancing their knowledge base. Salient plans a custom approach to every requirement so it can and is being done today. We understand that success is dependent upon our situational approach and customized execution on each task – getting warfighters what they need and when they need it. Minimizing time spent while maximizing output to current requirements while broadening knowledge base will determine effectiveness and thus define return on investment of training to leadership. Although counter to most industry culture, this is the only viable path to solving the growing work/train/time issue we all experience in these leaner times.

Whether it be professional, technical, or personal development it is essential for the end user to insist upon their workload being infused to the exercises associated with our learning process, but similarly, we need to drive this approach from the top down as the leading providers to the education and training industry. This change can only be achieved if we stand together behind one simple truth; developing our workforce is vital to future success and it cannot be accomplished without fundamental changes to the approach most take today. If our workplace has become more efficient and lean then so must we with something as important this.


If you’re interested in professional development, get involved with NVTC! Attend an event for opportunities to see and be seen by industry leaders; join a committee to meet potential clients, build relationships, and learn about trends; and check out NVTC’s many other resources.

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How To Be Strategic With Your IT Hiring

June 18th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off)

NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In the below post, Marc Berman of member company Vector Technical Resources shares strategic steps for managers when hiring an IT staff.


Hiring tech talent can be a serious challenge for many organizations. Depending upon where your company is located, you may be competing with shinier, flashier tech
companies that can offer massive salaries, on-site gym memberships, free daycare, and other perks. Conversely, you may be operating in a rural area where new IT talent is hard to come by.

The (somewhat) good news is that no matter where you are or what your organization does, you are not alone. The Technology Councils of North America conducted a survey in 2013 that found nearly 70% of participating executives believe there is a shortage of quality tech talent in the marketplace. They feel that “all the good ones are taken,” and it can be difficult to attract and hire the right people.

Making Strong IT Hiring Decisions

This climate can lead companies to make poor IT hiring decisions. Hiring managers may feel pressured to jump on the first candidate with the appropriate skill set. But even if an IT candidate’s skills match up with your needs, there are other things to consider before making an offer.

Here are some tips to help you make strategic IT hiring decisions:

  1. Documented Work – An IT candidate can claim certain skills and accomplishments, and it may be possible to glean their expertise from an interview, but it is important to get documentation of previous projects.
  2. Look for Broad Experience – Specialization can be beneficial for certain positions, but more often than not, your organization will depend upon IT pros with a broad knowledge base. When someone focuses narrowly on one specific skill, it can lead them to be less effective at solving large problems.
  3. Match Personality with Company Culture – Employees must be happy in order to do their jobs well, and if the culture of the organization isn’t a good fit, your new hire won’t feel comfortable or happy. For example, individuals with a laid-back attitude and work history in casual environments may feel stifled in a workplace with a more rigid corporate structure.  Be sure to take personality and your company culture into consideration before making an offer.
  4. Don’t Make a Panic Hire – Making a fast hiring decision out of sheer panic rarely turns out well. If the position is so critical that it must be filled immediately, it’s worth it to take a breath and move deliberately, because a bad hire will ultimately force you back into a desperate situation. Never hire for an IT position after one interview.  Always conduct a phone screen first. This can help narrow the field before you potentially waste your time and the candidate’s time on an in-person interview.
  5. Include the Team – If an IT professional will be reporting to three managers, include all three managers in the hiring process. It is important that everyone gets a sense of a candidate’s personality and work style, so that they can feel comfortable bringing that individual on board.

 

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NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In his second post on the NVTC blog, Matt Rajput of CohnReznick shares his insights on new methods for valuing technology companies.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

As the IPO market continues to churn and with plenty of money on the sidelines, could it be that investors are changing their models for valuing a technology company?

In recent years, a company’s top line revenue and projected growth carried significant weight in attracting interest from investors as evidenced by valuation multiples of 5x, 10x, even 20x. However, we’ve recently seen that an increasing number of investors are taking a closer look at “marginal gross margins,” which is defined as a new dollar of revenue minus the cost of producing that revenue as the company grows.   Simply put, this measurement identifies the cost incurred in earning another dollar of revenue.

Calculating marginal gross margins has become a more popular method of calculating the value of a technology company because it is considered a cleaner look at operational efficiency, which is often challenging to measure in acquisitory companies that actively buy customers and market share to drive growth.  Some investors feel that buying customers and market share through acquisitions is not a favorable long term strategy for solid growth.  What happens when customers become more challenging to find and the next couple of deals fall through?

To me, it doesn’t make sense for investors to acquire a company that spends a dollar to earn a dollar in revenue, even if revenues increase by millions of dollars resulting in impressive top-line results.  A few months back, the $19B valuation of WhatsApp seemed outrageous to some, but when industry analysts began to dig deeper into the numbers, it came to light that WhatsApp had a very high operating gross margin. Coupled with its ability to grow as a cutting-edge technology, the sustaining membership revenue cash flow, and the sizable market cap, this valuation seems more reasonable.  WhatsApp passed the sticky test with flying colors!

Stickiness usually leads to higher gross margins.  The better that a technology company can become engaged with its current client base, the greater the opportunity for increasing gross margins and in turn the more positive an impact on the valuation of the company.  So, as an alternative strategy to building value, technology company decision-makers may want to think twice about buying that next customer or company and instead develop new and engaging products and services that contribute to the organic growth of their customer base.

If you’re a technology investor or a technology company decision maker, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Matt Rajput, CPA, is an Audit Manager with CohnReznick LLP and a member of the firm’s Technology Industry Practice. Working from the firm’s Tysons Corner office, Matt has eight+ years of experience servicing publicly-traded and closely-held companies in the technology sector and he routinely provides services to private equity and venture capital backed companies. Contact Matt at matt.rajput@cohnreznick.com.

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Considerations for a Cybersecure Network

June 8th, 2014 | Posted by Allison Gilmore in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off)

NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In the below post, David Farmer of member company Environics Communications shares cybersecurity advice for companies and their CIOs. This blog was originally posted June 2, 2014, on the Environics Communications blog.

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According to CNN Money, half of American adults have been hacked this year.  That is a frightening statistic, especially since the year is not even half over.  Virtually every day a new cyberbreach is exposed, increasing risks associated with everything from conducting transactions in-person and online to ongoing national security efforts designed to protect Americans.

Last week at the Hub, Environics Communications sponsored a panel on which several cyberexperts shared valuable insights for CIOs to consider as they deploy their various networks.  The Hub is a networking organization that inspires ideas by connecting leaders in the technology communications industry with one another for business development, innovation and insights.  Cyberindustry expert Jason Gayl of Cyber Capital Partners moderated the panel.  Panelists included Chris Kauffman of Personam, Christopher Garcia of Calibre, Brett Wilson of Cyren and Kevin Jones of Thycotic.  Each company offers unique solutions to help organizations better protect their networks against cyberthreats.

One key take-away from the discussion is that companies need to properly prioritize their cybersecurity efforts in order to ensure adequate protection from cyberthreats.  Such prioritization must be done carefully after performance of a risk-based network assessment.  A prudent first step is to consider what is typical in your sector, and then determine how to do it better.  Since decisions made at this point will identify the required internal and external resources (and therefore budget allocation), it is imperative to make sure priorities are actionable and implementable.

Companies must also be sure to account for insider threat possibilities as they continue to be one of the largest opportunities for security breaches, whether intentional or accidental.  Insiders are integrated into an organization’s culture, and they know what the most valuable data is and where it is stored.  Therefore, insiders can cause more damage more rapidly than an external hacker.  Typically, malware does not identify insider threats, so CIOs should explore the growing field of insider-threat detection technology.  Since their job is to protect the network, CIOs must weigh the potential cost of stolen data against the potential HR liability stemming from insider threat detection.

CIOs sometimes have a thankless job.  When all is well, their effort is taken for granted.  The minute something goes wrong, CIOs become the center of attention.  Budget constraints are not an acceptable reason to fail to deliver the security required to protect an organization or business.  CEOs need to keep cybersecurity top of mind when it comes to considering the technology, resources, and budget CIOs need to deliver the security required.  Failing to employ the right cybersecurity tools and procedures has enormous implications to the long-term viability of an organization.

CEOs and their respective communications officers must be forthcoming when a cyberbreach occurs.  It is important to learn from recent examples where major corporations suffered breaches of their electronic payment systems and online shopping networks.  Being proactive in informing the public what a company does and does not know will earn favor from its customers.  Not sharing information about the breach instills a lack of trust among customers and can be detrimental to business and profits.  Communications officers must be ready to share information quickly, even if one does not have all the answers.  In such an instance, it is ok to let the public know when you expect to have more information.

One way to stay informed on the latest cybersecurity advancements is by attending industry events on the subject. Additionally, blogs published by some of the panelist companies mentioned above also offer some guidance: Cyren Security Blog and Thycotic Blog.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

David Farmer is with Environics Communications, a mid-sized, full-service marketing communications firm.  He has 25 years of corporate communications and marketing experience in the technology sector with a track record of producing results for domestic and international telecommunications, security, and information technology companies serving business, consumer and government clients.  He has broad experience in strategic planning, corporate communications, messaging, public relations, marketing, product management, mergers and acquisitions.  In addition, David is actively involved with NVTC. 

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NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In the below post, Elizabeth Harr of member company Hinge explains how research is an essential element for tech firms in differentiating their brand.


Technology firms go to great lengths not to reinvent the wheel when developing new ideas. Staying on top of industry trends and tools keeps them from wasting time and money developing last year’s products or services. Tech firms live and die based on the quality of their research, of how in-tune they are with competitor’s capabilities. But even as technology providers differentiate their products and services, they often forget to differentiate themselves. And in the struggle to understand the competition lies the risk of blending in with the competition.

But if your firm is looking to grow, blending in is not the way to go. Our research shows a strong correlation between brand differentiation and growth. In fact, high growth firms are three times as likely to have a strong differentiator than firms with average growth.

So what makes a differentiator strong? Three things:

  1. It must be true. You can’t just make it up. Well, you could. But if you don’t practice what you preach—if you don’t deliver what you promise how you promise—you’re going to hurt your brand and your business.
  2. It must matter to your clients. More than just setting you apart, your differentiator must be important to your clients. You can boast having the best kickball team in the state, but if it’s not serving your clients’ interests, you can’t count on your differentiator gaining much traction.
  3. It must be supportable. So your differentiator is true and it matters to your customers, but you can’t prove it. That’s a problem. If it’s not quantifiable in some way, it can be difficult to communicate it to your clients. This is particularly tricky with “soft” differentiators like commitment to clients. A good rule of thumb is to avoid differentiators that everyone claims. Things like customers coming first or having the best team in the business are both hard to prove and everyone claims these. If everyone’s has (or at least claims) a particular focus, it can’t set you apart.

Discovering Your Differentiator

There are two ways to approach brand differentiation. You can uncover what you’re currently doing that sets you apart and play to that strength, or you can look for customer needs that are currently not addressed by the marketplace. Find out what your customers value and how you can rise to the occasion. Take a long hard look at the marketplace. Ask questions. Is there no one providing both of a couple of services that seem like a natural pairing? Is no one focused on a particular region, industry, or process?


Elizabeth Harr is a partner at Hinge, a marketing and branding firm for professional services. Elizabeth is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, brand building, and communications. She is the coauthor of Inside the Buyer’s Brain, How Buyers Buy: Technology Services Edition and Online Marketing for Professional Services: Technology Services Edition.

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NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In part three of her Engaging Your Total Enterprise Series, Board member Marta Wilson of Transformation Systems Inc. explains how a strategic plan can create impeccable decision-maker skills


How are you sure you’re moving forward in the right direction? Where’s the compass? Where’s the plan? One great misconception about strategic planning is that it sets in stone a course for the long haul. For those of us in the business of nimble, responsive strategic plans, the very idea seems linear, stale before it’s done—rote. I’m thinking of a word, and that word is “boring.”

Wordle: Strategic Plan

By contrast, a strategic plan can create impeccable decision makers. That’s because a successful plan puts everybody at work in the same place. In other words, a plan creates nexus. Everyone’s work is connected by common understandings. All the right people have all the right information to make all the best decisions that move everybody forward—one person, one decision at a time.

A strategic plan isn’t so much a piece of paper as a shift in mind. It moves responsibility for a company out of the hands of a few executives and into the hands—and heads—of everybody working the plan. For success, a strategic plan is a daily awareness. It’s simple. A strategic plan is what makes sure that the vessel leaves the hands of the manufacturer and is handed over to crew for passage to bolder destinations. Each person relies on his or her own power for many key decisions and knows when to turn to leadership for guidance with larger, collective changes.

A strategic plan is the best way—whether sailing is smooth or rough—for you to be involved in every decision without being in the way. The plan is a robust mechanism that keeps you from exerting a dampening influence on your teams. When you step out using a strategic plan you can count on unleashing the full power of your organization’s talent. Once a strategy is planned and in place, your only remaining challenge is stepping back, listening, and being humbled by the brilliance you find working for you.

How is this done? The well-crafted strategic plan isn’t complicated, although its development can take some time. The goal is clarity, and the process is energizing. What you have, in the end, is a shared understanding that becomes a familiar reference point. It’s used as a sure-fire way for each person to move forward independently without creating chaos or downward drag. This plan becomes the filter for sifting out meaning from all the noise among the rush of daily priorities.

A strategic plan doesn’t start on a blank sheet of paper. It builds on the organizational assessment that precedes it. Discoveries from the assessment are integral to how the business works and shares information—and also for the quality of information you have for keeping executive-level decisions in tune with what your people are doing. It also removes impediments to decision-making, because everybody knows the parameters for choices and the end goal that drives them.

Rapid response is possible no matter how large or far-flung your enterprise, and strategic planning is the key to rapid response, empowering everybody working ably within their spheres to be poised to make decisions quickly and in synch with everybody else.

All too often, though there is a plan, one no one takes it seriously as it sits in a three-ring notebook on an executive’s shelf. Having watched, over the years, the impact of a well-honed strategic plan on a business endeavor, I find it a shame that people slog to work to be part audience, part player in a poorly tuned, cacophonous symphony. It doesn’t matter if there is a skilled conductor— or executive—if there’s no sheet music from which to play. Just like an orchestra with its various instrumental sections, there are various subgroups within your enterprise. It’s natural for subsystems habitually to act independently and, all too often, at cross-purposes. But strategic plans are the integrating factor. They carry your leadership to the level of the individual instrument. They drill down into roles and responsibilities— and performance measures. Execution becomes smooth. There is little waste of effort and little reason for decision-making angst. Your team is finally working in unison, empowered to implement the daring decisions needed for triumph. Only with strategic planning can you get the musical score squared away so that you, as conductor, can restore order— enterprise integrity—among all the various parts of the ensemble.

A focus on the strategic plan typifies a skillful orchestral conductor who, amid the dynamic, ongoing flow of the music, can sense when the woodwinds are too soft, or the brass section too loud, and can guide the delicate adjustments that put the performance back into balance. When people in your group find themselves at that kind of nexus, there’s one way for you to be sure they can act with full ownership of the wellbeing of the organization: make sure they are fluent in the strategic plan and involved full force in the creative dialogue. Remember to keep everybody at the nexus: fully informed and informing decisions.

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