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In the following Testimonial a CEO reflects on his experience with Gagnon Associates’ strategic planning process.  He shares his perspective, especially, on the effects of the process of developing of a strategic plan on himself as a leader and on the other members of his leadership team:

I know John Moticha recently outlined what we feel were the significant business and organizational benefits of the Strategic Planning Process we went through with you.  I’d like to echo John’s assertion of the value of the process in forcing us to look at the company as a whole and set corporate-wide Goals, Strategies and Tactics above simply business-by-business goals.  This has proven valuable in “silo-busting” internally and getting us to think more of ourselves as one company vs. a group of separate businesses.

That said, in this letter I’d like to focus primarily on the benefits of the process to the leadership of the company, that is, to me as CEO and to my leadership team.

First, my top-line statement would be that I gained valuable insights that encouraged me to change my style and approach to leading the company.

This began, I think, with your very successful one-on-one interview sessions in preparation for the Strategic Planning Conferences themselves.  At the time of the interviews, we were going through some unique challenges, and people needed and welcomed an opportunity to “go to confession.”  For our executives, these interviews were a good opportunity.  People realized they could trust you in that you were true to your assurances that you would maintain confidentiality.  For me, and for all of us, your summaries of the key themes of those interviews provided new and valuable insights.

The Planning Conferences themselves provided the leadership group some valuable benefits, especially in the area of clarifying and improving the effectiveness of how we make high-level decisions.  For instance, we continue to use and benefit from the decision-making norms and guidelines by which you ran the Conferences, e.g., “85/100,” declaring the decision-making method at the outset, etc.  We have also more clearly delineated my fixed decision-making team at the top of the Company – we call it the Executive Committee – so that all our Associates know precisely where decisions are coming from.  Since the Planning effort, I’ve heard feedback from my team that we do a better job of ensuring clear disposition of issues and avoiding “drift” than we did before.

Turning to the implementation of the plan brings me to what I personally feel was some of the most useful advice you gave me.  Here I’m speaking of your emphasis on the central role of the CEO in communicating the plan clearly, continuously, repeatedly, relentlessly and in as many forums and forms as possible in order to ensure that it becomes a reality in the organization.  And I especially recall your rule of thumb:  “When you’ve said it so many times you’re blue in the face, most of your team will be hearing it for the first time.”  That is advice that I have passed on to others.  And, as you know, new communications channels such as our Town Meetings and my monthly newsletter to the entire Company, “News from Perk,” are concrete testimonials to how valuable I believe that advice was.

Finally, there are a few additional comments I’d like to make that just don’t happen to fit into the above.  As you know, I take shots at consultants from time to time, and many times they are easy targets because they stray from their areas of expertise. They try to spread the expertise of others but often get it wrong.  I and the whole planning team liked working with you, Ray, because you stuck to your area of expertise.  You did not insert opinion in inappropriate areas.  You were excellent at synthesizing input from us without editorializing.  You also were very effective at engaging the team.  You offered what I would call great framework advice, but you let us fill in the framework.

Lastly, you made the process easy for us. Your way of getting most of the work done at offsite meetings and coming back with a product as opposed to coming back with an assignment made the process painless – painless in the sense that it did not consume a great deal of our day-to-day time needed for managing the business.  That was another great benefit to me and the leadership team.

These, then, are the highlights as I see them.  Thanks again for helping us create a wonderful Strategic Plan for The Orvis Company.  As this letter implies, I’d be happy to recommend you and your process to any leader or leadership group that’s looking to clarify and build commitment to a living strategic plan for the future of their enterprise.