Isn't your role much like that of a doctor? We call you when a department or the whole company is experiencing some kind of pain. You come in, we tell you where it hurts, you take a look, prescribe a solution, send us a bill and leave.

It's true that most clients call us in reaction to a pain they are experiencing. However, we do encourage preventative medicine through strategic planning, but top management is usually too busy working in their businesses to find time to work on it. One major difference between Altfeld, Inc. and a doctor is that doctors use a method of diagnosis and prescription. We utilize a process of discovery and dialogue.

Our job is to help our clients find answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. The second major difference is that we don't just help alleviate the pain and disappear. We stick around to help with the implementation and to make certain that the next time you feel a similar pain you can fix it on your own without us.

You should not rely upon any consultant to do your thinking. You hire a consultant, attorney or accountant to help you to sharpen your thinking not control it. The consultant's role is to augment your thought process through discovery, engagement and dialogue. The consultant's role should never be to take control away from you or anyone else in your business.

Why can't I do my own strategic planning? Why do I need to hire an outside consultant to do it?

For the very same reasons you should not attempt self-diagnosis when you need a doctor. Yes, you know your body better than anyone else, but you also know that you are going to be completely subjective and will be in a state of denial. The same holds true for your business. You know and understand it better than anyone, but you are going to remain subjective and in a state of denial when it comes to facing your realities. Strategic planning is all about discovery. It is all about uncovering the truths, the harsh realities and the heart of the matter. It is all about discerning your realities, achieving full disclosure and discovering genuine solutions. You cannot do that as the owner and you cannot trust your people to be as honest and forthright as you will need them to be. Anyone working for you is not going to ask the tough questions. They are not going to be willing to challenge, provoke and question things with their job on the line. There are those who liken strategic planning to having open heart surgery while you are running a marathon. Because the business cannot stop running while you go through the strategic planning and implementation, you are working On your business as you continue to work In your business.

What is it then that a strategic planning consultant brings to the table?

There are actually two types of strategic planning consultants. There are content consultants who, with an army of young MBA's fresh out of graduate school, invade your business, tear into it from the inside out for about six months and hand you plan. Then there are process consultants who, through a series of systematic, challenging and thought provoking questions leads you through an engaging, structured, objective, and formal process. The result of which is a plan that you and your people have created. People only truly support what they have helped create. If the consultant comes in, hands you a plan and says here is what you need to do and leaves, chances are you are going to get little if any buy-in. This is especially scary when you consider that when the consultant leaves, he or she leaves the client with the consequences. What the consultant needs to bring to the table is his or her expertise to ask the right questions in the correct order to assist you in the creation of your plan. Which is another reason why a business should not attempt to do the strategic planning by themselves. Not only do they have to remain completely objective, but they also need to follow a structured, formal process that can lead them to the creation of their plan.

Do I only call on a strategic planning consultant when the company is ill?

No. The best way for any of us to remain healthy is by having periodic check ups. The same holds true for your business. Preventative medicine has proven to be a life saving practice. Early diagnosis and prevention have saved many human beings and businesses from long term illness and death. Do not wait until your business is in dire straits to do strategic planning. As the world,technology, the industries and markets you serve, and your customers change, so must your business. It is far better to be out front and prepared than to be caught off guard.

Can't I just go on-line or use a software program to do my strategic planning?

Many of these advice sites and software programs attempt to mimic the experience of sitting down with a human adviser, using conversational interviews to create your strategic profile and plan. When you have completed all of the questions, they basically crunch your answers and begin making suggestions and recommendations. The biggest issue with these on-line "advice-o-mats" and software programs is that they do not have the sensitivity and true insight you get with a one on one session. It loses the feel for the business, the owner and the people. There never really is a "connection" made between the planner and the client. To quote Scott Cook, co-founder and chairman of Intuit regarding on-line financial planning, "People on the Internet just want hot stock tips. When they get serious about planning, they hire a human."

Why is implementation always so difficult?

Too often change gets treated as though it can be simply installed, managed and engineered. The key to implementation is bringing your people together, interdependently, and thinking in terms of "we" versus "you and I". People only support what they help create. Get them involved and allow them to participate and they will go out of their way to ensure successful implementation. Your people are not really against change. They are against change being inflicted or imposed upon them. Give them a voice and let them be heard. After all, none of us is as smart as all of us together.

Who Needs to Be Involved in the Planning?

Actually, everyone throughout the entire company. Since planning establishes a clear direction for both management and employees to follow, it is imperative that everyone gets involved. The key to success (or failure) of the plan lies with the CEO or owner and the executive management team. If the plan does not get support from the top, there is no way the bottom is going to commit to it.

Why Would I Use Strategic Planning?

Use Strategic Planning/Thinking to take an introspective, honest look at your company. To determine what business you are really in and whether it is the right business to be in. To identify where you want to take the company and what you will have to do to get it there. To identify who you are as a company.

What are the company's true values and what is its culture. Strategic thinking is a means for the leadership of the company to extract itself from the subjective state of crisis management and take a step back to objectively assess where the company is now and where it needs to be. It allows the company's "brain trust" to take a time out. To breath long enough to create a desired future state, identify ways to make it happen (a strategic plan), determine who will make them happen by when, and anticipate the consequences (good or bad) of your decisions through "what if" scenarios.

What Do Most Companies Get Out of It?

Strategic thinking permits the top management of the company to look at the enterprise as a whole and the inter-relationships of the parts. As a result of strategic planning, a company realizes the futility of independent, vertical departments with each fighting to protect its own fiefdom. Rather, it becomes an eye opener for department heads to realize how much more effective they can be and how much more can be accomplished through horizontal interdependence. That by working interdependently with each department instead of independently of one another, they really can achieve the common goals that were established in the overall strategic plan. It is a coordination of the inter-related parts of the organization making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. By then implementing atop-down/bottom-up alignment of objectives, the entire company can understand what you are trying to accomplish, resulting in their involvement and buy-in. The result of which is usually a more productive workforce, increased operating efficiencies, greater retention of your more profitable customers, and a consistent revenue stream.

What are some more hard core results I can expect to achieve with it?

Unity, Focus, Direction and Understanding. Everyone pulling on the same rope in the same direction. A company with involved, informed and inspired employees who understand how they contribute to the goals of the company. What is expected of them, how they will fit into the company's culture and how far they can or cannot go in their actions and the decisions they make. Lower employee turn-over, happier, more loyal customers and stockholders, and a continuous stream of revenue.

What Kind of Commitment Are We Looking At?

No company can rely on taking care of today to ensure a bright tomorrow. It's a sure ticket to extinction. Considering the longest most companies survive is 40 years, one gets a real appreciation for those 100+ year old companies that are still around today. Companies such as General Electric which has reinvented itself and changed its culture time and time again as a result of continuous improvement and strategic planning. The length of commitment is up to you. Should your overall plan be "build to flip" then that is your plan. Should you decide you are in it for the long haul and expect to be around for awhile, then your commitment needs to be longer. The caveat is that once you have done strategic planning, your commitment is not so much to the plan, as it is to the planning process. Plans fail and things change to cause them to fail, or force them to be changed. The planning process never fails. Abandoning it however, will have its consequences. The key to success for any company is to inform, involve and inspire its people which is what strategic planning and alignment of objectives is all about. With the genie out of the bottle, it is near impossible to get it back in.