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Posted by Keith Flaherty

3 Lessons Learned from Strategic Planning (and where does Rock Paper Scissors fit in?)

December 6, 2019

Strategic planning is a vital activity for any organization.  When done effectively, a strategic plan provides a well thought path forward. The topic of strategic planning is a popular one and there are many books and articles written on “how to conduct strategic planning?” (a quick Google search will provide many options).  Recently, Hallam-ICS held our Strategic Planning session and I’d like to share with you a few lessons learned from the process.

Lesson #1 – Hire a facilitator

This was an easy one for us.  We’ve done strategic planning led both internally and externally.  While you don’t always need an outside facilitator, if you’re just getting started it’s probably a good idea to get some guidance.  Our best experiences have come with individuals who are skilled in the planning process, have an established relationship and history with Hallam-ICS, and are knowledgeable in our industry.  The right facilitator will be able to challenge long-held beliefs, ask difficult questions, and help you to see your business in a different way.Strategic Planning Meeting

Figure 1 - The Hallam-ICS team gathering for the strategic planning meeting.

Lesson #2 – Have a defined process

I’ve been involved with planning processes that seem to have no direction.  A lot of easel pads, sticky notes covering the wall, SWOTS, competitive analysis, and a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), but little in the way of developing a concrete plan to move forward with.  This year, we used a process described in the book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business (by Gino Wickman) as the basis of our planning.  This is a good, practical book and the output of the planning is a Vision/Traction Organizer™.  I really like many aspects to this planning process, particularly the “Core Values.”

Early on the first day, immediately following introductions, we began an exercise to assess how well aligned everyone was with the core values of the company.  In this exercise, each person had to “grade” every other person in the room with a +, +/-, or – for how well they embody each value.  Then, going around the room, each person had to share their grade – there is no hiding, and this can be a difficult and somewhat uncomfortable process but also leads to healthy discussions. 

At Hallam-ICS, we used our mandatory leadership traits (behavior that is required for any current or future leader of Hallam-ICS) as our Core Values for this exercise:

  • Determined / Fortitude
  • Confident and Humble
  • Optimistic
  • Honesty & Transparency
  • Respectful

Our facilitator, who has known our organization for a long time, added one other trait – Giving.  This is a good word to describe Hallam-ICS.  I’ve always believed that generosity, giving and sharing are core beliefs of employee ownership and Hallam-ICS is 100% employee-owned through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).  We’ve also shown our commitment to “purpose and profit” by becoming a Certified B-Corporation and fostering a strong Social Mission in the company.

Once completing the Core Values, we moved on define our Core Focus™, state our 10-Year Target™, and identify what makes us different (our “3 Uniques”).  The process continues with establishing a 3-Year Picture™, a 1-Year Plan, and finally our quarterly “Rocks.”

Lesson #3 – Incorporate Team Building Using Your Values as a Guide

One of the intangible (or very tangible) benefits of a strategic planning process is the relationship building that occurs between people who don’t work together every day.  We had individuals from four different offices come together for our meetings.  As the organizer, I wanted to create time both in the workplace and outside of the workplace for folks to spend time together.  Some firms like to have group dinners at nice restaurants while others like to host “fun” activities, like golf, go carting, or ballgames.  We had the opportunity to do something a bit different this year and I would highly recommend it to others.

Purely by coincidence, the annual Rock Paper Scissors Tournament fundraiser for ANEW Place was going to be held on the evening of our first day of planning.  ANEW Place is a wonderful organization in Burlington, VT whose mission is

“to provide a holistic continuum of services for the homeless, centered in love and dignity, that foster growth, cultivate community engagement, and provide tools for lifelong change so that each person may start anew.”

We’ve supported ANEW Place for several years, including at Hallam-ICS Service Day, through our Giving Tree, and for the previous three years at the RPS Tournament.  We are a friendly, but competitive bunch here at Hallam, and starting with Ray Racine in our first RPS tournament, we had won the event for the past three years (our preparation included an internal Hallam RPS tournament).   

We ended up creating two Hallam teams (of 6 people each).  As luck would have it, the first “team match” of the night pitted Hallam Team A vs. Hallam Team B.  This proved to be a very lopsided affair as Vin Calio (Team A) single handedly took down the entire Hallam Team B by himself.  Team B would have the last laugh, winning their final 4 matches to emerge as the team champion of the event.  Team A won the award for top fundraiser, capping a great evening.Rock Paper Scissors Team B

Figure 2 - Vin Calio and his victims (Hallam Team B)


Rock Paper Scissors Team A vs Team B

Figure 3 - Hallam-ICS Team A vs. Team B in Round 1

Here was my greatest lesson learned.  Sometimes, we take strategic planning a bit too serious, focusing on the business plan and we forget the most important element of a plan; building strong relationships amongst individuals to create a high functioning team.  Our Social Mission, our values, and our culture are important at Hallam-ICS.  Incorporating an event like RPS that supported our core values into our strategic planning proved to be very powerful.  We could have read many books or hired expensive consultants to create the perfect two days.  As it turned out, the perfect two days came from being who we are and doing what we value most.  Helping others.Team B Champions

Figure 4 - Hallam-ICS Team B.  2019 RPS Team Champions!

About the Author

Keith is a graduate of the University of Vermont with a BSEE and an MBA. He has been with Hallam-ICS since 1988 as an electrical engineer, manager of integration services, CFO, and CEO. He focuses the company on understanding and meeting the needs of each individual client while at the same time delivering the highest possible level of technical expertise.

Read   My Hallam Story 

About Hallam-ICS

Hallam-ICS is an engineering and automation company that designs MEP systems for facilities and plants, engineers control and automation solutions, and ensures safety and regulatory compliance through arc flash studies, commissioning, and validation. Our offices are located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and North Carolina and our projects take us world-wide. 

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Topics: Culturally Different, Social Mission, Employee Ownership

Keith Flaherty

By Keith Flaherty

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December 6, 2019

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