Strategic planning: How to do it

Strategic planning for startup and small companies was the topic of a presentation during the lunch hour Tuesday at the Gravitate in Valley Junction.

Joe Benesh—CEO of Des Moines-based The Ingenuity Company—presented on design thinking and creative destruction, two topics prominent in the business world today. The Ingenuity Company was formed to help companies through the strategic planning process.

Benesh used the example of the failed satellite Skylab to describe starting a company.

“It should give you the tools to say it’s ok to launch certain aspects of what you are going to do because you will figure it out,” Benesh says. “You aren’t going to let a satellite burn out in space.”

Benesh jokes because the Skylab was destroyed in space.

“It did crash and burn out in the atmosphere, they couldn’t figure it out,” Benesh says. “So maybe that’s a bad example, but I like the idea of that example.”

He would go on to give plenty of good ideas for companies and examples of past clients he’d work with.

At the end of his 45-minute presentation, he took questions for 15 minutes describing his work and offers some strategies for companies going through the strategic planning process.

The Q&A is below and edited for conciseness:

When you do corporate work, who is it that reaches out to you?

JB: Almost all of my work is done through referral and I’ve worked with startups before so I would argue that everybody is my target audience. It’s interesting to me how different some groups are. I’ve worked with healthcare organizations, insurance companies, financial institutions, a lot of nonprofit work.

The process itself scales differently with different organizations and because it’s based in design thinking, it’s fluid and adaptable based on what’s needed.

As far as contact, if it’s from a nonprofit organization it’s usually the executive director or President of the Board. If it’s a corporate entity, it’s somebody in the C-suite generally who says we have a culture problem or would like to do strategic planning.

So you do these strategy sessions and then a year later, what’s changed?

JB: Generally the thing I do differently from a lot of folks is I stick around and act as a consultant through the implementation then I hang around while it’s being implemented.

Where a lot of folks just deliver their plan and then it’s ‘happy trails.’

Have you ever worked with school districts?

JB: Yes, I was an education architect for 12 years and did a lot of strategic planning for educational groups and school boards.

Where are your clients?

JB: I’ve been doing this on and off for 14 years now, so I’ve had clients in Chicago and Miami. Here in Iowa, Marshalltown, Iowa City, North Liberty. Most of my stuff recently has been focused in the Central Iowa region.

Who decides who is in the room at these discussions you have?

JB: I have to ask very direct questions about that from the beginning. Because I want to make sure they are not cherry-picking these people so I get a directed message. And especially with nonprofit groups, I need to make sure staff understands they can’t be in the room for every discussion.

I need to hear what’s really happening and people talk to me differently when staff is not there. But in corporate environments, I need to make sure they are not just taking the C-suite people. When I worked with Central Iowa Health Care, I had interviews with guys sweeping the floor up through the CFO and CEO.

I heard very different messages from everybody.

What do you think it is about your personality that people welcome you into their company?

JB: If I had to pin it down to something it’s that I think I listen well and I know when to stop talking. Often times you would be surprised how reaffirming that is if somebody is actually listening to you when you are doing something because people don’t.

The C-suite is into ten other things and they don’t have time to listen to every single person to register with what they perceive to be complaints. And often times it’s not complaining, it’s opportunities for them to share how they could improve their overall situation.

It goes back to are they motivated? Are their tasks real? Sometimes the same task can be perceived in two different ways depending on how the company culture is. It’s equal parts psychology, art and science I think.