Five critical factors in the design of a strategic plan

Leadership is different from management. Managers tend to focus on order and consistency. The successful finance leader, however, should focus on producing change and movement.

A blending of these skills can be critical in the development and execution of a successful strategic plan, according to Larry Bienati, who spoke about strategic planning at the American Institute of CPAs CFO Conference last week in Marina del Rey, California.

“Strategic planning does not replace a culture of leadership – that’s the bottom line,” said Bienati, the vice president of organisational development at The Cooper Companies Inc. Bienati also works as an executive coach and college professor.

Here are Bienati’s five critical success factors in strategic plan design, accountability and execution:

  1. Create a culture of leadership: Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, breaks down leadership into five levels. Level 1 leaders “make productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits.” Level 5 leaders are a cut above, clearly communicating their vision and inspiring others to greatness. Collins’ work showed that “mere mortals can be great leaders,” Bienati said. “Even introverted leaders who had high intensity, high integrity, high focus, were some of the best drivers of organisational success.”
  2.  One size does not fit all: Many factors determine how a company will approach strategic planning. A company’s size is one such factor, but so is a company’s position on its organisational life cycle. For example, a tech start-up trying to operate a virtual office with workers in multiple cities would likely approach strategic planning differently than the third-generation owner of a single-shop dry cleaner would.
  3. Create a culture of shared accountability and personal responsibility: Bienati said this culture is created by leaders who can inspire, align and cascade the vision and strategic plan through all levels of an organisation. “If we don’t believe and trust the messenger, we won’t believe the message, and any efforts to create an engaged workforce are shallow at best,” he said.
  4. Drive execution the right way: Bienati lists “sins” that are barriers to execution, including complacency, underestimation, a lack of communication and impatience. His solutions include creating urgency, aligning the senior leadership team, communicating exhaustively and embracing incremental success in developing goals and strategies. “Understanding plus acceptance equals commitment,” he said. “There has to be understanding, involvement, ownership, belief among the troops. Once that happens, they feel a sense of ownership, and then you’ll gain commitment and drive a successful execution of a strategic plan.”
  5. Calibrate your deployment success factors: Bienati asks a series of questions, including what metrics will be used and whether companies are prepared to reward success. The simplest, and perhaps most important, question companies can ask themselves: Is our strategy clear, and how will it cascade through the organisation? He emphasised the view of the late management consultant Peter Drucker that “what gets measured gets done.”

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Neil Amato ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.