Strategic Planning

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A few weeks ago the Cahners Residential Group entered into its annual strategic planning process.

July 11, 2000

 

Dean Horowitz, Publisher

A few weeks ago the Cahners Residential Group entered into its annual strategic planning process. It required contributions from members of the immediate team as well as our clients -- readers and advertisers.

Instead of rebelling against the exercise, we focused on making the time more meaningful than in past years. What had been an exercise solely devoted to the creation of strategies that meet and exceed corporate revenue and contribution targets, instead became an examination of how we can improve the way we do business.

A great deal has changed in this group during the past few years. We successfully launched Professional Remodeler magazine, a number of conferences and in-person events and Housingzone.com, and we re-launched Luxury Homes asLuxury Home Builder. To get to this point, however, we underwent changes in our staff and in the way we approach our business. Not all of these changes have been easy or fun. The efforts accomplished incredible goals and provided a rich environment for personal growth, but the price seemed too extreme at times.

We looked at the current mix of staff, where to add people and where to change people into new positions that would deliver more meaning for them and for our team. This was the most surprising part for me; we need only a few more people to accomplish exponentially more projects. The reason is that our staff quality has improved and the pace of our organization can handle much more.

Our group faces the same issue as the rest of the country: finding the best talent and providing them the right opportunity to excel. We have hired great people who ultimately weren’t a match with the needs of the group or the business and are no longer with us. Everyone lost in these experiences: their resumes and egos, and our time, emotions and relationships. So the question is, how do you find the best talent when the labor pool is so slight? And, when you have immediate needs how do you properly screen candidates?

The overall process allowed us to understand that the impact of bad hires is worse on an organization than an empty position. And taking extra time in the interview process, we realized, allowed us to find out when someone simply was not a perfect fit.

The right hire is absolutely essential since they will represent the entire group. When they pick up the phone, meet someone at a trade show or have an impromptu conversation on an airplane, they are the face for our core values and dedication to our industry.

The next phase was determining how to leverage our core team’s competencies for a rich customer experience. We need to turn our customers into advocates by examining the areas they find "uncomfortable" in their businesses and their relationships and then create the products and services that will turn a displeasure into a great mutual benefit.

It sounds simple, but it is actually extremely complicated. We came up with a lot of ideas with an understanding of top-line and bottom-line growth, but we found the best initiatives occurring naturally as we kept "customer needs" as our primary focus and main objective.

As a builder, consider the elements of the home buyer’s experience that your customers find most uncomfortable. It could be trust issues, a lack of understanding about the construction process or a couple’s differing design ideas. You may be able to turn these feelings around by creating customer communication materials based on frequently asked questions or by putting on a consumer seminar about the construction process -- minus the sales speech.

I highly recommend taking the time this summer to enter into your own strategic planning process. By doing it months in advance of budgeting -- and during mid-year performance reviews -- you will find yourself completing an 18-month plan that keeps this year on track and next year growing.

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