Brent Grover says in his recent book that strategic planning is “the art of the possible.” Successful planning requires an understanding and acceptance of what is and is not achievable within a company, including an understanding of a company’s strengths and weaknesses.
Many distributors have a hard time admitting where their companies fall short according to Brent, but an objective internal and external assessment of a company’s strengths and weaknesses is an integral part of realistic planning. (For more on the importance of an objective assessment and common difficulties in completing one, see Balance the Blue Sky Mentality with Front-Line Intelligence on mdm.com.)
Employee feedback is a necessary supplement to company leaders’ knowledge and intuition. As part of strategic planning, Brent recommends distributors incorporate information from employees, who have a more intimate understanding of day-to-day operations and supplier/customer relationships.
Follow these tips from The Little Black Book of Strategic Planning for Distributors to create an effective survey:
- Get help from an online tool. Don’t waste resources on a paper survey when there are free online tools available to digitize and automate the process. Brent recommends Survey Monkey, a free resource where distributors can design surveys and collect and analyze the results.
- Set the right expectations. Employees may be less responsive to your survey if they feel similar projects in the past were unsuccessful, so you may need to assure participants that their feedback is valuable and explain how you plan to use it. And for non-management-level employees, whose responses you should keep anonymous, be clear that the survey is confidential to ensure complete and candid responses.
- Keep it short. ”The survey needs to be thorough, yet short enough to finish in 45 minutes to an hour,” Brent says.
- Ask the right questions. Brent recommends using a combination of objective questions with ratings as well as open-ended essay questions. “The best insights often come from the answers to the essay questions,” he says.
- Summarize and use the results. Use your survey creation software’s analysis tool to glean trends from survey responses and to create visual aids illustrating the results. Incorporate these into a briefing on your company’s internal assessment and share them with the planning team so results can directly inform your strategic planning efforts.
For more survey creation tips including a list of Brent’s favorite essay questions, see Chapter 3 in The Little Black Book of Strategic Planning for Distributors. Don’t have your copy yet? Order a print copy and receive free shipping, or purchase an electronic copy for your iPad or Nook. The book is also available on the Kindle.