In the October 2007 issue, I wrote about how to prepare an effective strategic plan. Successful companies have road maps that will really work to transform their businesses, even with the challenges of a difficult market. For example, who would have predicted the effects of the lending market on the residential concrete market just two years ago?

Managers in the concrete products industry face constantly evolving challenges. Thus, it's extremely important to consistently refer to the strategic plan, searching for ways to make proper adjustments. What follows are some tips for overcoming obstacles in implementing the plan.

Benchmarking your plan

The process begins by establishing a set of benchmarks for your strategic plan. Managers need to assure themselves that their team has developed an effective strategic plan. You should look at the road map from several viewpoints. By addressing these views, you can be assured of a well-drafted plan.

  • Does the strategic plan provide a clear road map for increasing shareholder value? Is your planned return on investment adequate? Is your plan daring, but not fiscally irresponsible?
  • If you were an investor, would the strategic plan compel you to invest in the business?
  • If a new (perhaps more aggressive) owner bought your business, would he change the current strategy?

Often the answer to these questions is neutral or negative. If so, the management team needs to improve the strategy for the business. In many cases, the conservative strategic plan tends to perpetuate the status quo.

Unless the strategic plan is a vehicle that drives the business to a higher level of performance, it isn't accomplishing its primary goal.

Common obstacles and remedies

Producers commonly encounter three main obstacles when developing and executing a successful strategic plan. And here is how successful producers avoid them.


Short on strategy, long on tactics

Symptom: Management team is short on strategic thinking skills, business acumen, innovative thinking, or entrepreneurial spirit.

Solutions: Include strategic thinking employees from outside the executive ranks on the strategic planning team. Bring in outsiders (board members, consultants) to assist.

Concrete producers' strategic plans often are strong on operational (short-term, tactical) issues but weak on strategic (long-term) direction. A major reason for this could be the makeup, responsibilities, and even training of the management team. Many managers look at the operations with a job-shop mentality. Sales volumes are made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of individual special orders. It's difficult to see major trends in such an environment.

Also, concrete production requires paying attention to hundreds of technical details. So when running a successful, lean business, day-to-day issues consume most managers. Little time is available to think about the long-term.

Thus, the strength of certain managers is short-term thinking rather than big-picture, long-term thinking. For the successful managers who fit this profile, the effort to develop and implement a plan filled with so many unknowns is a frustrating exercise. They tend to look at the process as trying to predict the weather five years from now.

There are several ways to help solve this roadblock. Encourage managers to visit other operations, especially those outside of concrete production, to learn new practices, and procedures. Require managers to participate in industry-sponsored workshops and initiatives so they can keep abreast of new ideas. And companies should periodically open their operations to industry consultants of all types who can help them search for weaknesses and strengths.