Bottom-Up Strategic Planning
Start With the People Who are Closest to the Customer

by Bernard DeKoven

In planning the intervention for the Swiss…tel in Boston, Bob Aubrey and I realized that the people who are closest to the customer are the lowest in the hierarchy: bell boys, maids, desk clerks and valets.

We decided to begin the planning by interviewing those people, en masse. We worked with them in two shifts of about 75 people each. We projected the computer onto a large screen (12 x 8 feet) and asked people to tell us:

1. Anything they really liked about working at the hotel, and

2. Anything that they could think of that was keeping them from doing a good job.

We did this using an outliner (MORE, on the Macintosh), adding everyone's input without editorial comment. We had two categories, so if someone thought of a "good" thing while we were discussing the "bad," we could re-open that category and add the comment. We did the same thing for the second group, starting out again with a blank outline.

Alphabetize, organize, summarize

Off-line, we combined and sorted the comments in alphabetical order. This made sure that there were no implied connections between ideas or contributors.

We then held a meeting with middle management. We gave each a hardcopy of the outline, and projected the live copy. We then asked middle management to help us cluster the input into categories. They authored the categories as higher level topics, with the lower level consisting of all the related input. We then asked them to edit the categories into simple statements.

Saving time and tempers

Though we asked them specifically not to come up with solutions, from time to time they couldn't withhold themselves, so we created a new category of "suggested solutions." (The "technique" here is that, rather than creating all that negativity by telling people their comments are off-task, you simply create a category and absorb their contributions. It's a big time and temper saving strategy that comes along with the Technography method.)

Finalize, publish, sign and celebrate

Then we held a meeting with the upper level management. We printed out a document that contained only the higher level categories from the middle management, but projected the entire document so that we could, when needed, trace the source. Their task was to come up with strategies for implementing the solutions recommended by the middle management.

When we finished, we had a strategic plan that reflected and responded to everyone's thinking. We printed out the entire document, the strategies on the first level in bold, the tactical suggestions on the second level and the initial input on the third. We added three blank pages on the end, bound them, and had a signing and champagne party for the entire staff.

DeKoven is the author of the newly released "Meeting on the Edge" series, and of "Connected Executives," the book Tom Peters calls "…an ingenious blueprint for a communication and networking revolution." He publishes the CoWorking News, which may be found online at For more information, contact Bernard DeKoven - 310 792 7227.

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Copyright 2001 by Bernard DeKoven. All rights reserved.

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