An Inclusive Business Planning Process

June 23, 2021

An inclusive business planning process engages team members at all levels in an organization. Senior or executive leadership is involved, but representatives from all departments in various stages of their careers have a seat at the table in planning the business.  

Typically, an organization’s senior leadership is responsible for business planning. They create the plan, determine how the company will move forward, set SMART goals and KPIs, and communicate it down to the rest of the company. This top-down business planning process is how most organizations undergo their annual business planning cycles. 

One of the flaws that we identified with the typical business planning approach was that it was less effective since the people meant to execute the plan were not involved with its creation. By recognizing that we needed additional team members involved from the start, we began enhancing communication across the organization; our goals and objectives, as well as our “why,” “how,” and “what,” became clearer for everyone included in the process.   

A business planning process built on core values and purpose 

Our core value encourage diverse perspectives, create diverse solutions, paved the path for creating an inclusive planning process that includes diverse perspectives from teammates of different backgrounds, genders, and career experiences.   

 As a company, encouraging diversity of thought is how we work together, which provides our clients and the communities we serve with solutions that help solve their greatest challenges. We know that bringing in different perspectives, including everyone, will create the most suitable solution for the person who gets to experience the benefits of our design first hand.  

Our core purpose is: To brighten the lives of people in our communities by engineering sustainable cities that are safe, inclusive, and resilient.  

Since our purpose is to contribute to designing inclusive communities, we realized that we must be more inclusive within the company first. We know that practicing inclusivity within the organization will allow that action to cascade into our work and then into our communities. With our business planning process, we strive to demonstrate how to bring in diversity of thought and build a future that reflects everyone’s goals and interests.  

How our inclusive business planning process works 

We now engage nearly half of our company directly in the strategic planning and execution of our annual business plans. Every participant gets an opportunity to share their experience and vision with our CEO and senior executive team. To encourage an increased level of participation, we require our leaders to promote conversation and ensure that everyone involved understands that the discussions are open and casual. The purpose is to explore possibilities, gain clarity, and bring forward ideas in a safe and inclusive setting. This engagement and process ensures that ideas, problems, strategies and new developments make it to the final decision-makers. This level of collaboration brings all key stakeholders to a space where top-down strategies and bottom-up innovations can thrive and carve out the path ahead.  

This hybrid business planning process is what we call our inclusive business planning process. Since the final solutions involve the voices of all people responsible for the execution, we find that there is a greater understanding of why the goals are set and greater buy-in for implementation. Also, the plan built includes more diverse perspectives and is more robust and relevant because of it.  

We further support our people and our business plan by supplementing an annual month of strategic planning with quarterly check-ins to stay ahead of what needs to be done. This method has helped create accountability throughout each team and the whole company. 

We use the right technology to collaborate during strategic workshops, track progress through quarterly check-ins and measure progress on our KPIs. Having multiple dashboards allows us to stay on top of the execution of our strategy and tells a story about the results.  

Although we have taken the first few steps to include diversity and inclusion in our purpose statement and core values, we embed it into our work by building internal processes and structures to support it.  

Benefits for the company & our team members 

We have found that bringing in diverse perspectives and experience and giving everyone an active role in the planning process has enabled us to create effective business plans that work. It has also enhanced the relationship and reduced gaps between senior leadership, regional management teams, and all levels. Our new approach has brought everyone together, creating an engaged team focused on the same goals. This new planning process has also improved productivity, trust within the company, and collaboration between teams. As a result, people and entire service lines work together to achieve organizational goals and objectives.  

This evolved process has led to reduced efforts from the executive team with more intrapreneurship within the company. Participants now share their progress, new innovative ideas and have begun to collaborate across teams.  We have seen walls and barriers come down in certain places. Teams from different service lines which weren’t necessarily working together before came together, shared tools and ideas, and are helping one another to work effectively so that together we can have a true impact on the communities for whom we design. Of course, there are still challenges, but the progress has been positive.” 

Essentially, by working together, they enable each other to be more successful in reaching their goals. We can see that the inclusive business planning approach is building trust, pride, and effectiveness for our team members.  

Benefits for our clients & the community 

Although we have not promoted our new business planning method publicly, we have seen firsthand how this new method has benefited our clients and the cities and communities we are a part of. Because we hear from each of our service lines and from team members who work one-on-one with clients, we are more aware of what they want and need. We can customize our services to meet our clients’ needs better. A more inclusive and holistic approach to planning provides our clients and the cities and communities we serve with solutions created from the experience and viewpoints of team members throughout the entire company. Inclusion typically has a ripple effect. We hope that our company’s focus on inclusion, which is communicated to our clients and evident in all we do, will cascade out to the community. Part of our organization’s purpose is to contribute to inclusivity in the spaces we build and the cities we build them in. We work for the clients, but it’s not usually the clients who use the buildings we design. It is the community.  

When we design and help build better, more inclusive infrastructure, we can see the long-term, positive impact on people and the communities we serve.