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Shore’s proprietary strategic planning process is a success enabler for companies to get out of the gates fast and effectively. This episode details the implementation process after a strategy session, including perspectives from new and established portfolio leadership, Shore Partners, and the Shore Strategic Planning team.

Transcript

Introduction

Anderson Williams: ​Welcome to Bigger. Stronger. Faster., the podcast exploring how Shore Capital Partners brings billion-dollar resources to the microcap space. In a previous episode on strategic planning at Shore Capital Partners, we discussed Shore's approach to strategic planning, the way it evolves over multiple annual updates and why this is a foundational part of Shore's investment in our portfolio companies.

In this episode, we discuss what happens after a strategic planning session, and the process, and partnerships that help ensure that each company's plan becomes an actionable and measurable compass to drive each stage of their growth. In doing so, we gather the insights of both new and seasoned company leadership, partners at Shore Capital and the Shore strategic planning team, which facilitates and supports the process throughout.

For a bit of context for this episode, I asked Michael Burcham, Chief of Strategy and Talent Development at Shore Capital to remind us of the approach, the process, and the evolution of the company and the plan over a typical holding period.

Process Timeline

Michael Burcham: Annually best practice is to regroup the team to identify our lessons learned and review the strategy, what has worked and what has not.

That also includes a really honest conversation about all the assumptions we made, either at the beginning when we were forming the company or in the previous session, because the market may have shifted or how our value is being translated by the customer is different than we imagined it might be. I think it's really important companies revisit their strategy each year too because most strategic plans tend to drift five or ten degrees off true north each year and without a meaningful update to get you recentered as an entire team on true north, a well done intentional strategy early on can end up way off the mark in as little as 24 months, and there's no reason for that to happen if you do a really thoughtful update.

Year one is really about team formation and alignment. To get the right message and to really think about acquisition markets, we want to be in, target customer. Year two, we evaluate that work and we look for ways to accelerate the growth through additional acquisitions. What types of partners have not joined us that we thought should have, and we begin to think about what should be integrated.

Not everything needs to be completely integrated the same, but there may be shared services or things like digital marketing or others, that smarter integration of those helps everyone improve their marketplace and performance without duplicating the cost in 20 locations if we have 20 different partners.

By year three we take the learnings of these first two years and look across our growth to identify new learnings and best practices. Typically, by year three, enough partners have joined the organization, you can honestly define what best practice is. The first three or four in may be good, but there may be a sixth or seventh partner join us that does something better than all others, and it takes a while to identify best practice.

So we really spend a lot of time at the year three session on what are our best practices? What have we determined are our best points of differentiation that we should have front and center as we talk about the company and we focus really on scale and organic growth. Year four is really about both business optimization to further amplify the points of difference and what is the story of the company for the next four to five years that's going to be fundamentally different than the starting story.

 

Your story as a man is different than your story as a teen is different than your story as a child. And as companies grow and mature, the story matures and takes shape to the marketplace. And often those early stories we told about the company can become an Achilles heel if they're not updated, if you will.

Updates & Revisions

Anderson Williams: I asked Mike Cooper, who's a partner at Shore Capital, and in that role sits on eight boards of directors, what from his perspective, is the value of having an up-to-date actionable strategic plan in place for his companies?

Mike Cooper: It's not just with the team, but with the board as well. I think it helps us guide the conversation, helps us avoid going down too many rabbit holes.

It's not that we don't tinker and change things over time. And that's why I'm a huge fan of doing an annual strategic plan update and a refresh, and usually that's a one day session, again, led by you, Michael Burcham and the rest of the team to kind of have a year of hindsight that you can work from and approach things with a fresh set of eyes.

And there have been times where we've had maybe five strategic pillars and we say, you know what? A year later, one of our pillars needs to go away. We thought we were gonna do de novos in physical therapy. De novos are a fancy word for startup locations. A year later, that's not a priority anymore.

Let's deprioritize it and let's focus on these four pillars and maybe we want to add one around culture, experience, whatever it might be.

And so that's where I think there's value in consistently coming back to what are your five pillars and evaluating and say, is this still important? If it's not, why? Like, is there some big reason why we say this isn't important going forward? And if it is, are we making progress against it? You know, and if we're not, why?

Anderson Williams: One of Mike's companies is Mission Veterinary Partners, where Dan Markwalder serves as the Chief Veterinary Officer, with the benefit of his hindsight and multiple strategic planning sessions, I asked Dan about the early strategic planning process at MVP and how they've internalized the plan iterated and executed over the last several years.

Dan Markwalder: We had to learn, particularly as a young company, there's always that inclination of we wanted to be everything to everybody. And I think what Michael's perspective was, let's do three to four things really well.

And he really pushed us and challenged us to do that. And that's hard because as a veterinarian I wanted to do things for the veterinarian, but then I had to recognize that we had operational initiatives and HR initiatives. And so first one to tell you, we really had to arm wrestle on really what were the strategic initiatives for that next year?

What really were going to be the things that we could be aligned on. Because I think we all came with five or six, which meant we had about a hundred post-it notes on the board, and we came out of there with four strategic initiatives, but we were so aligned, yes. And even to this day, we just finished our 2023 off-sites for strategic initiatives, and we came out of there very focused.

Anderson Williams: And how has MVP managed to take the energy and acuity of that experience and that conversation, and actually come back into the office and lived it and kept it alive. I mean, practically speaking, how has MVP kept the strategic plan from becoming a document in a file or on a shelf someplace rather than something that continues to guide you?

Dan Markwalder: That's a great question. I think it first starts with being focused, not over commit, less is more. Two is there has to be a layer of accountability. There has to be ownership of those strategic initiatives. This is what we learned from Michael. Get the subject matter experts on those committees, have a leader, have very well-defined KPIs, and then layer of accountability.

So even to this day, this is something I believe Michael brought into MVP every single month, every single leader, all of our strategic initiatives present to senior leadership. Here's where we're at, here's the goals, here's our progression, and we hold each other accountable. It's accountability. One of the things that we now do as senior leaders, and we're encouraging our mid-level leaders is, what are you saying "no" to?

 

If this is where we have alignment on the strategic initiatives, and this is where we're gonna be laser focused, the hope is there's always some new initiative, right? Particularly when you're acquiring hospitals. Everybody has, hey, have you thought about this? And it's easy to go down that path, that rabbit hole, and now the question is, how is that affecting our strategic initiatives for this year? Because if it takes us off focus it becomes a whole lot easier to say no to those initiatives. Doesn't mean they're not important, but they're not important now.

Personalization

Anderson Williams: This is Lisa Love, the Executive Vice President of Business Operations at MVP, and the person who owns and manages the internal coordination and accountability for MVP's strategic plan. I asked Lisa why the process has worked so well for them.

Lisa Love: There are a couple key components. So one is you absolutely have to have senior leadership commitment that this is something that everybody's going to do, and we said we were gonna do these five things and we were all committed and we're all gonna march forward. The second thing was holding people accountable.

We also met routinely, so at least once a month we met to go through a full strategy review. As a matter of fact, right before this meeting was our monthly meeting and then really holding each other accountable to results. So we're not meeting just to meet, we actually want to see these results and ask a lot of questions.

And then the last thing that was really helpful is we created from our strategy something called a strategy on a page. And it's literally one piece of paper with all the strategies that has our company name and then our mission and our visions underneath it. And those strategies for the year really should drive your mission and your vision.

And we circulated that and talked about it ad nauseam, not only at the executive leadership level, but with the entire company so that they knew what we were focused on in addition to keeping the lights on, here are 10 additional things that we're going to be bringing to you by the end of the year.

Anderson Williams: And what does that look like on the monthly basis. So people often think of strategy in terms of three to five year kind of vision, and there's all kinds of mixing and mashing of terms. And when you think about keeping up with this monthly, can you just give us a sense of the meeting you just came from? What were you doing?

Lisa Love: So an initiative's not a three to five year plan. It is what are we gonna work on in the next 12 months? But what are the top, this year we have five, big initiatives or strategies that we're going to work on for the year, and we have to accomplish them by the end of the year. The meeting like today, we have a project management team and our project coordinator helps us manage the report out, and so we have a slide for each charter or for each initiative.

And the owner of that initiative speaks to where they are, what are their KPIs, what are their obstacles, what did we accomplish last month, and what do we see that we're planning on accomplishing next month?

Anderson Williams: Under Dan and Lisa's leadership and with the commitment of their entire executive team, MVP has made managing and tracking and updating their strategic plan core to how they do business.

I wanted to better understand, however, what this looked like for a new company, a platform that's just been around for six to nine months and has a new CEO, a developing executive team, and maybe just an acquisition or two under its belt. So I asked Nate Bard, a CEO of just such a company about his experience with the post-planning and implementation process for his company's first strategic plan.

Nate Bard: So the session sort of handed off a set of slides to us and really codified down to four projects and a draft sort of framework for what we talked about in the session. But then it was on us after that to go through and really build out a phasing and work plan to accomplish what it is we're trying to do in each one of those verticals.

And so our team worked for a number of weeks to develop work plans and really phasing, again, at our stage, there's not something that exists that we're going to go tweak and work. It's more about the infrastructure and the building process from scratch and what and how we're going to do it.

And so we spent a number of weeks going through that together. We had a weekly check-in meeting as a team, and we had weekly meetings as each of the project groups that was working against one of the four charters, and that ultimately culminated in a codified set of charters that we put in front of our board here a couple months ago. So it took us probably four months to get from draft to final phase.

But now we've operationalized those charters in Asana, which is a project management tool, and we've built out each one of those phases and each one of those projects in there. And now we've kept up our weekly routine of having that meeting on Monday mornings, and we're checking in and looking at the status of everybody's work against those.

And so we know what we're trying to get done in a week, in a month, in a quarter against each of those initiatives and seeing the progress and work against it.

Who Is Involved?

Anderson Williams: And who all's in those Monday morning meetings, who's connecting on a weekly basis around your strategy?

Nate Bard: So each of the four charters has an owner and those charter owners are in there.

And then if there's a critical stakeholder as a number two on any of those charters they're in there as well, I'm there, and then Hayley Hodgkins is our VP of Growth strategy. She came from the Shore CXO program on our team. She's the facilitator for the session. And so it's nice that the rest of our team is able to step back and understand what's going on and Haley's the one kind of driving and organizing the session.

Anderson Williams: It's important to note that Shore's commitment to strategic planning includes a commitment to supporting the process that Nate describes as it unfolds after the planning session.

John Murdock is the vice president of strategic planning and leads the ongoing engagement with the portfolio teams.

I asked him to describe what that support looks like.

John Murdock: We have a formal check-in set up every 30, 60, and 90 days, so there'll be three times in that first quarter that's formal. And so everybody does that, and then it's one off depending on the company and who's involved as to how much outside of that we do in those 90 days.

They have one person at the company that's our point of contact for all that process, which we call the charter manager. And so the charter manager might be interacting with us more regularly, but then say, hey John, somebody running this charter's really having trouble. Would you just talk to them straight one-on-one? And we do that too.

So it might be seven different touchpoints with one company in 60 days, but it was one person five times and then two other people, one at a time. So it's really varied by what the company needs or wants, but that's why we're here. And we understand as well as anybody, that strategy that is just a theoretical exercise that ends up on a sheet is not helpful.

And we wouldn't be happy with our roles or fulfilled if that's what we found that we were doing. So it is entirely about strategy that is executable, and how does that help shape success.

Anderson Williams: This is Chris Mioton, who is a partner at Shore Capital.

Chris Mioton: If we as Shore, the management team or the board are going to invest the time and resources into this process, we really need to embrace the follow ups and the cadence required to capture the value from it.

So, with my management teams, and I think the strategy team helps us do this, lay out a strategic plan, and then here are my expectations as to how it will be used going forward. And that does include interim updates in between board meetings to make sure that we're making progress and we're not going have any surprises at the board meetings.

So I think the management teams that I've had the fortune of working with have really embraced it, and we have this track record of using it at other companies where they can see and understand. It's worked really well for my peers. There's no reason why it shouldn't be incredibly valuable for me and my team.

Why It Matters

Anderson Williams: Given the range of experiences we've shared here, I thought I would come back to Michael Burcham to sum things up, to help us make sure we're clear, not just about how the strategic planning process works at Shore Capital, but to understand what a strategic plan really is and why it matters.

Michael Burcham: A strategic plan is a compass.

It's not a roadmap. The path of the company as it collides with the market and the realities of the market will vary. You may have thought you were going to go left, and you're actually going to go right for a while. You may hit a valley you had not anticipated, and acquisitions are slower than expected. The road cannot be predicted.

But if we know where true North is and the compass as we vary off the path we had planned, we can see how much we're drifting by degrees one way or the other. And if we keep resetting our true north based on our strategy and vision where we wanted to go, we can avoid unnecessary distractions. And even if we have to take a few alternate paths than we planned.

We still realize the bigger vision and our goal because we get ourselves back on true North. If we think about the strategy, then it's the compass and the day-to-day work is following a path with a compass, we never distance ourselves from our plan. It becomes the centerpiece of this week's work, this month's work, this quarter's work.

And if the CEO is doing their job, looking out ahead and bringing that data back to the team. And the team is doing their job to execute the plan, ultimately the company has amazing success.

Anderson Williams: This podcast was produced by Shore Capital Partners with story and narration by Anderson Williams. Recording and editing by Andrew Malone. Editing by Reel Audiobooks. Sound design, mixing and mastering by Mark Galup of Reel Audiobooks.

Special thanks to Michael Burcham, Mike Cooper, Dan Markwalder, Lisa Love, Nate Bard, John Murdock and Chris Mioton.

This podcast is the Property of Shore Capital Partners, LLC. None of the content herein is investment advice, an offer of investment advisory services, nor a recommendation or offer relating to any security. See the terms of use page on the Shore Capital website for other important information.

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