Todd Feldman
The Rocket Factory
A Dynamic Systems Approach To Strategic Planning
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Rocket Factory strategically helps companies be ready for the here and now so they're ready for what's to come. Through Systematic by Rocket Factory we follow a rigorous process to help properly identify sustainability gaps, roadmap a future direction, and implement their plan.

For more than three decades, Todd Feldman has remained at the center of performance-driven strategies, creatively operating at the intersection of business and technology.

Patent holder. Inventor. Lifelong learner. His background spans multiple business verticals, having served both client-side and vendor-side executive roles with organizations ranging from start-ups to global blue-chip brands.

No buzzwords. No fluff. No shiny objects. Just deep, deliberate rigor around how economies feed the lasting business outcomes of organizations.

His philosophy is simple: Organizations in every industry, no matter how big or small, must remain flexible and relevant with the constantly changing needs of customers and their employees to maximize strategic investments properly.

In early 2020, Todd formed Rocket Factory to serve organizations and industries looking to simplify what matters and deliver on this philosophy.

In this episode

Todd Feldman of The Rocket Factory shares the surprising fact that 70% of the time, a business's strategic plan fails. Even worse, it can take 18 - 24 months to even know if your plan is on track. As Todd jokes, "That's why they call is shelfware!" On the other hand, you'll never reach your objectives if you bypass the development of your strategy and go immediately to tactical implementation. Todd advocates for a dynamic systems approach to strategic planning and takes us through both the benefits and implementation of this technique. Todd sums it up by stating that one key goal of your strategic planning process is to create a sustainable business in all meanings of the word sustainability. Todd has a nice gift for our audience but you have to listen to the end for the details.

A glimpse of what you'll hear

02:58 70% of the time, a business's strategic plan fails.

04:37 Should you scrap the strategic planning process altogether?

06:50 Using a dynamic systems approach to develop your business strategy.

09:20 Your strategic plan is done on an ongoing basis not just at the same time every year.

11:15 The benefits from using a dynamic systems approach to strategic planning.

17:04 What you need to do to implement a dynamic systems approach to strategic planning.

19:44 Learn about Todd. Email Todd at todd@gorocketfactory.com

Episode Transcript
(Note, this was transcribed using a transcription software and may not reflect the exact words used in the podcast)

Centricity Introduction  0:04  

 

Welcome to the Best Kept Secret videocast and podcast from Centricity. If you're a B2B service professional, use our five step process to go from the grind of chasing every sale. to keeping your pipeline full with prospects knocking on your door to buy from you. We give you the freedom of time and a life outside of your business. Each episode features an executive from a B2B services company sharing their provocative perspective on an opportunity that many of their clients are missing out on. It's how we teach our clients to get executive decision makers to buy without being salesy or spammy. Here's our host, the co founder and CEO of Centricity, Jay Kingley.

 

Jay Kingley  0:42  

 

I'm Jay Kingley, co-founder and CEO of Centricity. Welcome to another episode of our Best Kept Secret show, where I'm happy to welcome Todd Feldman, Founder and President of the Rocket Factory. The Rocket Factory uses a rigorous process to help companies with up to 2500 employees, properly identify sustainability gaps, roadmap of future direction, and implement their plan. Todd is based in Richmond, Virginia.

Welcome to the show, Todd.

 

Todd Feldman  1:15  

 

Hello, Jay. It's great to be with you today. And look forward to chatting with you here.

 

Jay Kingley  1:19  

 

Todd, I started my career post, getting my MBA as a strategic business consultant. And I gotta tell you, I loved it. I worked for all these large companies, they bring us in at an executive level. And we would help them put together their strategic plan. We looked at all the opportunities and threats on their external environment, figured out where we thought they could position themselves for victory, laid it all out, gave a really nice presentation, and said, guys, it's there for you to crush the competition, make your owners happy. That was a great story, Todd. But I always wondered about two things that I saw that we would never talk about. The first thing was sometimes those great plans, they didn't prove to be so smart. You know, it's that old joke that hindsight is 20/20. Unfortunately, I hang out with hindsight cousin, called foresight. Foresight isn't so smart. Sometimes it was just not a particularly good plan. But it would take quite a long time, typically measured in years, before you'd ever know. But by then we cashed our check we had moved on. Now, the second thing that happened, which you might argue is even worse, which is we do all this work, charge all this money, deliver it, and they would literally put it on the bookshelf, and get back to business as normal, especially just ignored. So what was the point? So my question to you, Todd, is what the heck is going on with strategic planning? And why do we have these issues?

 

Todd Feldman  3:13  

 

Well, it's a great question. And one of the things I'll say to you is, I like what you said about foresight, I like to say let's create some foresight from hindsight, like what have we learned in the past that teach us about how we go forward in the future? And, you know, obviously, the road behind us is littered with broken businesses and failed businesses. And so why does that keep happening? Well, just what you described, it's 70% of businesses, their strategic plans fail. And it typically takes 18 to 24 months to even know whether a plan is on track. So there's got to be a better way I have I like you have been on both sides. I've been a vendor working full time consulting, as well as before I did this, and then also on the corporate side doing enterprise strategy. And, and I've consumed large consulting firms, and I consumed boutique consulting firms and what you described of, we call it shelfwear, right, it gets put on a shelf, usually feel like the like, we measure the weight of the binder that they give us and it feels like it should be like a million dollar plan. And it just goes on a shelf. That's just not sustainable any longer. It doesn't work. And, you know, as someone who has both seen him as a consultant and been a part of it as a practitioner, it's which it's what's his frustrated me and why I'm doing what I'm doing.

 

Jay Kingley  4:46  

 

So now the cynic might say, Todd, so why bother in the first place? Let's scrap the strategic planning process, who needs a plan? Just get out there and do it. Is that an approach or do we need a middle ground? 

 

Todd Feldman  5:03  

 

Well, it's certainly an approach. The question is, how much does that approach either costing you? Or how much are you, you know, I like to look at things in, you know, sort of look at look at outcomes, right. So it's, it's revenue, profitability, its operational experience, it's customer experience. And it's also, or operational efficiency, customer experience. And it's also socio economic sustainability, which is getting to be a very important topic. So it's, it's got to be those four things. And each of those four things are interconnected, you can go ahead and go forward, but I never know what it's costing you. But the bottom line is anybody that's trying to run a business has got a P&L, and they're trying to look at, like, Are we okay, we're bringing in top line, but what are we putting in the bank. And a lot of times without an identification step, it's hard to know where those blind spots are. And that's another one of the things that we're setting out to fix is, it's just understanding where the blind spots are so that companies don't go forward blindly. And then come two years later, to find out it didn't work.

 

Jay Kingley  6:09  

 

And I think I would point out to folks, and I'm going to pick three institutions or industries here, the military, professional sports, and entertainment, the military doesn't engage the enemy, on a tactical level without having any kind of a strategy in place. If so, we wouldn't be speaking English. No one goes into sports, whether it's football, baseball, hockey, where you say, well, we don't need a manager, we sort of know what we're doing. We don't need a game plan. Let's just go out and play. And you don't see entertainment out there. Whether it's theater or film or music, where the first no script, there's no director, there's no rehearsals, so much of what we have been doing and the way we've been doing it isn't working. The alternative of not doing it all makes no sense. So that leads to the question of, so how should we be thinking in doing a strategic planning process?

 

Todd Feldman  7:18  

 

There's got to be some rigor, there's got to be some steps involved. The important thing is that they're done in a proper order. I'll give you just a quick analogy, or metaphor I was sitting at home, we just recently moved last summer and I was putting together some furniture and I laid out the like you're putting together that put it together furniture. And so it's like, I don't want to really, I'm not looking at the instruction book, I'm just going to go ahead and put this furniture together. And I'm at the very end that it happens all the time, right? Jay, am I wrong? The bolt, the damn bolt at the very end is left and you're like, where to hell is this supposed to go. And then you realize that at the end, at the, you have to go with six steps back to be able to figure out where that bolt went. And that's exactly what's happening in planning and why while we like to be creative, and certainly allow the creative process to flow and have some lack of structure to allow creativity, there's got to be though, guardrails in place to be creative to then plan a business and go forward, it's a little bit of a mix of both on sort of how we roll, but there's got to be, there's got to be some rigor. But there's also got to be room for trial and error, for coming up with wild ideas, and then sort of the pair of them back as needed. And that's all you know, those are all the things that we encourage, those that we talk to, and even when I'm out giving talks to people, just like this, just gotta have gotta have structure.

 

Jay Kingley  8:49  

 

And let me ask you a question about a different dimension and get your take, historically, planning is that once a year process, right, we do our budget for you know, in the fourth quarter for the next year. The part and parcel that doing the budget, of course, is our strategic planning process, which we do the next year. And my question is, is there a need to be much more dynamic in our planning, where we look at plans as living and breathing that are constantly being revised and reworked? As opposed to this static thing that's done once a year? I mean, I am reminded, every time I watch a football game, and one team's already getting the crap beat out of them. And in the first half, what does everybody say? What are the second half adjustments? You're in? You're not sitting there saying, Well, I wonder what they're going to do the next season, because this clearly isn't working at all now, and they're just continue to do the same thing. There's always this idea of adjustments, that the plan the strategy is living, breathing as opposed to static. What's your take on that? 

 

Todd Feldman  9:59  

 

Well, I agree with you 100. are sent and the, there's got to be some regular intervals of review, not just a review of the plan, because executing the plan on its surface is easy, and it's not easy. But the harder part is really understanding an organization all rowing in the same direction. And so, you know, we all might be sitting or patent our backs and cheering every quarter or every, you know, semi, you know, every six months, or even every year, but we got a whole team of like a whole crew of employees that are scared, nervous, they got a lot going on in life right now, they've always had a lot going on, we're now just becoming a little more sensitive to what's going on with people. And so there's that component of it. I've always said like, or there's been a well, there's been a well documented statistic around plans failing because of resistance from people. But I say it goes even further than that. It's like, well, why are the people resisting in the first place? It's not just about the change, but what are the reasons why they're having trouble trusting leadership or whatever on going forward? Because and that's because they're not involved in the process? To get through to answer your question directly, yes, it has to be a regular rhythm of checkups. But it's not just the financial checkups, it's an organizational checkup, from start to finish.

 

Jay Kingley  11:18  

 

So Todd, if we adopted sort of your ideas in went away from this rigid, static, really not of any use to something that's much more dynamic, inclusive, dealing with the issues of the day, that we're revisiting on a holistic basis, on a fairly continuous basis? So we make that switch, talk about the executive who's going to make that call how are they benefiting from this change on an emotional basis?

 

Todd Feldman  11:55  

 

When it comes right down to its people's livelihoods. So you know, that's what I, that's a matter of five minute process of writing something about this. It's like, so I we relaunched around this whole notion of identifying, jamming and innovating. And it really literally, the real word of innovation is to take invention, that's been our done making it better not just to have a separate team where we're working on a private project. At the end of the day, though, it's people like are all of us up everybody, that is executives, the people at the frontline, wherever in the company, there are livelihoods at stake. And I'm a big systems thinker. And so when we think even outside the wall, the four walls of a company, and we start to think of our role in society, both corporately, but also as human beings, that starts to then trigger, will I have to keep earning a living, and I want to have a productive life. So what are those things that were my trade offs? So I am responsible, if I'm a corporate executive, I am responsible to deliver this plan better, in a better way. Because everyone else is counting on me. And I'm counting on me and the economy is counting on me. So that's, I think, the emotional piece that's got to get kind of raised. This is not our first financial crisis, not our first health crisis. The thing that COVID has done, though, is it's sealed off all the emergency exits. Like we can't fix it with money, we can't fix it with more people. We can't, like, there's so you know, if you look at the system, it's broken in multiple parts, not just one part that we can just kind of like work around, there's even a greater need for better planning now than ever has been before.

 

Jay Kingley  13:40  

 

One of the things that I have observed and learned throughout my years in business, is the burden of being as a senior executive or running your own company in unless you've been there, I don't think he quite understand this. When you're the employee, you have the burden of yourself in your family. And it's, as you said, I gotta provide, I've got people that are dependent on me. Well, that senior executive business owner has that issue personally. But the best ones, feel it for every single person under their care. And there's a lot of sleepless nights, right? Particularly when you're in very volatile periods or you're in a downturn, you feel the pain, not just yours, but in you realize how many people in their families are dependent upon you and your leadership, to keep them afloat and keep them healthy. And that's why oftentimes, they get a little bit faster aging at that executive level, and the more confidence you have, that you're going in the right direction, I think that burden on that decision maker who's driving this goes way down in that material, but let's get on to it benefit, which I would say is the benefit to the business. And this is where we start talking about dollars and cents and metrics. In the approach that you're talking about, what do you seen in terms of, you know, you talked about 70% failure rate do you see any any evidence of how that might change, you see any knock on benefits, which the business itself would experience? 

 

Todd Feldman  15:26  

 

I just saw. And I've known this for some time, that's the whole sales and Mark, just let's take sales and marketing just for just to keep it narrow for a minute. The Harvard Business Review published an article just came out in December of 21. And it said, basically peg, the misalignment the opportunities loss, as well as sales loss, and then productivity issues and things like that. A trillion dollar impact in in companies not having alignment between sales and marketing. And that happens to be one of the first questions I asked like, Where does sales and marketing sit? And are they separate? Do they share metrics? Are they compensated the same way? Is marketing driven with a budget? Are they driven with a P&L? Things like that? Like, are they Is it truly a business driver? Or is it a expense? And that's, you know, that's those are just like, that's just one set of questions that answers a whole lot around the company. So there's opportunities in in doing a better job and sort of when we talk about modernizing, or transforming, which I'm not really, those are the words that people throw around, they wrote on, I mean, no one really understands what it means it just means I'm big on building sustainability. If I build a sustainable business, if I plan for sustainability, like I want to, in all senses of the word, I want to be here for the long term, but I also want to care for my people, the climate, you know, the planet, you know, all those other things that are that are just equally important. Then transformation, putting people in the right spot, all these other things, if you're doing your homework, and you have research and data will naturally happen there. They become an outcome, they don't become a product or not a project. And so that was the other. That's the other big thing we're focused on is, let's talk about what is it to be here in 10 years? And then what are the things you need to do to get there? We've talked about a lot of the pieces and parts that get ignored. We're seeing it's not that's not working out for companies that do ignore that,

 

Jay Kingley  17:25  

 

I think the case, to change how you do the planning process, the lines that you suggest, both at an individual emotional level, and when it comes to dollars and cents is compelling. Which leads to the next question I'm sure our listeners have on their mind is okay, Todd, you convinced me so what is it that I need to do to actually make this change?

 

Todd Feldman  17:52  

 

First of all, if it's just internal, you're certainly want to look at and talk to your executive teams and get get feedback from that. And then from there, get feedback from your employees, ask them what they're going through, ask them what ideas they have, you have to establish some mechanisms to be able to gather that input from them. And it's not the annual employee survey that you do that with. And it may not even be departmental meetings, there may be brainstorming sessions are facilitated and guided sessions at your at your company. All of that is done with great care and deliberate activity to get to a an actionable outcome. The best ideas come from, they bubble up from within. So it's a combination of what what are what are your teens see? And how do you make that? How do you facilitate those types of activities to occur? Brainstorming, design thinking, activities, but then also combination of that, and then how do we marry that up with what we're seeing in our market and where our market is demanding that we go or that we're seeing an opportunity?

 

Jay Kingley  19:00  

 

I love it when we have someone like yourself who comes on and challenges the status quo, because that is the only way we are going to move forward with the strategic planning process, or really, anything that we do is to change in a positive direction thank you for pointing out to us on the planning side, where we are and where we need to get to. We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we're gonna learn a bit more about Todd.

 

Centricity Introduction  19:35  

 

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Jay Kingley  20:33  

 

Welcome back, we're talking to Todd Feldman, of the Rocket Factory. Thodd I'd like to find out a bit more about you. Let me start with what are the pain points that you in the Rocket Factory address for your clients? And why do they need you to get rid of the pain?

 

Todd Feldman  20:51  

 

Well, the pain point is that these plans aren't going so well, which we've talked a lot about the areas that we focus if we're again, bringing a perspective of thinking as a system, the areas of focus that we like to pay attention to and and assess before we even do any work are brands like how does this or clarity around your brand promise? And I don't mean mission vision values, either. I mean, like, what's the promise you're making to the market? If you have a best friend, and you're making a promise, what promise you're keeping? And then is it clear to everybody in the organization, that they understand what the promises, which by the way, usually were the people rejection of new stuff, and change comes from if they're not clear on wire, ask them to do something in the first place. But it's brands than people in culture process data technology, a lot of times technology becomes the first question like, Hey, we're gonna put in a new CRM system, or we got a new piece of enterprise software. Awesome. But what does that do to the people? And why are you doing that? And what does it do for your customers? And how do you monetize the full value of the technology, it is only known unless you do them in order and have technology be that amazing tool to power your organization. And then it's the go to market piece. So it's the little bit of the sales and marketing and how you go to market and how efficient you are. But all of it, how to tie back to the broader organization and those pieces. So the pain comes when those things aren't followed and taken into account in the proper order. And that is why it is at the root of why plants don't go well. Do you really just Google it. Strategic planning, success rates or strategic planning failure rates, if you look that up, you'll see a lot of it has to do with like leadership, keeping it to themselves and employees not being involved. And it's not repeatable, we can't measure it. It's the stuff we all know that we do every day in business, but we don't practice it at a as an enterprise. We do it in our departments. It's got to be all put together. That's where you gain efficiency. And really, overall, you gain most profitability.

 

Jay Kingley  23:09  

 

Anytime, whether it be myself or anyone that I know, that's a business owner, business executive, they make that a very important decision to bring in someone from the outside to help them, they always get the question why? And I can tell you the answer they want to give, which is because in your case, Todd and the Rocket Factory, are the best at what they do. I mean, who wants to work with average, want to work with the best? So in light of that, Todd, let me ask you, what is it that makes you great at what you do?

 

Todd Feldman  23:46  

 

First of all, I'm highly collaborative. I want to listen and hear what people have to say and where they've had issues or trouble you like a doctor diagnosing a problem. The benefit is I've done this for 30 years have started, you know, doing online and digital back in 1996. I used to say that it made me sound cool, and I'm just making it sound old. But I've been like I sold my first I did some stuff with the Philadelphia Eagles. When I lived in Philadelphia and with AOL, when I worked for AOL local, and the first jersey I sold was in 1997. And so I've seen a lot of shiny objects come and go and I've seen a lot of you know, fads trends, and you know, I look here's the thing at the end of the day, it's about business and we got to make money and we got to do it right. We got to please our customers and and we have responsibility to our employees. That's really what it all boils down to. And that is really at the the core of what we do what I am looking to do. And I talked about livelihoods before Just that is, you know, that is actually what gets me out of bed every morning is making sure that I can help people help help their people have solid livelihoods.

 

Jay Kingley  25:11  

 

I encourage our listeners to go to LinkedIn and type type in Todd's name, find him and take a look at his education. Take a look at what he's accomplished professionally. I am sure you will be as impressed as I was. But that's not really my question. My question for you, Todd, is this. What's happened in your life could be personal, could be professional, that would tell us why you do what you do. 

 

Todd Feldman  25:41  

 

First of all, I mentioned I've been doing this for quite a while in different corporate roles, different enterprise roles and, you know, running marketing departments and doing enterprise strategy. And the last place I worked I, you know, I was the CMO. I saw opportunity where we're making investments in marketing, and we're trying to be we are being an ROI driven marketing department. But it was a financial services firm, and so very conservative. A lot of wanting folks to stay in their lane, including me as the Chief Marketing Officer I'm making, like, how do we, if we're driving, we're driving leads to the business. In this case, it's loan applications, and we're getting them approved quality is good. So why aren't they dispersing? Which we can't put the loan on the books until they disperse? That was a conversation I was trying to have where can we tie this all together? That's efficiency. It's like oh, well, or if we're having like a productivity concern or a productivity concern, where the loans get dispersed, and maybe I should throttle my marketing or if loans are we're not getting high acceptance rates for loan applications that's quality that's on me. So anyway, long story short, as I was asked to resign my last position because of this. And it's interesting, because in every place that I have been, I've been challenged, like I've been asked to challenge the status quo. So I thrive really well in challenging the status quo. And got to the point there where I no longer fit, and it was clear. And we all we all agreed it was time to go. So this why I'm doing what I'm doing. I want to just try, I'm trying to help those that want to be helped. And, and there are a lot of people that want to be helped. But yet, there's that 70% rate that I keep coming back to. So it's not being done, right. So and it takes two years to figure it out. So that's really what's been get me get me out of bed every morning. And people's livelihoods. I know I said that already.

 

Jay Kingley  27:58  

 

Challenging the status quo is at the heart of the Best Kept Secret show that we're taping right now. So I am sure that you have done that for many of our listeners, and I am confident they're going to want to reach out and continue the conversation with you Todd, how best for them to get in touch.

 

Todd Feldman  28:20  

 

I mean, the best way would be email, you can email me at todd@gorocketfactory.com.

 

Jay Kingley  28:26  

 

Now, Todd, you as I've said repeatedly throughout the show, I really think you've challenged the status quo around planning. You've given us a much more systems sustainability, way to look at it. And I know that for most shows out there, they would be so thrilled. That wow, you like fabulous guest yet, you know, I'm sitting here saying I'm thinking can you do better? Maybe there's something more that we can learning out of you that would benefit our listeners. So Todd, not to put you on the spot. But I'm going to do so anyway. How about a little gift for all the people that are listening in taking notes, and having to spend all that mental energy to think about what it is that you're telling them they need to do to shake up the status quo?

 

Todd Feldman  29:18  

 

Thanks, Jay. Well, I think so first of all, I guess they're on the website, we have our blog. And on the blog is an article that talks about our five steps to go to market and do strategic planning. So it's out there you can go look at gorocketfactory.com. But as part of that, and we've done this before, and I would do it for your listeners, if there was enough interest. We can do a mini called a mini workshop around those five, those five steps and I can take folks through over do an online session, do it online workshop, and we'll do it for free. So and that way everybody gets some value out of it and maybe they see where the gaps are in their own organization. They can take that information back and do it themselves. 

 

Jay Kingley  30:03  

 

When you would I want to call a posse men listeners. I want you to email Todd, tell Todd, you were listening to him on the Best Kept Secret show. And you want to take him up on the offer of this workshop. I can't imagine something that would be so valuable as that. So Todd, I want to thank you so much for being a guest on our show to our audience. Let's continue to crush it out there. Until next time.