When I go on a trip, I start off with a plan. Where am I going to stay? How am I going to get there? What’s the trip going to cost? I look at the plan each step of the way, maybe making a few modifications as we go along. But for the most part, if I follow my plan, I end up with the trip I envisioned.
Now, there are other people who don’t like to travel this way; they like to be more spontaneous. They just take off and drive, and let the road guide them. I’m sure they often have a wonderful time, but since they didn’t have a destination in mind, or a plan to get there, the outcome of their trip is more uncertain. Maybe the hotels are all booked, or the road doesn’t go where they thought. They may have a great time and discover new territory, or they may end up in a flea-bag motel in the middle of nowhere. The outcome is uncertain.
While uncertainty can be fun on a short vacation, it can be a nightmare for a business. When business owners build their businesses without a plan, they build a business they may not like. They may find the people they’re working with (or for) aren’t the people they like to spend time with. They might find the work that has come their way isn’t the work that they enjoy.
But alas, they’re stuck. With no plan of how they got there, they have no plan to get anywhere else.
The good news is that it is never too late to come up with a plan, whether your business is in its infancy stages or has been around for 30 years. In business we call this type of plan a Strategic Plan. Now wait, stay with us! This is where many business owners start to shake their heads while offering a number of reasons why strategic planning doesn’t or wouldn’t work for them – and they all think the reasons are unique to them. Here are a few:
- The last one we did was a waste of time. No one used it.
- It’s only for big organizations with lots of layers to align.
- We’re too busy working to take time to think about the business.
- I don’t know what’s going to happen next month, let alone next year.
Yet, all organizations we know who complete the planning process will say, “It changed the course of my organization,” and “I don’t know where we’d be if we hadn’t done it.”
BatesMeron Sweet Design in Chicago is one of those glad-we’re-doing-strategic-planning organizations. One of the company’s principals, Shachar Meron, said the young company was emerging from an “awkward adolescence stage where we just winging it” and it was time to start gaining control over where the business was heading. A strategic-planning engagement with Anchor Advisors started off with a tough assignment: Name your best clients and your worst clients. From that list, Shachar and fellow principal, Becka Bates, saw quite clearly what their “ideal client” looked like. Next step was to go get those ideal clients – and they did. “Six of our new clients can be traced directly back to that strategic planning session,” Shachar said. “We made back 40 times our investment with Anchor.”
If Shachar Meron’s story doesn’t sell you on the need for strategic planning, here is what other business owners who finally surrender to strategic planning often find.
- No crystal ball required. You aren’t trying to predict the future – you are trying to pick a direction, one that helps you stay on course. It might be answering the question – “Who are our ideal customers and how do we get more of them?” Contrast this with, “We’ll take anyone who buys anything at any time.” By identifying and then creating actions to get more of your ideal clients, you get your ideal clients. Brilliant! We know.
- One size doesn’t fit all. Chances are, if strategic planning didn’t work for you in the past, your process didn’t address key issues facing your organization. Ineffective planning is like “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” If you aren’t addressing the real, and sometimes uncomfortable questions, you really aren’t being strategic and no one will buy into the plan.
- No sacred cows. If you are really going to be strategic, there can be no sacred cows. For instance, if one partner’s pet project is consuming 80% more revenue than the project is bringing in, you have to talk about it. There is an opportunity cost to this. You may still choose to do it – but you at least need to talk about it openly. If there is a loyal, long term employee resistant to new directions and in a position of authority, you need to address it, or recognize that change isn’t going to happen, even if it sinks the organization.
- Back to basics. Sometimes the most effective strategic planning names and affirms the core values and purpose of the organization. Sounds squishy, right? Well, knowing who you are and what you do best is key to your success. It affects how you make decisions, whom you hire, how you interact with your customers, and perhaps most importantly, what you won’t do. Done well, identifying and conveying core values and core purpose can do more to change a business than the most elaborate three-year plan.
As the leader of your business, you’re in the driver’s seat. Do you know where you want to go – and how you should get there?
This article was written by Stacy French Reynolds of Anchor Advisors.
Photo credit: douglasjonesjr