Strategic Planning Excellence: How Do You Get Started?
This article is the third in our series on Strategic Planning Excellence. I mentioned that recently, a tremendous CEO of a mid-sized high technology company said to me in a one on one conversation that his company sucked at Strategic Planning. I reassured him that everybody probably sucks at Strategic Planning until you roll up your sleeves and begin to work at it and accelerate your learning. You see, it’s quite like almost everything else in business, it won’t happen by magic, it happens with intent and focused energy applied to a solid plan of attack.
Too many companies fail to invest in good planning, and we all know that this introduces risk and often leads to substandard results or even failure. Don’t let it happen to you and your leadership team. Make up your mind RIGHT NOW that you’re going to start to spend sufficient time on Strategic Planning so that you can create an executable plan that will make next year your best year EVER! You can do it, and you absolutely will gain tremendous value from setting aside some time to begin planning for success NOW! Remember, failing to plan, is just planning to fail, right?
Ask About Obstacles: Your leadership team, with a bit of encouragement, will be able to tell you what is slowing them down, whether it’s competition, resources, regulations, broken processes, lackluster sales, etc. Be certain that you encourage them to be candid and to speak up about obstacles that are inhibiting the business from finding its true potential. Encourage them to identify the obstacle and also to recommend one or two potential ways to reduce the impact of the obstacle or to remove it entirely. Make removing or reducing the impact of obstacles a priority in this year’s strategic planning. In my experience, when you make things easier and simpler for your team, they put that extra effort toward achieving higher performance and delivering results.
Make It Last All Year: Don’t forget that it’s the execution of a Strategic Plan that delivers value, not the plan itself. Realize that one of the biggest challenges to executing strategic plans is the loss of focus and momentum at meetings throughout the year. Let’s face it, at many companies, meetings are less than ideal. Raise the level of your game in meetings, and show your team how holding positive conversations about your strategic objectives keeps them fresh. Help your team to remain connected emotionally to the strategic goals, and to one another, by monitoring and measuring progress and reporting on progress in meetings all year long. Make your meetings count by gaining commitments to decide, by taking action, by holding one another accountable to commitments, and by reporting on positive change regularly.
Focus on Growth: Good strategic objectives are always focused on growth, whether personal growth, organizational growth or traditional market share and revenue growth. You’ll need to remain relevant in the marketplace so that you can continue to prosper while you’re reinventing your company. If you’re not continually growing, you are giving away market share to a competitor, and you’re making it easy for them to catch you or pass you. Grow your people while you’re growing the company, and ensure that while you’re focusing on growth, that you and your leadership team are managing the growth wisely.
Balance Your Approach: When you’ve documented your top 3-5 annual goals or objectives, those key priorities will need to be funded and staffed appropriately. Take a balanced approach to ensuring growth while maintaining stability. Companies struggle when they try to change overnight and grow rapidly while remaining highly profitable. Realize that there is give and take in all things. Your balanced approach will ensure that you maintain steady cash flow and move with all deliberate speed, making great decisions in operating the business to achieve those few strategic goals for next year. You need to maintain common sense and not forget about your core business while you’re pursuing the new objectives, you need to maintain common-sense levels of revenue, margin, expenses, etc. as you execute your strategy. Think long-term and think balance!
Don’t Forget about the Customers!: Too many companies, with great intentions, have gotten myopic and internally focused when doing Strategic Plans. If you take your eye off of your customers for a second while thinking about strategic planning, your plan will suffer. The changes you’re making had better start and end with making things better for your customers, and your employees or you are missing out on the big picture, and your time on planning will have lost the impact you’re hoping for. Consider investing in a customer survey and an employee survey before gathering for your Strategic Planning meetings. That is a great way to begin from where you REALLY need to start.
Nuke The Negativity: Every company is blessed with several key people who are too quick to focus on risk, and tell you all the reasons that you cannot do what you’re trying to do, etc. Be sensitive to the potential for negative reactions to the changes you’re envisioning as a team. Negative conversations will occur and will immediately undermine everyone’s drive to go make it happen. If you want your team to deliver results in achieving these strategic objectives, you are going to have to harness positivity and optimism from the get-go in the leadership team meeting and all subsequent meetings. You will need to engage everybody not just in the development of the strategy, but also in the ownership of it, and in the ownership of making sure we execute every bit of it, or else we will have failed. Pounce on negativity, stopping negative conversations immediately, and reframing and refocusing the conversation around positive change and leading the team to results that will make a difference for everyone in the value stream.
Well, that sounds like a great start, doesn’t it? With the ideas from these three posts, you should be able to run a pretty effective 1-3 day Executive Planning Session, and develop a cohesive, executable plan for your company. Be sure that your company remains focused on the big six core objectives of strategic planning: Cultivating a culture that attracts high-performing people, continue building value, continue building long-term relationships with prospects/partners/customers, keep generating cash flow, continue to deliver a return on assets, and consistently achieve double-digit revenue growth. If you don’t have fun while you’re getting together to plan for all that success, something must be wrong with you, make it a positive and fun experience, and get started in September!
Michael Beach is a certified professional business coach, and he frequently helps small and medium-sized companies to build strategic plans that are simple, executable, and most certainly will lead to outsized success when they are accomplished. If you’d like more information about having Michael come to visit with you and your leadership team to raise the bar on your Strategic Planning processes, send Michael an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael would be delighted to help you to facilitate a Strategic Planning Retreat for your company that will change the destiny of your company. If you’d just like some actionable ideas to help you to plan for facilitating your own annual strategic planning process this year, send Michael an email, and he’ll be happy to share some great ideas. Either way, Michael will send you a FREE copy of his 25 Best Practices on Strategic Planning as a reward for your inquiry.