Your Goals for Strategic Planning

Strategic PlanningI’m in the unusual position of working on the strategic planning of three separate organizations in the same month this month.

Since every organization is in a different life cycle stage, each has slightly different goals for strategic planning.

Yet there are certain outcomes which are fairly common to strategic planning.  Outcomes most organizations do – or should – aspire to.

As I go through my list, think about your own goals for strategic planning.  Have I identified anything you hadn’t thought of?  Do you have anything I haven’t covered?

Strategic Planning Goals

Direction

I don’t care how it is accomplished – whether by vision statement, mission statement, mantra, whatever – but preferably by the start of strategic planning, the company must be clear on 1) the business it’s in, 2) the direction it’s heading, and equally clear on 3) what it does not do.  Too many business problems are created simply from a lack of focus, so focus is and shall remain Job #1.

Regardless of the size of company, it is my preference that the leadership has identified core values and vision, and gotten the company involved in crafting the mission.  Again, this is best accomplished prior to strategic planning but is worth mentioning here as it either drives or derails strategic planning.

Strategy

This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised to find out for just how many companies this is difficult.  What I want to see is informed strategic decisions.  For example, saying “we need more sales” isn’t good enough, nor is “we need to expand to get more sales.”  Having the information that “Expanding into the Northwest will increase sales 30% while only increasing expenses 10%, so we should expand sales into the Northwest,” is a solid, informed strategy.

It’s based on homework rather that gut feel.  It’s strategic planning rather than strategic guessing.  It emphasizes making business decisions based on business information.

Granted, much of the time business decisions aren’t that obvious.  But actually a good portion of the time with just a little homework they are.

The point to strategic planning is coming up with a core set of strategies that will really move the needle for the business.

Goals & Measures

Move the needle for the business? Ok, by how much? To what net effect?  For what gain?

I need to see my organizations think in measurable terms in their strategic planning process.  I need to see goals like:

Increase Northwest sales from $250,000 to $900,000 by Dec. 31, resulting in a 30% increase in overall sales for the company.

and

Achieve 35% market share of Northwest sales by Dec. 31, resulting in increased recognition of the company by Northwest clients.

Goals such as these make it clear that:

  • We can, do, and should have multiple goals for the strategies we consider important enough to chase.
  • We have a defined metric for success in our goals, and a clear sense of what the goal looks like.

Measurable goals transform the strategies into actionable component parts, without yet defining the action.

Plans

If measurable goals transform strategies into actionable components, then plans transform goals to action.

I like to see logical Action Plans come out of each goal, and most importantly, at sufficient detail.  I’m looking for a list of Action Items that tell:

  • What – a description of what needs to happen
  • Who – who owns the task, even if a whole team of people are involved
  • When – what the due date is.  Milestones?  Consider making more action items.

I use common sense: it’s enough detail when an action item is a unit of work any reasonable person could figure out, and only one person need own.

A lot of times I find executives aren’t willing to get this “dirty” in strategic planning.  Go there.  Make the first pass, allowing that there will be change, but get a stake in the ground around the plans you expect to see.

Gating Issues

Most organizations have something lurking in the closet that hold them back from greatness.  Over the years the wide variety of white elephants I’ve seen have been wide and varied.  Without a doubt, those who take the time to deal fully with their skeletons move on better, unencumbered, and accomplish greater things after strategic planning.

I’ve seen bad business deals that were languishing and needed to be terminated, inappropriate relationships between senior staff, sacred cow initiatives that are held as holy even as they lose money… the list goes on.

Take time to examine your organization and see if you have anything holding you back from greatness.  Is now the time to find the appropriate manner to deal with it?

Bringing It All Together

Depending on the organization and its prior experience with strategic planning, there are other goals I may have for our time together, and I may stress some of these items above more or less.  But they serve as a good guiding point to get started with.

There is one, however, which stands above the rest.  One that, if you’re pressed for time or focus, should be your focus.  One that should receive attention no matter what.

Measurable goals.

If you come out of strategic planning only having set measurable goals, only having established for yourself performance targets, you haven’t simply captured the major opportunity of strategic planning.

You have also accomplished the first step of truly first class management: to hold yourself and your company accountable for performance.

And that’s something to brag about.



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The Ultimate Agenda for Strategic Planning Success
Create Smarter progress in your business by focusing Strategic Planning in the right areas using our step-by-step guide.

The Difference Between Business Plans and Strategic Plans

Track and FieldQuestion:

What’s the difference between a business plan and strategic planning?

Answer:

To some, there’s no difference, and both play a critical role.  But to me, it’s a difference in focus between planning  and action and strategic plans are the better choice when the goal is to get out of the starting gate and win the race.

A full, formal business plan is great if you’re a start-up at square one, you’re going for funding or it’s a contractual mandate, or you’re at a major turning point. The process forces you to document more about your relationships, your market, and your operations than most of your competitors ever will.  But for most, making the plan ends up being the goal.

Consider strategic planning.  For most going concerns, what is incredibly helpful is to agree on what must be accomplished and to create a concrete action plan for doing so.  That process – of focusing in on top issues, opportunities, and action-oriented solutions – is why good strategic planning produces results here and now.  Here, the focus is action.

The new year is an excellent time to create strategic action but any time is great. For the simplest start, review each department or area of your business and identify no more than 3-4 issues to fix or things to capitalize on – items that, when accomplished, would definitely make this year measurably better than the prior year.

For each, create a plan and assign an owner and due date to literally every task.  Here’s the kicker: make a commitment to get it
done, and keep your promise.

Follow this simple to say but magical method and you’ll have accomplished more in a more purposeful fashion and gotten better results before the ink on your competitor’s formal business plan is dry.


Free e-Book: Five Keys for Strategic Planning Success
The Five Keys for Strategic Planning Success
Discover the Five Keys to creating rapid progress through Strategic Planning using our step-by-step guide.

How to Grow Your Business

GrowthWe’re drawing closer to fall which for my business tends to be a busy time – a time of renewal as business owners and managers get back from summer vacations… and begin looking forward to Christmas vacation.

I really got stuck on the idea of touching the pulse of as many savvy people as I could to really find out what the top issues are right now.

So last week, I did something that seemed logical at the time – I asked the folks on my list a very simple question:

What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing right now in growing your business?

Responses have been coming a *wee bit* more steadily than planned.  There are definitely some common themes, and I’ve really enjoyed the chats and email conversations I’ve had, but it’s tough keeping up.

So I’m doing the only logical thing – I’m asking for your help.

Below, I’ve paraphrased some of the responses I’ve gotten so far, and even combined some.  All names have been removed (to protect the innocent!) and the stories have been changed a bit to mask identities.  But the concepts are the same.

***Yes, I have left company names out; in some cases I have materially changed facts (e.g. line of business) to protect identities.  The concepts, I assure you, are still the same.

What I’d like from you:

  1. Read through the responses.
  2. Find one that you know how to solve, or for which you have a helpful suggestion.
  3. Leave a comment with your answer. (Remember, you can post under an anonymous “name.”)
  4. If your response is on this list, check back here for what people suggested.

Here are the top themes and issues people reported as challenges when trying to grow their business right now:

How to Find and Win Clients

Diversify or Die
As an ad agency, we’ve had some solid accounts in a few good markets for several years now.  Frankly, some of our big name clients have been dumb and gone under these last few years.  We DON’T want to follow their lead.  We have to break into new markets.  Two markets in particular we’re looking at are 1) game companies, and 2) clean tech companies.  We have a lot of related experience that maps well. But how can we best communicate that and how do we best approach and position in these two markets?
- Ad Agency
Leave Comment.

Too Affordable for our Own Good
Frankly, it often turns out that we’re quite a bit more affordable than our competition – and because of that we struggle!  When buyers find out we can accomplish the same thing for so much less than the competition, they lose confidence instead of getting excited.  We’re finding it challenging to find buyers who are cost-conscious and in search of innovation in a sea of buyers looking for tried-and-true.  How do we profile and prospect for the innovator?
- CleanTech Public Utility Consulting Firm
Leave Comment.

They’re There, They Nibble, They Don’t Bite
We’re recognized experts in our specialized niche market.  Sure, the economy is down, but we’re still seeing lots of opportunity in our market place.  The problem is nobody is taking advantage of it.  Nobody is going after work!  So it’s hard to find people who actually need our services rather than just “kick our tires.”  How do we find, qualify, and land ready-to-buy leads into clients?
– Construction Management Consultants
Leave Comment.

Diversify or Die #2
We sell heavy equipment to construction companies.  Construction companies… are not buying.  We need to sell to someone other than construction companies.  Pretty simple.  Other than there are a limited number of non-construction buyers and most of their budgets have been downsized, too.  We’re already much more focused on service, overhauls, parts, and the like.  But we’re all ears.
- Heavy Equipment Dealer
Leave Comment.

Winning A Bid or Two
Most of the bids coming in on construction projects these days are straight out of Disney – complete fairy tales.  On the one hand, you’ve got guys cheating the system by designating everybody an owner of the company so they don’t have to pay certain fees, taxes, and prevailing wages.  On the other hand, you’ve got people returning bids below *cost.*  I haven’t figured out a way to win a bid at break even, let alone a profit.  Thoughts?
- Plumbing Contractor
Leave Comment.

Cash Flow is King
Don’t get me wrong – we love big projects.  But all the general contractors we do work for have stretched their payment terms out so long that it’s not practical to be in business with just them as clients – and they don’t seem to understand that, or care.  We need faster cash.  We either need from the general contractors, or we need it from somewhere else.  For the moment, we’ve taken to focusing a good amount of effort on growing our service line back up because it provides same-day payment.  Any thoughts on speeding up the generals, or cash in general?
- Electrical Contractor
Leave Comment.

How to Survive on Fewer Resources

Do More With Less
Our clients have no budget for anything but the basics.  That means we need less staff.  But that means service sometimes suffers… putting us at risk of losing clients.  Ouch.  The questions are 1) how to accomplish everything at high quality with fewer resources, and 2) how to develop new business when people are pinching pennies?
– Professional Service Firm
Leave Comment.

Striking a Balance With Resources
As technical consultants, we live on a teeter-totter. Either we have too many people and too little work, or we win a contract and we’re scrambling to find people.  It never feels comfortable.  To complicate things, we deliver best-of-breed results, so we’re not big fans of bringing in short term contractors to fill gaps due to the quality of work we’ve received.  So what are we supposed to do?
- Technical Consultants
Leave Comment.

Blind Resource Cuts
Our company implemented across the board departmental cuts.  That means when engineering has the same workload but less people, the only resource we can use to make up the gap is technology.  But IT was given an across the board cut, too.  So they don’t have any resources to deliver what we need.  So now nobody can get their job accomplished.  People are overloaded.  Profit falls.  Morale drops.  People leave.  How do we convince somebody to stop managing this place like a Dilbert cartoon?
- Fortune 50 Manufacturing Company
Leave Comment.

No Credit = No Sale
Our customers don’t have any money or credit to purchase from us, and we can’t get any credit to extend favorable terms or expand into new areas even if we wanted to.  All that means sluggish sales and makes it hard to pay off the lines we do have.  What can we do when it seems credit is the issue?
- Advertising Agency
Leave Comment.

How to Do Marketing

Nobody Understands What We Do
We’ve created innovations in eCommerce and Fair Trade that are so revolutionary that they’re hard to put into words.  We’ve put a great deal of effort into trying to communicate clearly about our capabilities, innovations, and what our platform can do. But it seems that we still struggle to explain them simply in a way that people understand and care about.  As a result, it remains tough to find start-up funding.  How do we crack this nut?
 - eCommerce Start-up
Leave Comment.

Re-Marketing
I’m trying to reinvent our message to get back in front of clients that think they already know us.  There’s more that we can do for them.  I’m trying to create campaigns complete with calls, emails, postcards, webinars - you name it – not only to capture new customers but to wake up established ones, too.  How can I get going in a unified way?
- Non-Profit Advocacy Group
Leave Comment.

Internet Marketing
I have inspirational art targeted at coaches, consultants, speakers, and bloggers.  Whatever emotion you’re trying to elicit, I’ve got the perfect piece of art, paired with the perfect quote.  Now what I’m trying to do is figure out the easiest and best way to run an eCommerce Marketing test to market my work.  How do I get started?
- Artist
Leave Comment.

How to Do Leadership

Getting Unstuck
Knowing where and how to grow, and how to start.  Knowing that I can do it.  Just simply getting unstuck.
- Professional Services Firm
Leave comment.

Finding Time to Delegate
The manager knows he’s spread too thin and needs to delegate more and “do” less, but he doesn’t seem to find the time.  As a result, we two senior leaders aren’t taking an active roll.  This is all made worse by the addition of two new hires that just slow things down, and a remodeling project that slow it down more.  How can we get things moving again?
- Security Contractor
Leave comment.

Note: To comment, click “Leave comment” above to go to the post for that item.

How to Survive on Fewer Resources

CoinIn a post started here, I asked you to respond to my reader’s comments on their biggest challenge in growing their business.

What I’d like from you:

1. Read through the responses.
2. Find one that you know how to solve, or for which you have a helpful suggestion.
3. Leave a comment with your answer. (Remember, you can post under an anonymous “name.”)
4. If your response is on this list, check back here for what people suggested.

Do More With Less
Our clients have no budget for anything but the basics.  That means we need less staff.  But that means service sometimes suffers… putting us at risk of losing clients.  Ouch.  The questions are 1) how to accomplish everything at high quality with fewer resources, and 2) how to develop new business when people are pinching pennies?
– Professional Service Firm

Striking a Balance With Resources
As technical consultants, we live on a teeter-totter. Either we have too many people and too little work, or we win a contract and we’re scrambling to find people.  It never feels comfortable.  To complicate things, we deliver best-of-breed results, so we’re not big fans of bringing in short term contractors to fill gaps due to the quality of work we’ve received.  So what are we supposed to do?
- Technical Consultants

Blind Resource Cuts
Our company implemented across the board departmental cuts.  That means when engineering has the same workload but less people, the only resource we can use to make up the gap is technology.  But IT was given an across the board cut, too.  So they don’t have any resources to deliver what we need.  So now nobody can get their job accomplished.  People are overloaded.  Profit falls.  Morale drops.  People leave.  How do we convince somebody to stop managing this place like a Dilbert cartoon?
- Fortune 50 Manufacturing Company

No Credit = No Sale
Our customers don’t have any money or credit to purchase from us, and we can’t get any credit to extend favorable terms or expand into new areas even if we wanted to.  All that means sluggish sales and makes it hard to pay off the lines we do have.  What can we do when it seems credit is the issue?
- Advertising Agency

Leave your responses below.

Strategic Planning in a Challenging Year

Bald EagleThis past weekend, I had the pleasure of being the facilitator for Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington (ABC) at their annual Leadership Planning Conference in Blaine, WA, overlooking both the Pacific Ocean and the border of Washington state and British Columbia, Canada. It was a spectacular location, complete with incredible wildlife like the eagle in the picture above.

But it also focused the spotlight on the importance of a rigorous, regular strategic planning process for any serious business. The construction industry as a whole continues to experience challenges unprecedented in modern memory. It may be true that no blueprint is perfect for getting through it, but imagine starting with a blank page?

Luckily for ABC, this isn’t their first go at a strategic plan. This chapter has benefited from planning a steady course for twenty some years.

The best part of an event like this, where all the participants are able to disconnect from their daily agenda for two days to focus on the business at hand, is the energy that develops. Specifically, new relationships are formed, and an entrepreneurial spirit emerges during the planning session.

New relationships form of course with the new people who are in attendance for the first time, as well as the guest participants. Guests were critical this year. Our guests provided key insights, particularly in the areas of marketing, that created new ideas. And those new ideas gave rise to an entrepreneurial spirit that a lot of people don’t expect from planning.

I find that a lot of owners, particularly founders and dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneurs object to planning like vampires object to light. That’s a stupid attitude that shows inexperience, irreverence to other people and resources, and serious misunderstanding of “entrepreneur.”


Free e-Book: The Ultimate Agenda for Strategic Planning Success
The Ultimate Agenda for Strategic Planning Success
Create Smarter progress in your business by focusing Strategic Planning in the right areas using our step-by-step guide.