Strategically about Your Business
Ready?... Set... Nah! This is about the time of year when
many business owners, entrepreneurs, and professionals begin
procrastinating about doing their annual planning.
Why is this such a daunting
task? For many, it's because we imagine annual planning as a huge,
time-consuming and difficult chore. What if it were easy and quick? What
do you stand to gain from effectively planning for next year? Planning
helps you remove the uncertainty, avoid surprises, pull your team
together, and save time and money.
Here is a simple process for you to plan for next year. It is relatively
easy and can be done in a day or less. First, let's get prepared. You'll
need a few hours of uninterrupted time (best if done in only one or two
sittings), so block off one day or two half-days in your calendar. If
you work with a partner, spouse or key management team, schedule to do
this together, as a team. Decree casual, comfortable clothing and make
arrangements for coffee and lunch.
For most enterprises, the annual planning process is most effective when
guided by a professional facilitator. If you decide to have a go at it
on your own, use the following step-by-step process.
Phase one is self evaluation of the enterprise. Here, we'll look at
what's important to us, where we're going what are we all about and
what's our prime purpose. This is what strategic thinking is all about.
For this phase, identify the five or six key areas that are important
and essential for your business - cash flow, customers, employees,
image, growth, productivity and so on. Write them down. These are your
In each of these areas, develop a crystal clear vision of where you are
going with this. What's possible. What does it look like when you're
living up to your best expectations in each of these areas? Describe as
best you can, in writing, what it looks like and what it feels like when
you have reached the point in each of your key result areas where you
are happy with each. This represents a picture of your future as you
prefer it to be.
If you can articulate a clear vision of your preferred future, focusing
on those areas that are important to you and to your business, that
vision becomes your destination down the road. That clear vision allows
you to set goals in the direction of your preferred future. That vision
provides motivation, energy, purpose and direction. It certainly helps
you to communicate with the people around you.
Starting with a clear vision of what's possible helps you to answer the
question we must ask ourselves each day -- why are we doing this piece
of work and is it taking us where we need to go?
Phase two is about making choices. This process includes telling the
truth about our current reality. We need to identify where is our
greatest area of need. Where can we make the most definitive progress
this year? To do this, use a scale of 1-10 ( 10 is wonderful and 1 is
lousy) to rate each of the organizational value areas. Rate each as to
how well you are currently living up to that value when compared to your
vision of your preferred future. If you're doing this as a group, have
each person describe their rating.
Phase three is to establish priorities. The hardest and most vital part
of thinking strategically is accepting the simple truth that we cannot
do all the things we want to do or even all the things which are
important. When we try to do it all, we do not do any of it well.
Use the completed ratings to select the one or two areas where you have
the greatest opportunity for improvement in the coming year. Where is
your greatest dissonance? In which value area would improvement
translate to significant results? In which value area is the largest gap
between your preferred future and your current reality? Select one or
two value areas as your priority for the coming year.
Phase four is to develop the action plan. We must get clear about who
will do what and when. Start with brainstorming all the possible actions
which could move you closer toward your preferred future in the one or
two value areas you have selected as your priority for the coming year.
Be creative here. Don't be limited to doing what you've always done;
you'll limit yourself to getting the same results you've always had.
Once you've created a list of possible action steps, group the action
items into categories such as marketing, communications, facilities,
employees, etc. Usually, 3-5 categories will cover them all (it's OK to
have a 'Misc.' category). Now, go back through each action item in each
category to assign a person to be accountable for that action, and to
determine when that action item will be complete.
Phase five is implementation. The plan has little value until we do
something with it. This must also include follow up and review of
progress. Each person must have a clear understanding of their
individual accountability. If it's just you in your one-person company,
you, too, must get clear on how you will accomplish your assigned tasks.
This may include blocking off some time each week to concentrate on your
Once or twice a month, stop to review your progress. What's getting
done? What's not getting done? How are we doing? Examine the action
items that are being pushed off. Either break them into smaller, easier
tasks or decide explicitly that you are not going to do that one.
Celebrate your successes and the progress you are making. At the same
time, don't get too impatient. Remember that your plan is for the whole
year, so it's OK if everything is not done by the end of the first
The process of thinking strategically about your business can be one of
opportunity and excitement. Through this process, everyone in the
organization can understand and commit themselves to a consistent system
of values and vision for the future. It helps bring the plan alive for
the people who must deliver on the goals.
The payback is a high return on your investment of time and commitment
to the process. The payback also comes in your ability to withstand the
whipsaw of change. An enterprise grounded with a clear direction and a
plan to get there will have both focus on what is important and the
flexibility to respond to new opportunities.
Here's to a successful year for you and your business!
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Author...Gary Lockwood is Your Business Coach. Grow your business, make
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