Thinking Strategically about Your Business
By Gary Lockwood

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 organizational values.

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 action items.

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 month.

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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About the Author...Gary Lockwood is Your Business Coach. Grow your business, make more money and have more fun.  Get Gary’s business newsletter free at
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