The majority of small business owners endeavoured strategic planning with a business plan as part of the launch of their business. But with the day-to-day of running the company, a year or even many years can go by before they refer back to that plan. If at all.
Well, a lot can happen in the business during those years. Priorities may have shifted, and you may have added new products, key staff added or moved on.
Suddenly, you realise that as an organisation, your direction has changed. As a result, your long-range plans are out of date. And, do not reflect this new direction.
Strategic planning means having a long-term plan and milestones along the way. That ensures you get there. And it should be something you do every year.
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The best way to ensure you reach your goals is to go through the critical process of annual planning. This planning exercise will help you formally identify if you’re on track.
Or, even if changes in circumstances, like new technology, market changes, turnover, new products, and more, mean you need to reassess your long-range plan.
First of all, each year, you take the time to measure progress and assess the specific steps you’ll take in the coming year to ensure that you stay on track toward your long-range goals.
Believe in the Power of Collaboration.
Invite your entire company to participate in your annual planning because some of the best ideas come from the people whose hands are closest to the customers.
The Reality of Owning a Small Business
Like many new small business owners, you probably dream of financial independence, the freedom of spending your time as you wish, being the boss, or feeling content by filling a void in the market.
But, unfortunately, many go-getters don’t know what’s in store as they venture forward to implement their brilliant ideas; they know they want to go into business for themselves.
However, sometimes the reality of owning a business is more daunting than you imagined. But, luckily, by focusing on proactive and strategic planning, you can take control of your small business. And, begin growing your dream into a successful reality.
Before we go any further, consider these four questions:
1. Do you know where you want to go?
2. Do you fully understand where you are right now?
3. What needs to be done to get where you want to go?
4. Are you committed to the time you are going to need to do it?
This Guide is Designed
to Get you Started with your Strategic Business Planning.
Here’s what’s included:
- A detailed walk-through of each aspect of the strategic planning process
- A roadmap for the method of each element of the strategic planning process
- A detailed worksheet that will prompt you to establish meeting schedules tackle issues and set milestones for success.
A Business Owner Wears Three Hats
In his book, The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber describes three hats worn by new business owners. You probably feel comfortable in two of them, the “technician” and “entrepreneur” hats, but you also acquired a “manager” hat along the way, which may be a less natural fit. The manager hat requires planning and pragmatism.
If you’re like most entrepreneurs I’ve met, you’d sooner come up with ideas, rather than plan, organise and manage the financials. However, Gerber insists that all hats must be worn to succeed.
Guidelines For Strategic Success
- Think realistically about where your business is going
- Be flexible about your expectations
- Set concrete performance measures
- Create a plan to achieve performance measures.
The Importance of Strategic Planning
Turning your vision into reality requires a healthy, realistic approach. And, a well-crafted path toward success. Also, you need to think realistically about where your business is going. And, be flexible about your expectations. Setting concrete performance measures is a great idea. But, you need to support them with a realistic plan to achieve them.
This kind of strategic planning is crucial for success. But, you have to do it right. And, it takes discipline to do it consistently. Unfortunately, this is tough for most small businesses.
Let’s get started.
Step One: Identify the Purpose of Your Business.
Have you ever asked yourself, directly and honestly, “What is the purpose of my business?”
Every business needs the vision to guide and influence strategies and decisions.
After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there. Also, to build cohesion and foster growth, everyone in your company has to share the vision. That’s why it’s so important to clarify your vision – understanding the “why” of your business – before building a strategy.
In his book, Beyond Entrepreneurship, Jim Collins describes how a business’ vision is made up of three distinct elements: Purpose, Values, and Mission.
“…if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there.”
source – HubSpot
One more – the older will remember. It was my first realisation of a vision/mission statement.
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilisations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!
“A shared vision helps create a sense of community, making the journey more satisfying.”
Step Two: Analyse the Results for Continuous Improvement
“Where performance is measured, performance improves. When performance reported, performance improves dramatically. Where performance reported publicly, performance improves exponentially.”
Involve employees from every department in your quarterly planning process. They give input through a series of exercises we call SWOT+.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. This kind of self-assessment isn’t new. It’s the “+” that’s a bit radical. We use the “plus” concept to refer to the inclusive, collaborative approach.
TheSWOT+ exercise is not just for top executives. Invite your entire community to participate. And, the effect can influential to your success.
“SWOT+ is an exercise in focus and alignment. A bridge between your mission and the goals and priorities you’ll identify in the next step.”
In a SWOT+session, hear everyone’s voice. It’s a great way to celebrate successes, learn from mistakes, and move forward as a team. But, it’s essential that the facilitator of a SWOT+ session create a completely safe environment, where honest input can be given and received openly.
Perspective is another necessary factor for a successful SWOT+ session. While a group will naturally respond to questions from their team or department’s point of view, so, the facilitator should help maintain a company perspective.
Everyone is working toward shared solutions that support the mission.
Encourage everyone to speak up and participate. Write down all the ideas, preferably on poster board or giant, sticky notes hung on the wall. As you progress through the SWOT+ exercises, you can refer to the work you did earlier in the session.
The Full SWOT+ Process:
Accomplishments (at least 30 minutes):
Talk about all of the good stuff and create a positive vibe, reflecting on the great work and results of the previous year.
Lessons Learned (30 minutes):
Include the good, bad, and “ah-ha” moments of the year, and maintain active learning rather than allowing it to turn into a gripe session.
SWOT analysis: (1 hour):
Strengths and Weaknesses are internal to the business; Opportunities & Threats are external. Spend up to 15 minutes on each item. Then, move through the following sections in order.
But do allow enough time for a few additional suggestions to the previous topics, as people come up with more ideas.
Strategic Issues (30-60 minutes):
Strategic issues are the culminating step to identify the top three to five points you will tackle this year. Or a quarter.
Based on the previous three steps, use this step to capture the strategic problems in this format: “How do we achieve X outcome, given Y situation or obstacle?”
Caution: The focus here is to articulate the core issues; don’t attempt deep problem-solving at this point.
With strategic issues in hand, the group can now identify the top three to five priorities for the year ahead.
Remember, SWOT+ is an exercise in focus and alignment, a bridge between your mission and the goals and priorities you’ll identify in the next step.
Take Action: Involve your entire team in a SWOT+ exercise.
Step Three: Understand How Strategy Guides Planning
“When you take the time to define where you’re going, you can develop a plan, stay on course, make adjustments as needed, and reach your destination.”
Regardless of the size of the organisation, the approach is often misunderstood – and rarely done well.
The foundation of a grand strategy is leverage: So, use your organisation’s strengths to gain an outsized return.
With this in mind, what resources and capabilities can you leverage for maximum gain?
Performing an inventory of assets is an excellent place to start to develop a competitive advantage that is sustainable. We recommend focusing on three to five core strengths of your company.
Now you may have heard strategy described as an exercise in saying “no.”
While it’s true that resources can be scarce for many small businesses, annual planning is really about making the best use of all your resources. So that nothing is forgotten or ignored. Hence, this kind of strategy will help put you ahead of your competitors.
A Strategic Planning Methodology
You need to bridge your overall vision to daily operations.
First of all, the idea is to break down your current mission into annual and quarterly priorities. Then, the work of quarterly priorities gets broken down into SMART objectives. And, with specific owners and deliverables.
Here’s what the strategic planning process looks like in more detail:
The current mission is typically achievable within the coming three to five years. We often use the term BHAG (pronounced BEE- hag) or Big Hairy Audacious Goal (from the book Built to Last by Jim Collins).
Strengths to Leverage:
Three to five key strengths you need to utilise to achieve your BHAG.
Strengths to Develop:
Three to five key strengths you will need to develop to achieve your BHAG.
Three to five priorities you will focus on this year to either leverage the current strengths. Or, develop new powers that will move you closer toward your BHAG.
Annual Priorities must:
- Support the current mission (via strengths to leverage and
- recorded annually by the leaders.
- Not become individualised by each department.
Quarterly Priorities or Tactical Operating Priorities (T.O.P.s):
Three to five priorities that support the annual priorities. These are spelt out for all four quarters of the coming year. Thus, giving you measurable milestones throughout the year.
Projects and large tasks required to achieve the quarterly priorities.
SMART stands for:
- Specific: Specific enough to fully understand
- Measurable: Can tell when it’s complete
- Achievable: Can be completed
- Relevant: For the game plan
- Time-Bound: Has a deadline (a specific date)
As you can see, the Strategic Planning Methodology makes it genuinely possible to align directly with your company’s overall mission. Likewise, all the way to SMART objectives for each member of your staff.
And, these objectives form the basis of specific decisions and actions that your employees need to carry out this quarter to make progress toward the mission.
The worksheet will take you step-by-step through each of these strategic concepts: BHAG, T.O.P.S, and SMART. As you answer each question, you’ll see how they fit together. And, align your entire business in one direction.
Most noteworthy, perhaps the most potent effect of this method is that your employees co-create their vision. And, then have a physical map to show how their work contributes directly to the company vision.
Step Four: Establish a Meeting Rhythm for Success
“Strategic planning isn’t a one-time event. Once you’ve identified a strategy, it’s crucial to stay focused.”
One of the best ways to do that is with a steady rhythm of productive meetings. Use them to assess and learn from the successes or failures of the current strategy. Then, make course corrections. And identify priorities for the coming quarter or year.
You may be wondering how often to revisit your strategic plan. But, the best meeting rhythm is specific to your business.
You’ll need to identify the right mix of daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings for your business. And, make them happen consistently. Also, if you have employees, draw upon their knowledge of critical dates and deliverables to help find the right meeting rhythm.
Verne Harnish shares a good rhythm in his book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits:
- Two days for annual planning (deliverables = yearly and first quarter priorities)
- One day for the quarterly plan (deliverable = priorities for the upcoming quarter)
- Half-day monthly meeting to discuss progress on quarterly priorities and business-critical issues
- Weekly meeting to review key performance indicators for the business
- Optional: quick huddles for daily win/loss reporting
Strategic planning requires thoughtfulness and time.
So, we recommend devoting two full days each year to create Annual Priorities. And, one full day each quarter for Quarterly T.O.P.s.
Also, plan to spend a half-day each month to assess progress on SMART objectives. And, discuss unexpected events or results that surface in the course of running your business.
Take Action: Work with your team to identify a cadence of ongoing meetings that will support your defined goals and objectives.
Communication with your employees is critical to keeping the business on track. At times, this may mean holding daily, 15-minute huddles to review essential metrics. Or, other performance indicators.
But, the sooner you get your business into a consistent planning and execution rhythm. The sooner you’ll be able to delegate more responsibility to your team.
Additionally, to give you a hand thinking through your meeting schedule, we’ve included in the worksheet a chart to help you plot out the details.
Step Five: Involve and Motivate Your Employees
“Involving your team in the strategic planning process increases their investment. This process is powerful because it drives organisational alignment and a higher probability of success.”
Involving your team in the strategic planning process increases their investment. As a result, it drives organisational alignment. And, also a higher probability of success. Similarly, your team can provide you with a range of perspectives to help shape a winning strategy.
Consequently, your strategy must translate into day-to-day activity. Otherwise, how will team leaders know what to do to achieve the company’s goals?
Also, daily relevance is critical for employees who aren’t in leadership roles. But, they need to be aware of how their job affects the mission of your business. Therefore, each person matters. People need to know why and how their daily activities support the mission.
Increase employee clarity and confidence
The Big 3 is an excellent way to provide clarity and boost confidence to employees.
These are the three primary responsibilities of each role. Furthermore, the Big 3 do more than help employees know how they are doing in their positions. They also help connect the dots between what employees do each day and the company’s mission.
For some employees, the Big 3 can change quarterly. But, for others, it may make more sense to keep their current Big 3 for an entire year. Above all, for everyone, it’s essential to review Big 3 periodically to ensure clarity and alignment with your mission and SMART objectives.
Focus on Key Metrics
Therefore, by focusing on three key metrics, employees see how their performance affects the company as a whole. Because, it can be too easy for someone to sit at a desk, wondering about the impact they have on the mission. And, unsure of the real difference they are making.
Regardless of what you call it, (we
Take Action: Define three critical primary responsibilities that connect to your overall mission. Work with your team to create a Big 3 for each of your employees.
Ideally, review the Big 3 on a quarterly basis. Also, ask your employees to report progress and results for their Big 3 each Friday. That way, everyone knows how they contributed to our success before heading home for the weekend.
Company Culture and Employee Productivity.
People are the core of your business. Part of your strategy is to help employees do their best possible work. And, you do this by creating an environment where people feel comfortable. Also, you want them to feel safe and valued by their co-workers. So, they can express their ideas and follow their passions.
Each has a unique and individual skillset we call “native genius.”
To achieve your company goals, foster an environment where each employee is empowered to thrive and exert their unique abilities.
Hence, people who feel uplifted in their work environment. Also, feel valued by the company and more emotionally invested.
In turn, this motivates them to produce surprising results. And, we attribute a big part of our success at Infusionsoft to our culture.
Take Action: Identify your native genius and work with your team to identify the native talent of each employee.
So, strategic planning is the link between a great idea and business success
Also, to help you and your team stay on track, meet at regular intervals to assess, and enhance your strategy.
Furthermore, employee involvement is the key to motivation. And, aligning personal goals with your company mission.
Analysing the company, team and individual performances is a great way to keep everyone working together.
In a small business, a strategic game plan can help you do more than survive. You can thrive. And win.