The New Year is right around the corner, making it an ideal time for business owners to establish plans and goals for the next 12—18 months.
However, I’m a realist. I know that regardless of the size of the company, industry or expertise, the compulsion to jump straight to tactics often overwhelms the more effective (and sustainable) strategic approach. As a business owner, much of your time is likely spent putting out fires. Day-to-day operations don’t stop for strategic planning. GSD – getting stuff done – rules the day.
And while the day-to-day seems like the priority on which to focus, company leaders need to make a major shift in their thinking. Every week I talk to CEOs, COOs and marketing executives who sheepishly admit they simply don’t have a plan nor do they have a process for developing one.
Strategic plans should not be viewed as optional. They are essential tools that set a business up for success. Without them, there’s no cohesion; goals aren’t clearly defined; and employees aren’t provided an opportunity to be challenged, learn or grow.
When I tell company leaders they need to implement this kind of long-term planning, I’m often met with a bevy of excuses. At this point, I’ve heard them all … but my tune hasn’t changed.
Leaders need to stop fighting fires and start focusing on developing long-term strategic processes for a greater opportunity for long-term success.
What follows are the top five excuses I’ve heard for not creating a long-term strategic plan and the top five reasons you need one. No ifs, ands or buts.
Why People Don’t Plan
1. It’s hard. Up and down the corporate ladder, people gravitate towards the easy things on the to-do list because it provides a sense of accomplishment. On the other hand, tackling bigger picture issues – a change in strategic focus, evaluating major shifts to your services, rebranding, opening a satellite location or reconfiguring your entire sales approach – requires hard work and the intestinal fortitude to take some risks.
2. It takes time. People don’t have extra time. If your day consists of putting out one fire after another, it’s nearly impossible to come up with a fire-prevention plan. But if you don’t carve out the time to plan you may well have all the time in the world on your hands when competitors overtake you, cash flow takes a nosedive and you’re forced to close up shop.
3. It forces you to look in the mirror. One of the hardest things an entrepreneur or business owner needs to do is to take a hard look in the mirror. Strategic planning forces you to evaluate where you need to improve. People don’t like to critically examine themselves, each other or how they’re doing things. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s that investigation that provides opportunity for growth – both professionally and personally.
4. It initiates change. Wash, rinse and repeat can only carry a business for so long until it’s perceived as a one-trick pony. Just ask Blackberry. But one of the major reasons why leaders avoid going through strategic planning is because it drives change. People, including many leaders, are reluctant or slow to change.
5. It takes political capital. The net result of the planning process will require expending political capital to bring about a transformation to processes, technologies and systems. A good leader picks their battles and expends political capital when needed. The best time to do that is following a deliberate planning process where you’ve foreshadowed, charted and committed to a new, brighter future.
Why You Need to Plan
1. What got you where you are won’t get you where you want to be. We all get focused on the day-to-day tasks because those things are right in front of us and need to get done. Now.
Leaders, however, need to step away from that cycle and begin looking ahead to establish a vision for where the company is going. What worked for your company in the past – approaches, processes, product offerings, service levels, marketing tactics – will not necessarily yield the same results.
2. Technological change. The pace of technology is warp-speed. Who would have imaged three years ago that you could target prospect by job title, company name and geography via LinkedIn? Or that we’d have systems and networks in place to follow prospects (almost) anywhere they browse on the Internet after they leave your website?
A business’ ability to keep up with technology impacts just about every operation and department. As such, planning needs to account for how it’s impacting what you do, how you do business and how you market and serve customers.
3. Separates wheat from chaff. Planning provides a more accurate vision of reality. There is always a million dollars’ worth of ideas – but rarely the time or capital to invest in them all. For example, you may want your company to be a sponsor of the leading trade event or grow your business by 400 percent, but how you get there – and whether those goals are realistic or only possible in the Land of Make-believe – is another story all together.
Strategic planning helps prioritize, separate wants from needs, could-dos from must-dos. From there, goals, budgets and resources can be set accordingly.
4. Your competition is ever-changing. If you’re standing still, your competition will blow by you. If your competition is doing just half of what is mentioned above, they’ll become more nimble, innovative and attractive to not just prospects – but your existing customer base.
5. It builds a sense of team. The planning process can make your company stronger and build cohesion among team members. If everyone has a clear sense of where the company is heading, how it’s going to get there and what roles everyone plays, a better, more exciting and stable future is easily envisioned.
And that stability means happier, more productive employees who are also freed from running around putting out fires all the time.