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 likely is 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 shift in their thinking. Strategic plans should not be optional.
Without them, there's no cohesion; goals aren't defined; and employees aren't provided an opportunity to be challenged, learn or grow.
(1) It's hard.
Up and down the corporate ladder, people gravitate toward 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 shifts to your services, rebranding or reconfiguring your sales approach – requires hard work and the intestinal fortitude to take risks.
(2) It takes time.
If your day consists of putting out one fire after another, it's 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 shop.
(3) It forces you to reflect.
One of the hardest things a business owner needs to do is to take a look in the mirror.
People don't like to examine themselves, each other or how they're doing things. It's uncomfortable, but it's investigation that provides opportunity for professional and personal growth.
(4) It initiates change.
Wash, rinse and repeat can only carry a business for so long.
But one of the reasons leaders avoid going through strategic planning is because it drives change. And people, including many leaders, are reluctant to change.
(5) It takes political capital.
The net result of the planning process requires expending political capital to bring about a transformation to processes, technologies and systems.
A good leader picks his or her 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 brighter future.
(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 in front of us and need to get done. Now.
Leaders, however, need to look ahead to establish a vision for where the company is going. What worked in the past – approaches, processes, product offerings, service levels, marketing tactics – won't necessarily yield the same results.
(2) Technological change.
Who would have imagined three years ago that you could target prospects by job title, company name and geography via LinkedIn? Or that we'd have systems to follow prospects anywhere they browse on the Internet after they leave your website?
A business' ability to keep up with technology affects every 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.
There's 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 by 400 percent, but how you get there – and whether those goals are realistic – is another story.
Strategic planning helps prioritize, separate wants from needs, could-dos from must-dos. From there, goals, budgets and resources can be set.
(4) Your competition is ever-changing.
If you're standing still, your competition will blow by you.
If your competition is doing half of what's mentioned above, it will become more nimble, innovative and attractive to prospects – and your existing customers.
(5) It builds a sense of team.
The planning process can 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, stable future is easily envisioned. And that stability means happier, more productive employees.