What Strategy Looks Like: It’s not simple

Visual strategic plan

Creating a strategy for your business has many forms depending on what part of your business or goal you are looking to grow. I love strategy for this very reason; it touches all aspects of the business, helps define the purpose, and creates a path for change.

A strategy is not a plan that is created by one person. The best strategies include insights from all stakeholders, managers, and key people in the company.  The goal of creating a strategic plan is to make a change, usually tied to a monetary outcome, an increased competitive advantage, etc. Any change, even if it is small and focused, will impact all departments and people in a business. It will affect expenses and increase workload. At the very least, it will change awareness.

This is why creating a strategic plan can be so overwhelming. Choosing a goal, defining the changes that will result, and to what extent it will affect the different areas of the business is time-consuming and requires a diverse knowledge of how a business works. Strategic planning also requires preparation and resources (like time, support, and money) and cannot be done in an hour. Here are the three levels of a strategic process that will help you understand what you will need to successfully design and implement a great strategic plan.

Please note that there are several roles, responsibilities, processes, tasks, and steps required to successfully achieve the objectives of the plan. These three levels are an overview of what will be required. To create a truly achievable plan you will need to be able to identify and dig down into changes required.

I – The Reason

Think about any purchase over $1000 you have ever made. To decide whether you will invest the money you first want to know if you really want what that $1000 will buy. You must have a reason for spending the money. This is true in strategic planning. As the owner of the business, your time is incredibly valuable, so even if you do not put out any money, investing 10, 20, 50, or more hours of your time to prepare, create and implement a change in your business will cost you money (in lost sales and decreased time for your other responsibilities). If you are not whole-heartedly invested in the outcome then you will not be as motivated to complete the work. The larger the project, the less likely you will successfully implement change.

Likely, you are not a one-person business. This means you have to have other people believe in the outcome of the change so they will not waste their time and your money. In Robin Sharma’s book Leadership Wisdom, Julian, the fabled monk, teaches his student that as a great leader you need to “inspire people to give their best to the company” (Sharma 1998). He suggests your people must understand the purpose of the change and have buy-in for the work required and the value of the outcome. To be able to create change there will be much change required. This sounds redundant, but it requires change, to implement change. People will have to work out new procedures and take on more work just to define the project. Once the project is established the new processes will need to be implemented into the corporate workflow, requiring documentation and training for other employees. Without a significant ‘WHY’, that everyone can get behind, it is near impossible to effect strategic change inside a company.

You are the owner so the responsibility for the continued success of your company lies squarely on your shoulders. You are also the leader, which means you are responsible for the work-life experience of your people.  Brené Brown says that a leader is “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and who has the courage to develop that potential” (Brown 2018). Therefore the reason for your change must fit within the development desires for the company but because your people will be doing the work, it must continue to deliver a work-life that is desired by your employees. Buy-in to the strategic goal is a critical first step.

II – The Inventory

Take inventory of what you have so you can evaluate what you will need to make this plan work. This will help define the areas of your business that will be affected by the change. Understanding what will change will help you discover the costs that will be involved in implementing your strategy.

Look at the different areas of your business and think about how this change will affect what you currently have. For instance, if your company is currently a sole-proprietorship, will you be paying too much in taxes as the changes in your income reach your goals? If so, what business form (structure) do you need to implement and what do you have to do to make that happen?

Below is a list of areas of your business you will need to evaluate to be able to understand how your change will affect your business. This will give you an idea of what it will cost you to implement this change. This will also help you evaluate the goals to know if it will actually be an effective change: e.g. costing you less to implement then the value of its outcome.

  • Business structure
  • Finances
  • Product (development & delivery)
  • Customer service
  • Marketing (location, product, promotions, pricing, & target market)
  • Competitive advantage (competitive intelligence and research)
  • HR & Culture (roles and responsibilities)
  • Technology
  • Operations and admin

III – The Future

To get to the desired outcome you will be required to:

  1. Create a plan (with metrics and milestones)
  2. Take action on that plan
  3. Measure your results

This is very process-driven and is easier to implement when you know where you are, what you have, and where you are going. Without the first two levels of strategy creating the plan becomes guesswork. You may be very good at guessing, especially if you have been in your business for a long time, but if you are serious about growing a larger business you will create new situations that you do not necessarily have experience with. As you implement your changes the workload and costs are the main changes people expect and experience, but there is so much more that will be affected. The addition of new people will change your culture, new markets will change your promotional message, new products will change your delivery and pricing. Everything in your business will be touched so everything in your business must be ‘nailed down’, so-to-say. You and your people must not just understand your purpose in business, but you must know it and use it so that you don’t lose it as you grow. Companies that lose their core identity lose their leverage when speaking to their target market. Not being able to communicate with your target market is a recipe for falling sales.

Create the Plan

Below are some areas that should be accurately defined in your plan before you start implementation. This plan will take research and estimations based on real numbers and this will cost you time and money to complete.

  • Mission, Vision, Values, and Objectives
  • Responsibilities and assigned teams
  • Goals, outcomes and milestones
  • Expenses, cash flow, require purchases, increased costs
  • Investment and income
  • Changed inventory estimates (see “II – Inventory” (above) for the future list you need to develop)
  • Process timelines

Take Action

Use the process timelines to implement your next steps. Have your team help you identify what must happen first and what will be needed to get started (e.g. training). Make sure you take into account the work that supports current sales and clients. This work must continue because if you lose sight of your current obligations you won’t have a business to support your new expenses.

Below are some areas you will need to manage while implementing your changes.

  • Train (process for the project)
  • Build Mission, Vision, Values and Objectives into the daily work (meetings, visuals, conversations, etc.)
  • Assign tasks, process, and dates
  • Assign management responsibilities
  • Define expectations

Evaluate & Tweak

Ensure that your milestones are known and that the responsibilities of each key person are constantly evaluated. If you have not defined how a milestone will be evaluated (think SMART goals to give real-world metrics) then you will not have realistic reports on your level of success. You do not want to get to your expected launch date to realize you are still 2 months out from the delivery date and an additional $50,000 in overage expenses required.

  • Have regular meetings to check-in (ensure you have an agenda and stick to it)
  • Evaluate based on defined metrics (time, cost, lines of code, % developed, etc.)
  • Get feedback from mentors, stakeholders, management, and employees (how is it going? “Plus/Minus/Delta”)
  • Come to a consensus as to the current success of the plan. (are you really 24% complete?)
  • If you are not making the milestones of the project then make changes to the plan to understand where the problems lie. This will help you to stay on track or to adjust the outcomes to align with the metrics (e.g. the project is $100,000 over budget so we have to reduce the number of functions of the application for this revision of the product).

Using a strategy to build your business is how you can see all opportunities available as realistic possibilities and the steps that can get you to the finish line. This is how successful businesses continue to reach new heights in their business accomplishments.

References

Sharma, R. 1998 Leadership Wisdom From The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: The 8 Rituals of Visionary Leaders.

Brown, B. 2018 Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

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