We're almost half way through Q4, and now is the time to plan if you want next year to be especially successful. Strategic planning is a deliberate effort to engage your team to consider customer needs, market trends, your organizational identity, strategic planning, staffing, financial planning, and execution planning.
Too many businesses assume that they know their customer, but how well? To serve your customers, you should be in tune with what they are thinking and what they need. This means not only having long time knowledge of their industry, but also current knowledge on what they are thinking about and worried about for the future.
Leaders should consider collecting customer intelligence. This is a series of interviews done with current, past, and even potential customers where you ask them about themselves. Some common questions include:
- What are your plans for the next year?
- What keeps you up at night?
- What makes you excited?
- Are you expecting to spend more money or less money next year? (in your product category)
I have seen too many customer surveys that focus on the company instead of focusing on the customer. Think about it. Is it more valuable for a restaurant to know that I think their chicken sandwich is OK or for them to know that I greatly prefer restaurants where I can do online ordering so I can pick it up quickly?
I will confess that when I see market news, my eyes glaze over and I start thinking about pizza. (Mmmm, pizza). However, in the past few years, I’ve seen the importance of understanding market trends and even economic indicators thanks to our partnership with our friends at Springfield Remanufacturing Company (SRC).
The purpose for understanding market trends is not to try to predict the stock market. The reason is that it gives you a chance to think long term about how you manage your business. There are ways to make money in any economic or market condition, if you are prepared. If you aren’t prepared, you are just along for the ride.
Good market and economic data is often available through associations within your industry.
Here is a harsh fact. Most strategic plans fail. The company invests in the time to create a plan, but then the plan ends up on the shelf and the company goes back to doing what they’ve always done.
However, research shows that the most effective type of planning is known as Identity Based planning. This type of planning starts with you. It starts by understanding who you are and what you do. It involves the creation of a clear Mission (what you do), Vision (what you want to accomplish) and Values (what you stand for and how you do what you do). If you think of your company like a player in a game, the Mission is the definition of the game, the Vision is what winning the game would look like, and the Values are the rules of the game.
If you haven’t created a Mission, Vision, and Values, or if you haven’t looked at what you did create in a long time, it might be a good exercise to take some time to work on it. I do know some great outside facilitators who can help.
With good information from above, you can put together an actionable, yet strategic plan. If you don’t have the above information, plans can still be made and steps can be taken in an aligned direction. Strategic planning is still an important and valuable process, even if you don’t take the time to craft the perfect Mission statement or collect customer intelligence.
Good strategic planning at its core involves pulling together some leaders from within your organization to think about who you are, where you want to go, and how you want to get there. While there are many methods of planning that have been utilized, its hard to beat the old fashioned SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis, although we use a slightly modified SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results).
Whatever method you use, the goal is to create 3-5 Key Objectives to accomplish over the course of the next year. I strongly recommend annual strategic planning. You can set some longer term goals and think 3, 5, 10 or even farther into the future, but so much happens over the course of a year, I think that an annual revisit of the plan is valuable.
Key Objectives give your team focus. Most teams we work with at the beginning are choking on opportunities resulting in a lot of partial work and incomplete results. Focusing on 3-5 items through a year will ensure meaningful progress.
Welcome to the Great Sansdemic! If you haven’t heard that term before, you’ve probably felt it. With 10,000 Boomers retiring every day and not enough people to replace them, we are in a demographic situation where there simply aren’t enough workers to fill the positions that Boomers are leaving. This demographic trend will continue through 2030.
To plan for staffing, we recommend starting with your organizational chart. The org chart is something almost everyone has, but few organizations truly think about. Your organization chart shows your organizational design and, to be frank, many organizations are poorly designed. Individual parts are added and shifted due to short-term needs resulting in what we call a “wonky” organizational chart with too many dotted lines, weird branches, and a lack of clarity. This results in poor accountability and role clarity which is a silent drag on too many organizations.
Take a look at or draw up your organiation chart. Now throw it out. Deliberately design your organization to do what it needs to do and consider what you will need over the course of the next year. It takes time to hire and to train new managers, but it will be worth the investment.
I got a new car recently. The dashboard contains all kinds of information designed to help keep me safe and to avoid problems. It also contains a rear view mirror to tell me what is behind me. Imagine if I drove my new car primarily by looking at the rear view mirror. Unfortunately, this is how too many organizations use their financial reporting.
Your financial reports are your dashboard giving you valuable insights into where you might be going. Some business owners review last year’s financial statements with their accountant 4-6 months into the next year. They are literally looking at data that is 6-18 months old. Instead, what if you created a pro forma profit and loss statement for next year?
Start by forecasting out your revenues. If you’ve done some customer intelligence and market research, you should have really good information to help you make your best guess. Then look at the revenues and consider what you’ll need to execute. Will you need more people? Will you need more equipment? This helps you build out your expenses and to project your profit.
The best part about looking forward is that you can proactively manipulate the numbers. If you don’t like the profit on your projection, make some adjustments. What can you do differently to boost revenue? How can you become more efficient?
I want to add here that too many business executives carry a dirty secret with them: they don’t understand their financial reports. If I’m describing you, you aren’t alone and you need to rectify that. You don’t need an accounting degree, but you should focus on understanding your P&L’s, your Balance Sheet, and your Cash Flow Statement.
As I’ve said, too many strategic plans fail and a major reason is that there is no plan to execute the plan. If you do all of this work and then go back to your day to day work, you will get the same results you’ve always seen. Instead, you need to think about how to make strategic planning and execution a part of your normal business. We have lots of thoughts on how to do this effectively, but the short version is that you need to create a team and cadence that reviews your plan and launches steps to execute your plan.
GEEZ, THIS IS A LOT!
There is a lot to do here. When do you actually do your work? Here are a few thoughts for those of you who might be overwhelmed right now.
- This doesn’t all need to fall on your shoulders. The above exercises are all opportunities to engage your team (yes, even on the financial planning).
- Good planning creates focus. Focus means working on fewer things, but getting those things done. I see too many organizations who are lost in day to day noise resulting in wasted work and energy.
- These practices will help you to sleep better at night. A good plan is better than a good pillow.
- We get it and can help. We work with our clients to help them to systematize these planning systems that empower and align your team. Your accountant does your taxes for you to give you time to run your business. Why not engage a company to help you to plan?
Planning is powerful. Get the most out of next year by investing some time this year.