We have all heard the expression that “A dream without a plan is just a wish”- Katherine Paterson. Obviously if we had a dream of taking a trip to another state or a foreign country we would have a plan on how we were going to get there. Whether we were going to fly or take boat or car, what would we do if the weather delayed the trip or something unexpected caused us to take an alternative route? In fact we might take weeks, months or even years planning the perfect agenda to be sure we maximized the enjoyment we would receive from the journey. After all, planning the dream vacation takes careful research and planning.
In business we often forget we are on a journey because it becomes too much like a job. We lose sight of the fact that we have been dreaming of owning our own business for so many years. Dreaming of the financial security it would bring or the legacy we would leave behind. Business owners get caught up in the day to day of the business and forget to work on the growth and strategy of the business.
I recently met a young business owner, he and a friend had discovered a unique niche opportunity while working for a repair company in high school. They quickly took advantage of this opening and grew their company to $5.5 million in two short years. During our conversation we spoke about the journey they had taken and how the business was larger now with employees. They were busy developing processes that would better control the flow of work through the company and struggling to understand the people management process, never having managed employees before. Having been a CEO of my own business for more than 30 years I of course had more interest in where this young business was headed. I was impressed by these young guys and wanted to know more about growth projections, margins, and competitors. When I began to ask them about their strategic plans for the future I quickly discovered they had lost sight of the future because they were completely engrossed in the business itself.
These young guys are not alone. More often than not in my interactions with business owners I find they spend far too many hours working in the business and not enough time working on the business’s future. In a five or ten minute conversation with my young friends I discovered margins were shrinking due to an onslaught of new competitors entering the market, in turn driving prices down. The secret they discovered two years ago was out and everyone wanted in. They had a huge jump on the competition but if they didn’t work on a plan and implement it quickly this advantage would soon be gone and they would find themselves in a defensive position.
In this case they hadn’t planned for the journey at all. They saw an opportunity and they jumped on it and what a great job they did. Without a road map for the company they were lost and hadn’t stopped to ask for directions. I asked them if they wanted to enter the working world once the demand for their product had subsided. You can imagine the confused look I received. I asked if they thought this market dominance would last now that competitors were swarming to the table. Quickly they both agreed that it wouldn’t. So what’s next is the question I posed. Not having experienced the planning process before, I sent them back to the office to consider the question and encouraged them to call me for coffee when they had put some thought into it.
For years as a young CEO I understood that we needed to plan, but our so called strategic planning meeting each year turned out the same old hockey stick growth projects with little or no real strategic planning going into the front end of the process. Each department head told me what they thought I wanted to hear and I bought it. Later on I discovered the value of planning, I mean really planning, all year long so that the strategic planning meetings were not only productive but eye opening and lead to some of the greatest growth opportunities the company had ever seen. When the team understood that we needed to become focused as a group on the journey and not just the day to day operation they were empowered to bring forward the good, the bad, and the ugly news about what was going on in the industry as well as our own company. With this validated information in hand we were able to clearly map out what the future looked like (Vision) and the initiatives that would get us there ahead of our competitors. Answering the hard questions built into the planning process allowed us to:
- Better understand our competitors
- Better understand the trajectory of the industry
- Build a better value proposition
- Increase customer satisfaction and
- Measure our progress on the journey
We have placed a Strategic Planning Readiness Assessment on our website planning page (http://tecresourcecenter.com/planning) that will help determine where your company stands in the strategic planning process. Feel free to download a copy today. Don’t find yourself in the position so many others have in the past with decreasing sales and or margins and no real plan for the changes ahead.