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  • Oliver Gleeson

How to Plan with Strategy When You Don’t Know What You NEED or where to START

(And SHOULD you have a CONSULTANT?)

CLIENT COMMENT at recent breakthrough consulting session:


When we started to try and answer questions around our Strategic Plan, we lacked the professional tools, processes and the know-how to confidently make a decision, which left us in a state of paralysis and being perpetually overworked.”


Raise your hand if this sounds familiar. Don’t worry, nobody’s looking. And if they are, they’ll just think you’re stretching.


Yet, this comment is one I hear far too often, and it is emblematic of a significant risk run by thousands of privately-owned businesses – operating without any semblance of a strategic plan for growth.


No framework. No ownership. No accountability.


And I’m not talking about companies who are just scraping by. These are companies which provide an exceptional product or service, with high-performing people in the organization, but still struggle mightily to survive the current day’s demands.


One might presume if a company is good at what they do, naturally they’d have to be terrific at planning their business growth. Right? Hand in hand?


Sadly, rarely the case. Many companies, although well-positioned to leap forward, remain stuck. Rather than raising the business with purpose, confidence, and conviction, much time is wasted; a lack of skill robs the company’s time reserved for strategic planning and critical thinking.


Some organizations recognize this dilemma, and choose to fix it themselves, but don’t know where to begin. Or if they are open to outside expertise, they are unsure what to expect from a consulting strategic planning process.


How do they find the right solution, or what questions to ask?


Their stress and vulnerability delay companies from acting and keeps them bogged down in reaction or crisis mode.


This article is for companies tired of being stuck in the grind yet recognize the need for a strategic framework for their growth. They want to understand more about the process and develop the confidence to reach out for assistance when they see the necessity.

By the end of this article you will…

  • Learn some best-in-class strategic business models

  • Understand how to create a Strategic Plan on your own

  • Apply key ideas as a framework for your company

  • Understand the useful role of a Consultant as an advisor/planner/organizer to offer you the freedom of time to build your dream business

What is a CONSULTANT, anyway?

In the business marketplace, there lies some understandable confusion between

  • Consulting

  • Coaching

  • Training

Whereas, quite rightly, there is perceived overlap among these functions, each expert has his or her own unique interpretation of how these roles benefit the client.


For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the role of the Consultant. As a practitioner, I offer you information how an effective consulting engagement can produce a profound impact on your organization.


A Consultant provides breakthroughs in ways you may not have imagined.

So, tell me more about this “Strategic Plan”

(visualize speaker making air quotes)


Such is the quote, I sheepishly recall, from a conversation with a potential client a few years ago. I had dived, enthusiastically, into a round of questions. The client gave me a hands up “whoa, back up there” face. Rightfully so. I realized not to presume everyone uses the same terminology.


Therefore, to err on the side of caution, this article speaks to an introductory level. In future, my articles will approach a more in-depth analysis of strategic planning concepts. So, stay tuned!


Now, let’s move forward…

WHAT COMPRISES a STRATEGIC PLAN?


Three elements: the PLAN, the GOALS, the PROCESS


1. The PLAN – Sounds basic, right? Perhaps in theory, but the PLAN is the MAP for your organization. No doubt you are familiar with the concept of Flight Plans, or Float Plans, and more commonly, Road Maps. Your organization needs its own PLAN /MAP which lays out where you are now, where you need to be, and how you are going to get there! Furthermore, a good plan is worthless if not activated. Countless organizations have corporate retreats, where a plan is created, then collects dust in a drawer. Not for you!


2. The GOALS – Good Strategic Plans create goals and objectives for both the short and the long term. Typical time frames:

  • 3 to 5 year longer term goals

  • Annual goals

  • Quarterly goals or ‘sprints’

The longer term, three to five-year goals, usually ambitious and aspirational, spells out the organization’s desired accomplishments and view of its shining potential.


The Annual Goals are significant milestones which generally should take about a year to complete, and if successfully achieved, bring your company closer to that larger vision of a five-year successful plan.


Quarterly goals, or 90 day ‘sprints’, are key to meet the Annual Goals. These ‘sprints’ run four times per year, and are ultra-specific priorities meticulously measured and tracked. The Quarterly goals are executed with pace and passion, and they make a huge difference between success and failure.


3. The PROCESS – The process is the how to get there part. A Strategic Plan must move to be successful. Thus, the Process uses a series of tools, systems, and meeting rhythms to keep your company in fit shape. You can think of this process as a fitness workout to ensure you don’t miss any planned date, cheat on your diet, nor get off target. (More info on ‘how-to’ achieve properly run meetings is the subject of another article.)

STRATEGIC PLAN – Four Areas of Focus


Now that we examined the Strategic Plan’s triad formula of Plans, Goals, and Process, let’s look at the four areas of focus each business leader and team of decision-makers must consider:


1. Strategy 2. Execution 3. People 4. Cash


Strategy – here’s the brains of your business. Your Strategic Plan will dig into how you choose to present your business: what products or services you offer, what markets you serve, why customers will choose you. You will understand your competitive advantage and know which areas of your business are most profitable. What makes you stand out?


Execution – how efficiently and effectively your organization runs. Do things get done with precision and confidence, or is time needlessly wasted? Does key information flow freely among the organization or do staff feel uninformed and uninspired? Sloppy execution crushes morale. Opportunities for improvement must be addressed, consistently, in your Strategic Plan.


People – We all realize people are the ‘heart and soul’ of any business. And it can’t be repeated enough. So, are the right people in the right roles for your organization? Not only internal people, but external vendors are instrumental in supporting your company’s success. “Growth Guy”, Verne Hamish in Scaling Up asks: “Would you enthusiastically rehire everyone, knowing what you know today?” Enthusiastically, suggests an unequivocal ‘yes’ or there is more work to be done in this arena.


Cash - Often the most overlooked functional area in the organization, I am referring to the actual cash the company has access to (not revenue and forecasts). How much is coming in and when; how much are you burning through per month? To weather storms and leverage opportunities, cash on hand is critical to the organization’s health.

CAN I DO THIS ON MY OWN?

Now you are aware of the three components of a Strategic Plan (plan, goals, process) and the fours areas of focus (Strategy, Execution People, Cash).


So, can you create and execute a Strategic Plan on your own?


Theoretically, yes.


Here’s what you would need:

  1. A good Blueprint

  2. Discipline

  3. Patience and Time

The Blueprint:

Should you decide to draw your strategic plan from scratch yourself, be aware it is a comprehensive time-consuming enterprise. To build your in-house plan, I highly recommend you follow an industry-leading template which supports your efforts with structure and guidance.


Two of the best templates available:

  1. Scaling Up by Verne Hamish

  2. The Freedom Formula by David Finkel

Both of these models are best-in-class, and come with a series of tools to help you create that strategic plan. Scaling Up is powerful for a business dealing with the complexity of growth, and Freedom Formula is valuable for the business owner who feels trapped in being the one on whom all the success relies.


Both books focus on the same core principles:

CULTURE

PRIORITIES

ACCOUNTABILITY


The Culture speaks to a well-established set of rules and higher purpose as to how you operate, and your place in the world. Without a firmly established purpose and core culture, everything else fails. Not soft stuff. If you are to remember one point from this article - remember this.


The Priorities are about doing less things better. Too much overwhelms a company, too many ‘to-do’ tasks are often overlooked or less than optimal. Choose 2-3 organizational priorities that get done every quarter.


The Accountability deals with transparency, teamwork and commitment. Suggests team engagement for open, proactive communication around success and failures.


The Discipline:

Proceeding on your own to build a Strategic Plan involves extraordinary self-discipline. It is not a part-time exercise to work on when convenient. To build and get a plan off the ground requires solid commitment, consistency, and passionate drive. Subsequently, the model will need to be pushed forward repeatedly on your own. If you are this person, honest with your ability, it’s a ‘yes’. Proceed to the next point. If not, exit here and get outside expertise.


The Patience:

To build a Strategic Plan with the right priorities and rhythmic flow takes time. By now, you must feel the weight of the work involved. Even with expert guidance, the process can take up to two years of learning and experimentation. You and your team will require the qualities of personal stability, composure, self-control, and tolerance. You will endure growing pains of going it alone. Celebrate your wins and continue to build methodically. If you have the commitment, discipline, organizational skills and patience, you can get there.

Should I Work with a Consultant to Build My Strategic Plan?


In a word – YES!


I fully acknowledge the bias here since I do this for a living. It would have been quite the plot twist if I said I‘m leaving the business and implore you not to work with Consultants! 😊


However, if you have a particular Consultant in mind, I encourage you to connect with them. I am not exclusively here to peddle my own service. But I do have fifty-plus reasons why working with a good Consultant is the best route to follow.


Read on…


Why a Consultant Works Best!

  • Removes Strategic Planning DIY Obstacles – the key criteria for Blueprint, Discipline and Patience are no longer hurdles.

  • Your Consultant will produce the correct blueprint for your Strategic Plan. Your Consultant is the discipline, and the Consultant’s guidance helps you remain patient as you learn your system.

  • Speed – Your experienced Consultant avoids pitfalls and uses salient skills to have your Strategic Plan ready for your company’s culture with smooth efficiency in a far shorter timeframe which saves on costs and nerves.

  • Accountability and Buy-In – Your team is integral for success. Perhaps just a quirky part of human nature, but an outside expert brings respect to the leader from staff. No longer do they need question who knows what. The team feels elevated, supported. The leader’s humility is appreciated, and the work gets done.

  • Your Consultant’s job is to hold you accountable. Your Consultant will coach and see that you meet your milestones! Often the knowledge that the Consultant is arriving energizes the team into greater attention and awareness. Some teams may embarrass themselves to each other, but not to someone from outside. Sounds like a family, doesn’t it?

What to Look for in Your Consultant

(this subject matter is comprehensive, so at this point I offer the 101 level, with a lighter touch)

  • Do your Homework -use a referral, or search on-line. A good Consultant does not need to be geographically accessible. Check their site, style, information, and tone. You need someone with technical skills, but also a ‘good fit’, someone personable, as you will work together closely.

  • Have a Conversation some Consultants will offer a brief complimentary session to discuss your business. Although you will tough lightly on some of the substantive challenges and opportunities for your business, this is a great opportunity to build rapport, and get a sense if you could work with this person.

  • Questions you ask– From this article, you know the basics to ask the Consultant about their business model, process, core areas of focus for your business (strategy, execution, people, cash). Listen to their responses carefully and determine if what you hear gives you confidence in this person’s ability to help you move forward.

  • Questions they ask -what is the Consultant asking you? This is most important. If the Consultant asks questions about your business and you pause, reflect, perhaps don’t readily have an answer, then the Consultant is on the right track. A good Consultant should challenge you to think differently about your business, and will not merely be a ‘yes’ person.

Action Steps: Create Your Strategic Plan

  • Start Moving – Get out of crisis mode. Act. Make a Strategic Plan a priority, a commitment to achieve full potential for your business.

  • Go Deeper – this article is introductory. Check out those books, Scaling Up and The Freedom Formula, for clarity and a confidence boost.

  • Be Honest – with readings, you will determine whether you should go it alone, or excite your team with outside expertise. If you go solo and get it wrong out of the gate, it is going to be exponentially more difficult to get your team engaged a second time around - even with a Consultant.

  • Take that Test Drive – Call that Consultant. Have that high-level chat. Get closer to that Strategic Plan – your game-changer for your business!

How confident are you in your Strategic Plan?

Share your comments below, or reach out to me directly.