Recently there has been some debate about the relative usefulness of planning. Some conclude that it is too difficult for busy entrepreneurs to stop long enough to do any planning let alone do it well. Since so many entrepreneurs enjoy responding to opportunities and don’t enjoy the restrictive feeling they get from formal announced plans, it is very tempting to conclude that a document that results from any planning process will inevitably be outdated and irrelevant by the time it’s distributed.
So, why not just “go with the flow” of the rapid changes in today’s market place and evolving technologies? Because that is only one of several available strategies.
For every business that “goes with the flow of rapid changes,” there were others who “got out in front to create those changes.” Some other companies grow by “picking up the pieces of business that are cast aside” by careless competitors. Still other companies establish focused specialties while others generalize. Some companies succeed because they “go it alone” while others need “strategic alliances, partners and collaborators.” The secret to some companies’ success is the quality of their customer service.
Once these primary driving strategies have been identified for a given business venture, the implementation strategies can more easily be selected. For example, a company that adopts the “go with the flow” driving strategy will probably need flexible staffing as one of its implementation strategies. Maintaining rapid response time and short product development cycles will be important to them, and no one in that company should become overly attached to today’s product offering because it will soon change. However, these won’t be the secrets to success for every business.
All too often business planning processes and documents lack an emphasis on strategies and are merely extensions of abstract sales projections or boring financial worksheets or are written like overly critical to do lists. An itchy entrepreneur will inevitably ask, “Where’s the beef? Where’s the sizzle?”
Meaningful strategic planning often begins with fun discussion(s) about big trends and sharing dreams about what key people in the company would like to do about those trends.
Meaningful mission statements often summarize which trends matter the most and what the company wants to do about them. People who enjoy discovering new applications to state of the art technology and sharing those discoveries with others will want to focus on technical trends and will prefer “go with the flow” driving strategies. People who are very proud of their existing product may focus on demographic trends like mobility, globalization and aging and will prefer to have driving strategies that emphasize specialization and market penetration. Their implementation strategies will feature ongoing research to find new niche opportunities, targeted marketing campaigns and clear territories.
Most of the time, meaningful strategic planning involves reflecting on what has been going well, the sources of recent problems, opportunities and risks.
This step (often referred to by the acronym “SWOT”- strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) provides a forum for matching external trends with internal factors to increase the company’s chances for success. It is during this second step that business leaders look at the context of the business including the roles that employees, customers, suppliers and competitors play in the identity of the company. The company’s driving strategies and implementation strategies can be tested as they are generated during planning.
Wonderfully, an exciting momentum builds from driving and implementation strategies that fit together and are well known to everyone involved. Selecting opportunities that add to that momentum is a primary secret to an entrepreneur’s success. As new opportunities are recognized after a planning cycle feels done, they can be evaluated within a context. Expensive false starts are prevented when the entrepreneur is able to recognize and address the risks involved with taking on an opportunity that does not readily fit within the driving strategies and/or implementation strategies of the company.
Known as The Growth Strategist™, Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP helps rapidly growing midsized companies (typically $20 – 200 million/year) realize their goal of Achieving Accelerated Growth With Sustained Profitability® through opportunity/resource analysis, executive coaching, strategic working sessions, and her intermediary role regarding growth financing. Her clients are among the brightest, most ambitious business leaders whose names now appear on published lists of the fastest growing privately held corporations. The recipient of 23 prestigious awards for her success as an entrepreneur and industry leader, Ambler hosts a peer-to-peer Internet radio program, aptly called The Growth Strategist™, which features lively interviews with CEOs of midmarket companies who have successfully executed the growth strategy of the week. She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna (253-6662), by e-mail at Aldonna@AMBLER.com or online at www.ambler.com.