Strategic thinking and planning is a universal need for any organization, be it small or large, that wants to thrive in this rapidly changing world. Unfortunately, too often, small businesses skip this exercise. Those that do, though, report that setting aside time and resources to strategize gives them greater agility and provides a framework for decision making. Here are four guidelines for small businesses that want to get the most value out of a strategic planning exercise.
- Tap into your Talent. If you were the one to start the business, realize that what got you to where you are will not get you to the next stage of growth. Open up discussions about vision, strategic objectives, issues, and opportunities. People-powered strategies are the best. The best strategic plans have been the ones created by the teams that will be accountable for their execution. They take the vision all the way through the mission, strategic initiatives and execution plans – also developed by the people. Follow this framework to ensure a link between vision and execution.
- Listen. Listen to what your people are telling you, especially hard for what is not being said. Things may not be brought up for a variety of reasons, most all of them stemming from fear. In a recent workshop, I asked, “What are we not talking about?” A few very strategic items were raised, and we were able to discuss why they were not being mentioned. Listen also to what your ecosystem is telling you about strategic directions. What do your ideal clients care about? What do your best suppliers see that you can’t see from where you sit? Where is legislation going? Where is it not going? Where is the white space for your company?
- Decide and move. Many teams get hung up on the same conversations. Among the many reasons for this is a feeling of not having all the information to be able to make a decision. This condition has been called “analysis paralysis.” Information is ALWAYS incomplete and imperfect. So is analysis. But perfection is the enemy of excellence. Yes, due diligence needs to be done before deciding on a course of action. But there is an element of “leap of faith” involved in moving forward. During one recent workshop, I encouraged the team to list the merry-go-round type discussions. I scribed one complete flip chart sheet with items that had been in discussion for up to 18 months! Think about the cost of this – in terms of time, money, missed opportunity, and erosion of morale. If you find your team stuck in the same discussions, ask what is holding you back from making a decision. Ask what the impact of a wrong decision would be. Realise that you learn more from failure than from inaction. Can you fail fast and re-adjust accordingly? Decide. Move. Adjust. A good decision today is better than a perfect decision never.
- Get outside help. Yes, you’ve created a successful business. You have a great team and a great Board. Maybe you think you don’t need help, or that you can’t afford it. That is exactly when outside help is most valuable. The cost of the untapped and unidentified opportunities is far greater than that of facilitation. The best strategies are created from a place of strength. An experienced facilitator with a broad range of experience and solid knowledge of strategic planning can help bring out the best from your people to identify truly strategic initiatives and much more. An experienced facilitator can also raise the conversation to a level above day-to-day realities, team dynamics and power distances that exist in organisations. In a recent strategic thinking session I facilitated with the management team of a small business, we listed the strategic initiatives they came up with during our session alongside other strategic initiatives they had developed together but in the absence of an impartial third party. The difference was stark both in the robustness of the initiatives and their strategic nature. In fact, when we did a prioritization exercise to determine which initiatives they would investigate more deeply and act upon, none of the initiatives they developed on their own made it to the short list. The ones they came up with through our facilitated process were truly strategic.
If your small organization wants to have a great future, it’s got to be designed. These four tips can help you with just that. Reach out to me if you’d like to discuss!
(c) Lesley Antoun, 2020