If your company has no competition and you are comfortable with the status quo, this article isn’t for you. If not, please read on.
“Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.” — Sir John Harvey-Jones
If you are still reading, I assume you are interested in taking an active role in the development of your business and there is motivation to change the business for the better. As Mr. Burns from The Simpsons would say “…Excellent.”
At its most fundamental level, strategic planning is a facilitated process to take information about you, your organization, your market, and your competition and to create a roadmap from where you are today to where you want to be at some point in the future. As with most things in life, the devil is in the details, so let’s take a closer look at some of those details.
Here are some questions that will need to be answered before or during the process:
- Why does the company exist? This is the BIG WHY that many business owners have a hard time articulating. It’s also extremely critical to understand this so that the direction for the company can be set and maintained.
- What customers do we serve? The key here is looking at our ideal customer, the one we want more of. Understanding our target market is an important homework task prior to the start of the strategic planning process. Narrowing the definition will be an important part of the process.
- What value do we create? Notice I didn’t say what value do we deliver. There is a difference. We may deliver value that is largely provided by our suppliers of which they may reap the majority of the benefit. What do we create and hopefully get paid for?
- Who is our competition? We may have direct competitors but we also may compete with substitutes for our product or service. Understanding your competition is key to formulating a strategy. It’s important that the homework on your competition is done before the planning process begins.
- How are we different from our competition? This is not only in terms of our product or service but also the activities we perform to deliver the product or service. This is where profits are earned or lost.
- What activities do we need to be very good at and how good are we at those activities? In any business, there are 2 or 3 activities that if you excel at them and do everything else just average, you will be very successful. It’s important to figure out what those activities are and if you really do excel at them?
- What do you want the company to look like in 5 years? This is where you can let your imagination run wild and develop a vivid picture of the future that everyone can embrace.
- What do we need to do to get there? If you set the goals for 5 years right, it will be a stretch and will require changes in the organization to achieve the vision. There will be a number of needs such as new processes, facilities, staff, partners, etc. that will have to be realized at the right time in order to arrive at your destination in 5 years.
- How will we track our progress? What gets measured get done. These metrics are the road signs that we will use to make sure we are on track to our destination. They need to be selected carefully and reported with meaningful frequency so that corrective action can be taken in a timely manner if necessary.
- Who is accountable for each milestone along the way? Another key to implementation is accountability. Every task and metric on the plan should have one name associated with it. Along with assigning responsibility, you must agree to a frequency and forum for progress reporting for each item.
A well-designed planning process, the right mix of players, and thorough preparation before the first meeting begins will be key to the success of the exercise. A third-party facilitator is the best option to efficiently drive the process since company employees cannot maintain the objectivity required and often lack the required process skills.