Over the years as a business owner and as a consultant I’ve helped a lot of companies and small business owners develop business plans, strategic plans, customer engagement strategies, and marketing strategies. In truth, some have turned out great and a few seemed to….ummmm….flatline. On the ones that never seem to take flight I always wonder why. Was it the plan? Did we overlook something? Did some circumstance change? Was it something else? Honestly, I think the problem has to do with commitment of the leader(s). They may want the plan to work, but they are not completely invested in making it successful.
If you and your company have outlined a solid strategic plan and it seems to be moving at a glacier’s pace (or worse), you need to figure out why. Here are some of the biggest issues I’ve seen (and some ideas on how to beat them). Think about these and see if you as the leader are experiencing any of them:
Ya Gotta Believe
Examine whether deep down you just truly don’t believe in the strategic direction that you’ve laid out – and have just remained silent. As the leader you have an obligation to your customers and to your employees to set a course you believe is best for your business. If you have doubts you need to get them out into the open.
Solution. In a way it’s like going back to the drawing board and starting again. Maybe not completely starting again…but kind of. Revisit your assumptions and your beliefs about the market. Reevaluate your company’s strengths and its weaknesses. I know it’s difficult to re-open all this after everyone feels like you’ve got a plan in place. (And, yes, you should have expressed your doubts then.) But, it could be what’s holding you back. Better to get it all out on the table than to keep struggling with a plan you don’t believe in and can’t get behind. This step back can be important to helping your organization leap forward.
Missing a Champion
Someone has to have the responsibility for making sure the plan gets executed. After a plan gets developed often everyone just goes back to the day-to-day work of the organization. The longer-term direction and strategy can get left behind. The chance that your strategy will be successful (like any project) drops significantly if you haven’t assigned someone to lead the effort. While, making the strategy successful depends on your entire team, we’ve found that it’s really important to have someone oversee the strategy. Someone to keep it front-and-center for the organization.
Solution. Identify someone to take responsibility for the plan’s implementation. It’s a critical role for someone with the stature within your organization to see across departments and functions; and also someone who can communicate across the different levels of your organization. This person would need to be able to keep the entire team moving forward and achieving the plans milestones. Look for someone with the personality and leadership, organizational, and communication skills to keep pushing the plan ahead.
Status Quo Love
Something I’ve run into several times is that sometimes (either consciously or not) people can be in love with the status quo. I once worked with some business partners and we developed a business growth plan for the company. They said all the right things. They accepted responsibility for action items in the plan. But, the plan went nowhere. Ultimately (those two partners having been in business together for the previous ten years) it turned out that they simply liked the business as it was. They liked the size of their business. They liked that they could do some things manually. Unconsciously (I think) they simply liked the way things were and didn’t WANT to change or grow. I’m not sure they even recognized it in themselves. Could this be you?
Solution. Closely examine what it is about the way things are that you like. Is it the physical environment? Is it the culture? Write them down. Be honest with yourself. Once your list is completed think about how you could bring some of these elements into your “new and improved” business. Some of those things you may have to just give up in the interest of growing the business. But at least you’re giving them up consciously and accepting the tradeoff. And, if you’re being honest, maybe the status quo hasn’t treated you as well as you think. (After all, there is a reason why you decided to make changes to the business.) Maybe your love for the status quo is really just unrequited love.
Perhaps one of the reasons we can’t get fully behind a strategic plan is that we are fearful of the change, that it won’t be successful, or that (at a minimum) it will be very disruptive. Well, what can I tell you? It’s true. If your company is to grow, things will be changing. And you can’t always predict how those changes will be. And, yes, sometimes even the plans we think are great, fail. Markets change. Competitors adjust. Our assumptions turned out to be wrong. These are realities.
Solution. The answer is to keep reminding yourself of what success looks like. Look at your vision. Yes, the path through the woods may be a little frightening, but the beautiful castle on the other end will be worth all the effort. As Kirk Douglas once said “In order to achieve anything you must be brave enough to fail.“.
It’s Too Much Work
Are you freaking out now that you step back from your strategic plan and look at how much work is required to make it successful? It can certainly feel insurmountable, can’t it? Do you feel like it’s more than you can handle? Sometimes we find that we don’t take action because the wall before us just seems too daunting, too big. And only you can decide if you have it in you to do the work needed to make your plan succeed.
Solution. Take a deep breath. Make sure that all the action steps and all the tasks are important to get done. If not, change the plan. Look at the timeline. Is it realistic? If not, change it. If you’ve looked at all that and the plan is just what it is you’ll need to look at how you accomplish it in a different way. It helps to think of the work in much smaller, much more manageable steps. Break it down. Trust me, each step will seem more doable. You’ll look at each task and say “Oh, I can do that!”. And before you know it your knocking down task after task. It’s like the (bad) old joke says: “Q. How do you eat an elephant? A. One bite at a time.”.
The crucial thing is to have a plan that you believe in and that you can get behind and support, something you can lead your troops through. Something you can tell the world about. Let no one doubt that this is the direction your company is going – and that you believe in it and support it. Let’s get that heart pumping again!
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Is YOUR strategy not accomplishing what you want it to accomplish? Helping organizations like yours achieve their goals is truly important to me. I’d love to chat with you and explore how I can help your business succeed. Feel free to reach out and get in touch.
Just an informal discussion to explore some ideas.