Tag Archives: Strategic planning

Back To Basics

I played a number of sports growing up. Thinking back on it, no matter which sport I was playing, when the season began the coach would inevitably talk about getting back to basics. He usually meant the building block skills that a team had to have in order to be successful. If you don’t think that’s important, watch one of today’s major league baseball players try to lay down a suicide squeeze bunt. That basic skill has almost disappeared.

No, today isn’t going to be yet another old guy rant about how the world has changed for the worse, Instead, as we approach the end of one year and the start of another, it’s a reminder that now is a great time to do a little back to basics thinking. It’s harder than you think because what often happens during the course of a year (or longer, depending on when the last time was that you did this exercise) is that the basics get forgotten in the heat of battle. So here are a few of the fundamental questions that I’d be asking myself and my team right about now.

First, what are we trying to accomplish? That sounds overly simple since making a profit is pretty much what every business is trying to do unless you’re a non- or not-for-profit organization. What are you trying to make happen? What problems that your customers have are you trying to solve?

Next, how are you measuring success? It’s not just the cash register ringing or the bottom line overflowing with black ink although clearly basic financial items are important. How many new customers did you attract? How is your reputation? What good have you done for your customers, your partners, your vendors, your employees, and your community?

After that, take a look forward. What do we need to do in order to be successful in this next year? How do last year’s results, both good and bad, direct us forward? What can we start doing and what should we stop doing, whether it’s meetings, products, reports, or something else? What could happen in the marketplace that will affect us, both positively and negatively? Do we have a disaster plan?

Finally, is the view you and your organization had of the world at the start of this year still the way you see it going forward? If you don’t think that things change that much, think back 5 years or even (gulp) 10. You wouldn’t have had a mobile strategy or a social media plan then. You probably didn’t pay a heck of a lot of attention to your website or online reviews. You sure had better be active in all of those areas today even if you’re not a digital business.

Those are some of the basics I see as necessary for success. What are some of yours?

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The Tip Of The Iceberg

I”m not sure why, but a lyric from the Rush song “Distant Early Warning” popped into my head this morning:

I know it makes no difference
To what you’re going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg
And I worry about you…

I think that’s something we do in business – see the tips of those icebergs – but we also do a very human thing and ignore them. I’ve been part of organizations that were just as guilty. I can clearly recall a sports sales meeting in the 1990’s in which the sales staff laughed at competing with this little cable sports network called ESPN. Buyers were talking about it, even though their numbers weren’t much at the time. It was the tip of the iceberg, except we didn’t worry.

Those tips surface all the time. A decade ago, no one was “worried” about social media taking dollars from mass media (although what could be more “mass” than social media these days?). Having a highly profitable media business disrupted by consumers watching TV on demand and on a mobile device? A good way to get a room full of executives to laugh.

It’s not just the media business. How many businesses have a written disaster plan in case a server goes down, a system gets hacked, or a natural disaster occurs? Why written? Because there is a high likelihood that you won’t have the time to figure it out on the fly, and it’s possible that members of the team will lose communication. We see the tip of that iceberg in other businesses struggling with floods and hacker incursions, but what do we do about it?

You might also ask yourself about the distant early warnings of burnout. Many of us are stressed, and that constant strain can lead to burning out – a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.  When was the last time you looked inward as well as outward for signs of those icebergs?  Ignore the distant early warnings at your own peril.

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Awesomely Simple

One of my favorite quotes comes from a jazz musician, Charles Mingus, and it concerns one of the things I work on with clients every day: simplification.

Charles Mingus - Bi Centenial, Lower Manhattan...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

That doesn’t mean dumbing things down.  It means finding the big idea in everything we’re doing and relating each and every action to that big idea.  If we’re selling air fresheners and someone thinks our cute logo would make great T-shirts, how do those ideas relate?  If they don’t, maybe we need to move on.

Michelangelo captured this notion when he likened sculpture to simplifying the marble.  He said that there was an angel inside a block and it was his job to set it free. There are statues inside every block, he said.  His task was to remove the excess, to make the complex simple.

Many people in business make what they do unnecessarily complicated.  Maybe it’s to prove their worth to themselves or to others.  Maybe it’s because they’re distracted by every new idea or shiny object.  As Mingus said, it’s commonplace.  Take the complexities that surround you in business and make them simple.  Find the big idea – the paragraph that explains the central tenets of whatever you’re doing  – and use it as your roadmap.  That is the tent pole that keeps everything else up and running.  It’s the thing around which you build your business.

Simple enough?

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Thought And Preparation

This is the time of year when many families host some sort of holiday gathering.

Grupp från Bonniers bokförlag vid middagsbord ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It might be a Passover seder or it could be an Easter Sunday gathering.  Our Foodie Friday Fun this week was spurred by that sort of activity.  I’m sure you’ve been to gatherings of this sort where the host had it all together.  The food came to the table all at the same time and at the appropriate serving temperature.  There were no shrieks of “we forgot the rolls” midway through the meal (you rarely hear that at a seder, by the way).  The snacks and drinks are out when guests arrive and the entire experience is executed with efficiency.

I’ve been to meals of a very different sort.  The food comes out one dish at a time and sits on the table until everything is ready, getting cold in the process.  The menu is not quite complete, usually because it wasn’t thought through carefully.  That’s really the point this week – the need for thought and preparation in the kitchen.  Turns out it’s critical in business too.

The two things need to go together for the cook – or businessperson – to be successful.  The hosts who don’t have it all together did think about what to serve.  There was thought.  The problem is that they didn’t translate that thought into preparation.  They didn’t have a real plan.  The opposite is also true.  You can prepare all you want – make various dishes – but without careful thought beforehand, the odds are that you’ll have a meal that just doesn’t work since no one wants all proteins or to have to make a last minute run to the store for the ingredients you didn’t write on your shopping list.

It’s the same in business.  Not taking the time to think a project or situation through before organizing those thoughts into the various types of preparation the enterprise needs to do is futile.  That preparation will have to be redone when something that wasn’t thought through comes to light.  It’s nice when someone volunteers to “dive in” to a project but it’s even better when they make that dive after thinking through the depth of the pool.

I hope if you end up at a gathering of family or friends this weekend you’ll take a step back and appreciate the thought and preparation that went into the day.  If it’s been done well you probably wouldn’t notice it otherwise.  It’s when there isn’t thought and preparation – done together – that you do notice because things go horribly wrong.  Make sense?

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Want to have some fun?  Do a search for “predictions for 2013″ and use a search range of the six weeks prior to the start of the year.

Super Bowl Sunday Crystal Ball

(Photo credit: circulating)

You can do this for any year, but I took 2013 since the results of those predictions are still fresh in our minds.  Throwing out the fringe sources, one can find respected publications and authors making predictions about what was supposed to have happened last year.  You can click though here to a bunch from The Washington Post, as an example.  In some cases, they did pretty well.  In others, they could not have been more wrong (predicting Michelle Bachmann would become House Speaker when she ended up leaving Congress is just one example).

This sort of exercise seems sort of silly yet every business does this on a regular basis.  It’s important that we do so to a certain extent.  We need to predict demand and project sales.  We need to anticipate tastes and try to be ready when our customers need us to be.  The real issue, however, comes when we think we can predict the unpredictable.  To me that’s anything more than about six months down the road (something to think about the next time you’re asked for a five-year plan).

Most of us tend to weigh recent events much more heavily than longer term indicators. We also tend to forget that the past can only predict the future to a limited extent. Using data to make educated guesses is great, but it’s not the same as  predicting.  A forecast is an extension of trends.  It’s almost something a computer can do with a well thought out algorithm.  A prediction takes other factors into account.  Political realities that might change trends.  New technologies that can be disruptive and change those historical trends.

10 years ago here was one sage’s prediction for Facebook:

Facebook, lame or not, was certainly a heavy hitter of 2004, but watch out, I have a strong feeling it’s going to jump the shark. Maybe it already has.

Maybe so, but a billion plus users 10 years later shows just how hard accurate predicting can be.  Have any predictions you’d like to share?

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Finding Feasibility

Ever been a part of a feasibility study?  You know – a bunch of people have a bright idea and it’s good enough that there needs to be a serious investigation into whether it can be done or not.

The former York to Hull Railway - geograph.org...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A team is put together (hopefully including those whose idea it was in the first place) and questions are drawn up.  In some ways those questions are like a mini business plan.  What’s the potential market for this idea?  What are the resources needed to bring it to life?  What sort of on-going support will it require?  Can it be done in a reasonable time frame or will it take so long that the potential evaporates?  And of course, what are the legal ramifications if we do what we’re proposing to do?

I want to focus on that last little bit because I think it’s illustrative of a broader point.  Lawyers are trained to protect their clients (which are, by the way, the companies for which they work  and not YOU, dummy).   To many of them, the status quo is a lovely place (assuming the company is not tied up in litigation).   That’s not really the best place, however, for many businesses.  In fact, in some businesses such as tech, the status quo is a death sentence.  When the feasibility of something new is brought up, I’ve worked with some lawyers who were fabulous at finding ways to say “no.”  The could spot a potential problem long before any of us could and they didn’t hesitate to cite those problems are reasons not to proceed.

Here is what they – and you – need to keep in mind:

Obstacles are huge and opportunities are small:  one often hides the other.

How many people underestimate what’s feasible since obstacles can be readily apparent but the opportunities hidden behind them get missed?  We need to do what the better lawyers (and executives) I’ve known always did:  spot the opportunity and find a way to remove the obstacle blocking your path.  Some feasibility efforts are the business equivalent of the blue screen of death:  the system has reached an issue it can’t handle and throws in the towel.

I’m a believer in almost anything being feasible as long as there is flexibility, some tolerance for risk, and a willingness to adjust as you learn.  People – and businesses – have done things a certain way for years and in most cases it’s working for them.  Trying something new or doing things in a new way might not seem feasible and it’s not if there is a predisposition towards allowing the obstacles to obscure the opportunity.  But I’ll bet you can tell me about a time when you tried to do something in a new way – you shut your eyes and didn’t see the obstacles but visualized the opportunity – and succeeded.  So tell me!

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Social Is As Social Does

Let’s start the week with a little food for thought.  I came across a great report from the Altimeter Group concerning how businesses evolve around social.  The report makes a distinction between companies implementing a social media strategy and those that are building a social business.  It’s really an eye-opener, especially the finding that just 34% say there are clear metrics used throughout the organization that associate social activities with business outcomes.  Then again, given how too many businesses are always chasing the next shiny object without considering how or if it works for their enterprise, maybe it isn’t.

Here is how they made the distinction between social strategy ad social business:

A social media strategy lays out the channels, platforms, and tactics to support publishing, listening, and engagement. A social business strategy is the integration of social technologies and processes into business values, processes, and practices to build relationships and spark conversations inside and outside the organization, creating value and optimizing impact for customers and the business alike. The most important criteria for a successful social business strategy are twofold: clear alignment with the strategic business goals of an organization AND organizational alignment and support that enables execution of that strategy. However, in a survey conducted by Altimeter of social strategists and executives, only 34% felt that their social strategy was connected to business outcomes.

Yes, I said that last point a second time – I think it’s that important!  It gets to the first of the success factors of a successful social business strategy:

The biggest cause of social strategy failure was the lack of alignment around business objectives. Businesses that uncover the gap between business objectives, social media strategies, and internal challenges and opportunities will open dialogue that both closes the gaps and creates alignment in the process.

The report goes on to list six others:  Having a Long-term vision for becoming a social business, key executive support, having a roadmap in place for all your initiatives along with a timeline, process discipline and ongoing education, staffing properly, and choosing technology only after strategy is set.  Each one of those points would make a fine topic for a longer post but it’s a pretty good checklist from which to work.

I encourage you to read the report a couple of times and let me know what you think.

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