You spend countless hours developing a strategic plan you think ticks all the boxes, but still something just doesn’t seem right. You’re not achieving the milestones you set and people in the business are getting frustrated.
Left unchecked, that’s going to result in poor customer retention and under-cooked financial results.
And you know that’ll be the inevitable outcome unless you address the problem. Trouble is, you’re not sure where to start…what to do to arrest the decline before it becomes life-threatening to the business.
What to do? Think: symptom, cause, solution...
Doing nothing, of course, is not the right response. When you (and probably most of your team) know something isn’t right, ignoring whatever that something is won't make it go away.
Action is most definitely needed.
But what action?
You already have a “symptom” in your business - the strategy isn’t firing. If you’re to take action that will deal with that symptom and achieve a positive outcome, you’ll need to get a handle on its root cause.
Let’s think about the possibilities there.
What can cause a “strategy fail”?
Is your strategy “on-purpose”?
The most successful businesses (in any field of endeavour) are those that are driven by purpose in everything they do. That’s not just something we’ve invented as an idea. Research globally has proven it over and over again.
Purpose - why your business exists beyond simply making money - provides the framework for consistent decision making. And that includes the decisions you make about strategy.
A strategic plan created in isolation of a clearly defined business purpose runs the risk of seeming “disembodied” from the business.
In other words if you can’t clearly explain why you’re doing what you’re doing there’s a high chance of sub-par results.
How realistic are your assumptions?
Strategy is all about the future.
It’s the medium to long term plan that should guide your business towards its purpose and vision.
Since the future is impossible to know with certainty, strategic plans will (or should) always come with a set of assumptions about a whole range of factors relevant to your business and its industry.
How might economic factors impact your strategy over its lifetime? Will your target market and ideal client profile change? What about your product or service offer? And your ability to attract and retain quality talent to the business?
There’s potentially a long list of factors external to and within the business that will be moving targets into the future.
It’s important that assumptions made about these things be realistic in the first instance and kept under close review over time.
Do your research. Ask around. Get external help. Try to make your assumptions as robust as they can possibly be.
Because there’s zero point in creating a strategy around a bunch of unrealistic assumptions.
Are you really, truly looking to the future?
It’s tempting sometimes to seek out the comfort of history.
Tempting, but utterly dangerous if you base your strategic plans too heavily on what has gone before.
Of course it’s important to consider the past, especially when it comes to thinking about:
But it's not generally ok to base future actions based wholly or substantially upon what you know of the past.
It’s now the 21st century.
Things change. Fast. It barely needs stating that you need to be thinking about future trends and build strategies that are sufficiently flexible to cope with rapid shifting of the foundations on which they’re built.
It’s another area where clarity of purpose and vision is critically important. Being able to clearly articulate why you’re in business and what you want it to achieve means you’re not shooting at a constantly moving target.
It’s your purpose and vision that keep your attention firmly fixed on the future rather than the past.
When you and your team think in these terms, change then becomes more of an enabler than something to be feared.
Are you taking on enough risk (in a good way)?
Great results in business are rarely achieved by being overly risk averse.
Measured risk taking should be embraced in your business.
Risk aversion heightens the possibility that you’ll not try new things - build new products, chase new markets, create more effective and efficient processes.
You might consider minimal risk taking to be a “comfortable” approach to business, but it’s not going to create growth.
Of course the pendulum shouldn’t swing too far the other way. When you embark on a strategy you believe might be a risky one, it’s imperative to make sure you also plan your exit if things don’t go the way you thought they might.
Eyes too big for your belly?
It’s fine to be ambitious…to have “big” strategic plans.
Before you and your team sign off those big plans though, you need to be honest with yourselves about the availability of appropriate resources required to execute those plans. If those resources don’t exist in the business today, how realistic is it to believe you can secure them in the necessary time frame?
Running your ruler over every element of your strategic plan with an eye to resource requirements is an incredibly important step in the planning process.
And it’s here that the involvement of a broader set of team members - those you’ll rely on to make things happen - is invaluable. Who better to ask whether there is capacity within current resource constraints (as long as you enable an open and frank discussion)?
What’s the competition up to?
The right answer is, “it usually doesn’t matter.”
Clearly if you’re to succeed in your chosen market you’re going to need an understanding of the competitive environment. But don’t be tempted to go too deep into what’s going on inside your most feared (or respected) competitor.
That can bring a level of paranoia to the strategic planning process which is not at all going to help you succeed.
Think more about your own business purpose. Think about your business vision. And craft your strategic direction according to what you want to achieve rather than what you see your competitors doing.
You know what you’re good at. You know who you want as customers. You know why you’re in business and what you want to achieve.
Don’t let the latest shiny thing your competitor is up to get in the way of those things.
Did you set and forget?
You can’t just set your strategies then expect them to execute themselves. But some businesses do.
Even if you nail all the issues discussed above, your strategies will fail if you don’t execute well.
A big part of executing “well” is establishing appropriate milestones and actively monitoring progress toward their achievement. By “actively” we mean regularly, critically and objectively reviewing progress.
You’ll either confirm all’s going well or there are issues with one or more elements of your strategy. And if something’s gone off the rails it’s the opportunity to identify why (without playing the blame game) and what needs to be done to put things back on track.
It might also be the time when you concede an element (or elements) of your strategy are unlikely to succeed and therefore put them on hold.
Use your strategic reviews as an opportunity to congratulate yourselves on the fact you’re on track and as an early warning that adjustments are needed.
That’s a lot to think about.
But to boil it down:
Be alert to, but not afraid of (nor obsessed with), your competitors: don’t try to do what they do. Stay true to your business purpose, your vision and allow them to drive your strategy;
Execute, execute, execute: don’t ever take your eye off the strategy ball. Review progress, be honest about what’s working and what’s not and be prepared to shift gear when needed.
It helps to acknowledge that mistakes and miscalculations happen. That the best thing to do in such cases is to treat them as a learning experience. I have a personal view that unless you have a (manageable) strategy fail every now and then, you’re probably not trying hard enough.
And sometimes your failures happen in spite of everything else - something either internally or outside of your business that happens that nobody saw coming. It’s the x-factor that’s every lurking ready to pounce and take everyone by surprise. Don’t let that bother you too much because everyone will be in the same boat (unless their crystal ball is in tip-top condition). Deal with it and move on is the very best course of action.
And your business? How’s your strategy?
Can you tick every one of the boxes above?
Could you achieve more?
If you think you could, we’d love to help you do just that. It often helps to chat to someone from outside your business to get an independent view on strategy (among other things).
So give us a call or drop us a line.
We can’t think of a good reason not to.
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