“Good business planning is 9 parts execution for every 1 part strategy.”
– Tim Perry
Planning is an extremely useful component of growing your business, as it aligns the organization, focuses limited resources and establishes clear and measurable outcomes for the year. It also establishes action steps, responsibilities and timing for expanding the business. But value is only realized through the shift to action.
At Skoda Minotti, our experience indicates key leading practices which significantly improve an organization’s probability of success:
- Identify the right initiatives and don’t over-commit – Take on only what you have high confidence you can successfully accomplish. Generally, we advise clients that this should encompass anywhere from three to seven key initiatives at a time.
- Make initiatives measureable – Do those things that will generate realistic and quantifiable results. Baseline your performance before you start, so you can determine improvement.
- Establish a pilot test model to “fail fast, succeed fast” – Lots of companies jump into expansion full-throttle – i.e., “Let’s expand into Cincinnati, and let’s hire people there.” Instead, consider pilot testing. With this approach, you can test a marketplace and a concept and limit your risk in doing so. Explore methods to sell into Cincinnati from a distance without the need to hire a sales force in that town. Once the model proves itself, then hire a sales force there. In his book, “Great by Choice”, Jim Collins recommends that businesses should, “Fire bullets, then cannonballs.” This means expanding many low-cost efforts (i.e., the bullets) that will test your work. Once you have the aim and effect down, then invest in the higher-cost work (i.e., the cannonballs).
- Engage a team and push responsibilities down lower in the organization – No matter the size of your business, you can’t do it all. You need a team that’s committed to executing the plan with devotion, relentlessness and precision. This also creates a lower-cost model of implementation and allows the executive team to see the entire picture from the “crow’s nest.”
- Allow time for the team to engage in the project – Most employees are full-time workers. And, the best people on your team are likely over-committed already. Assigning them additional responsibilities (e.g., “run this strategic initiative”) will likely result in one of three outcomes:
- The project is successfully completed (hopefully on time and on budget).
- The project struggles or fails due to the employee’s lack of capacity.
- The employee becomes severely frustrated due to overwork, turns into a bad employee, or becomes frustrated to the point of leaving.
When strategic projects are critical and must take priority, some of an employee’s original work must be backfilled or delayed. It’s up to management to question whether the project should have been initiated in the first place if it’s not identified as a critical priority.
- Establish and maintain open channels of communication – This includes conducting regular status meetings and implementing transparent and ongoing communications throughout your organization. Keep your stakeholders apprised of plans, process, progress, successes and challenges; doing so builds engagement and drives buy-in.
- Ensure that the management / leadership team understand their responsibilities and are engaged and supportive – Sponsorship (i.e., backing by senior management) is critical for the success of any initiative. Nothing derails a good plan like miscommunication or ambiguity about who’s doing what, and when it needs to be done. Be clear in all communications, even to the point of over-simplification. Doing so will help you avoid unnecessary delays, unwanted costs or even harmful damage to the business.
- Incentivize your team – Reward them meaningfully for their successes, and acknowledge those successes.
- Create conditions for stakeholders to succeed—and fail – You must make it safe for people to operate in high-risk situations like growth initiatives. If you ask an executive or other employee to take a leadership position in one of your identified initiatives, that person is taking a risk. If they fail, they run a larger risk of losing their job. So why should they get involved at all? Moreover, when fear of failure is driven to some extent by fear of losing one’s job, decisions may get made that aren’t strategic or in the best interests of anyone involved. Therefore, initiatives should be designed so that stakeholders feel comfortable working toward success, and knowing that if they come up short, their careers aren’t on the line.
- Utilize proven project and change management techniques – Certified and experienced project and change managers are invaluable to any business change efforts. They understand the tools of keeping a project on track and bringing the organization through the project successfully. If you are considering taking on a large project or change initiative, you will be well served to engage an experienced project and/or change professional.
Considering the Role of Consultants in Executing Business Growth Plans
In a recent blog, we highlighted the key role qualified business consultants can play in helping to facilitate the business growth planning process. Yet the real value of your planning process lies in the action and the results that emanate from deployment of your business initiatives. Just as businesses encounter roadblocks when attempting to initiate planning, those same businesses fall short when it’s time to execute due to many things—particularly a lack of project management expertise and time. Companies and company officials don’t usually have the depth of experience in tracking and monitoring, nor do they have the time and capacity to run a different set of initiatives on top of their day-to-day responsibilities.
That’s where business consultants add significant value. Business consultants dive right in to establish project plans, business cases, metrics and dashboards, pilot projects, oversee reporting and tracking, and generally building a consistent look and feel around all activities so that results are meaningful, prioritized and actionable to you and your executive team. Experienced project manager consultants manage and address the issues and risks that are experienced in every initiative.
Equally important, outside consultants offer a fresh set of eyes, unbiased perspectives on current and planned operations, knowledge of common (and uncommon) pitfalls, and proven abilities to execute.