Strengthen and Lengthen Your Vision
Are you wondering about whether you should devote the time and energy required to develop a Strategic Plan? Let me ask you a question. How far ahead have you thought about your business? What will you do if times turn tough in 2008 and beyond?
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to travel to Germany with a trade delegation. Travel is a wonderful thing. Interesting new sights, sounds, and smells have a way of opening your mind. But, nothing on the trip left as lasting an impression as driving the Autobahn. Hundreds of miles (kilometers) of open road lay before me. The privilege of (legally) driving my little white rental-car at top speed produced a once in a life time thrill.
After driving just a few minutes, I couldn’t help but notice how my driving habits changed. Specifically, I experienced “far forward” driving. I directed my attention further out at 200 kilometers an hour than at slower U.S. speeds. Rarely did I concentrate on the three car lengths ahead. Instead, my focused attention moved out to activities on the road perhaps a quarter or a half of a mile distant. The road was flashing by too quickly for anything less.
A few weeks after my trip, I had the opportunity to speak with a former ski racer. He zoomed down the white slopes of Colorado at speeds reaching 100+ MPH. We talked of the look-ahead phenomena. I wanted to know if he felt the same sense while he skied. Interestingly enough, his comments mirrored my own experience. You are prone to look further and further ahead as your velocity climes.
I believe the world of business runs parallel to this story. As our business moves forward at greater speed, the need to look further ahead magnifies itself. Strategic Planning is a tool for forward viewing. Like my relative car length extension at 200 Km/hr on the Autobahn, Strategic Planning pushes your view forward. Instead of next week, your focus shifts to three, four or maybe five years distant.
My experience assisting organizations with Strategic Plans illustrates an all too familiar issue. Businesses dwell on issues only a dozen feet ahead of the bumper. While these may smooth out the ride, they rarely make an important difference on the future. Keeping with the car analogy, time is wasted discussing how to miss the bug headed for our windshield. And, the detour a half mile ahead is completely missed. Business leaders get hung up on what happened yesterday and miss the far forward stuff.
The planning experts lead us astray. Pick up any book on Strategic Planning and the first half is dedicated to SWOT-Analysis. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats play an important role in understanding where you are today. And after sweating through the SWOT- Analysis many find themselves simply worn out.
One company I spoke to mirrors this experience. After reviewing their efforts, I asked one of their team to outline their far flung future plans. Even though the SWOT analysis was done to perfection, this team had spent so little time discussing their long range vision that no one could articulate anything for even two years out. To me it seemed their purpose was to closely analyze their year-end position - period. They were a ship adrift.
The one caveat in their particular case could be stated: “We have no control over where we go, but we always know where we are.”
Why do business owners and leaders not prepare a plan?
Fear failure is a common reason for lack of planning. What happens if we fail to meet our plan? If outside influences affect our future, why waste time on planning? Leaders are concerned that not achieving a plan affects their reputation. Announce a plan then experience a poor economy and everyone will wonder if we are in trouble.
Other times leaders simply hate to be held accountable. They spout that accountability is the greatest strength in an employee, yet they hate to be held accountable – even to a plan of their own making.
Some believe their company is too small to establish a plan. Strangely enough, I find this to be true in companies ranging from a couple of million dollars all the way up to over a hundred million. I wonder if the very act of setting plans (and goals) has not be soured by some type of large media play when the behemoth corporations of Wall Street fail to reach profit plans.
Others fail to plan for emergency or disaster situations. They subconsciously believe that planning for a recession will sabotage their sales performance or give their middle managers an out when times turn bad.
Back to looking forward
If you don’t have at least some idea of your plan, you need one. I suggest you start simply and build with time. With all the uncertainty in the air, one noted business expert suggests you create a contingency plan – a plan for operating your company with 10% lower sales volume next year. Is this a pleasant thought? No, it sure is not. But, without a plan – you will find yourself making tough choices during the very worst of times.
I recommend you have multiple plans. A disaster plan, an expansion plan, a plan to attack weak competitors and a plan to develop a long range vision should all be part of THE PLAN.
This doesn’t have to be costly and it certainly doesn’t have to be precise to the point of exhaustion. But it does need to be thought out.
Think forward. Call me to talk about how to get started.