Lesley’s four strategic planning tips for small businesses.

  1. Tap into your Talent. Yes, you’ve created a successful business. What got you to where you are will not get you to the next stage of growth. Create a safe space for your people to discuss strategic objectives, issues, and to dream big. Central to this is a common vision. This vision must be clear, concise, and aspirational. People-powered strategies are the best. The best strategic plans have been the ones created by the teams that will be accountable for their execution. The best strategic plans also take the vision all the way through the mission, strategic initiatives and execution plans – also developed by the people. Follow this framework to ensure a link between vision and execution.
  2. Listen. Listen to what your people are telling you. Listen really hard for what is not being said. Things may not be brought up for a variety of reasons, most all of them stemming from fear. In a recent workshop, I asked, “What are we not talking about?” A few very strategic items were raised, and we were able to discuss why they were not being mentioned. Listen also to what your ecosystem is telling you about strategic directions. What do your ideal clients care about? What do your best suppliers see that you can’t see from where you sit? Where is legislation going? Where is it not going? Where is the white space for your company?
  3. Decide and move. Many teams get hung up on the same conversations. Among the many reasons for this is a feeling of not having all the information to be able to make a decision. I’ve called this condition “analysis paralysis.” Information is ALWAYS incomplete and imperfect. So is analysis. But perfection is the enemy of excellence. Yes, due diligence needs to be done before deciding on a course of action. But there is an element of “leap of faith” involved in moving forward. During one recent workshop, I encouraged the team to list the merry-go-round type discussions. I scribed one complete flip chart sheet with items that had been in discussion for up to 18 months! Think about the cost of this – in terms of time, money, missed opportunity, and erosion of morale. If you find your team stuck in the same discussions, ask what is holding you back from making a decision. Ask what the impact of a wrong decision would be. Realise that you learn more from failure than from inaction. Can you fail fast and re-adjust accordingly? Decide. Move. Adjust. A good decision today is better than a perfect decision never.
  4. Get outside help. Yes, you’ve created a successful business. You have a great team and a great Board. Maybe you think you don’t need help, or that you can’t afford it. That is exactly when outside help is most valuable. The cost of the untapped and unidentified opportunities is far greater than that of facilitation. The best strategies are created from a place of strength. An experienced facilitator with a broad range of experience and solid knowledge of strategic planning can help bring out the best from your people to identify truly strategic initiatives and much more. An experienced facilitator can also raise the conversation to a level above day-to-day realities, team dynamics and power distances that exist in organisations. In a recent strategic thinking session I facilitated with the management team of a small business, we listed the strategic initiatives they came up with during our session alongside other strategic initiatives they had developed together but in the absence of an impartial third party. The difference was stark both in the robustness of the initiatives and their strategic nature. In fact, when we did a prioritization exercise to determine which initiatives they would investigate more deeply and act upon, none of the initiatives they developed on their own made it to the short list. The ones they came up with through our facilitated process were truly strategic.

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