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Getting Strategic

Last week was the most exhausting one of the year.

Creating Next Year’s Business Plan Can be Hell, but Heaven is in the Details

Mike “Sparky” Detmer ([email protected]) is president of Niles Audio

Last week was the most exhausting one of the year. It wasn’t due to a trade show or extensive travel. In fact, I didn’t even leave The AVC Group’s headquarters in Carlsbad, CA. My exhaustion was much more mental, being sequestered in our boardroom, drafting a strategic plan for next year’s business. My boss, Mark, calls it “hell week,” and you would too after participating. But the outcome is critical to our success going forward.

I’m sure you can relate that after six long days of work, a little R&R was in order. So on my day off I fired the coals in the BBQ (slow and low), chilled some locally bottled IPAs, and cranked the sound system to begin the healing process. Yet even with these distractions, my mind was still on the plan, and it immediately locked onto the first song Pandora played. “Jet Airliner” by Steve Miller resonated with lyrics that seemed to fit. “You know you got to go through hell before you get to heaven,” Miller sang. Suddenly all my stress disappeared. I realized that going through hell week gave my team and me a clear pathway to follow and the confidence to win.

If getting to heaven is your business’ goal, you had better go through a hell week of your own and draft a working strategic plan. Here are a few simple steps to follow when you do:

1 Build a Team: Identify who will participate in the planning. Typically in larger organizations this is senior management. But in smaller companies it might just be a few partners or the proprietor. James Lind, who directs the custom installation division of Nebraska Furniture Mart, offers this advice about their process: “We identify the stakeholders and bring them in on the process up front. This ensures that everyone buys into the strategic plan and is committed to its tactical implementation.”

2 Focus on What You Want: Work from a stated strategic position to the tactical implementation. It’s easy to get buried in details before knowing exactly what your strategic overview and objectives are. Here Lind advises: “We start our planning process from a strategic standpoint, making sure our specific objectives align with those of our corporation.” A good anchor in this phase of the process is to post your mission (why you go to work every day), vision (what you want to be), and values (the tenants you hold important in business dealings) on the boardroom wall.

It’s easy to get buried in details before knowing exactly what your strategic overview and objectives are.

3 Analyze Where You Are: The best plans consider internal capabilities and external forces as well. Start with conducting a SWOT analysis. Write down your top Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Typically strengths and weaknesses are internal. An example of strength might be that you have exceptional programming skills. A weakness might be that you lack working capital. Opportunities and threats frequently are external, such as dynamics in your market or with your competitors. If you’ve never done this before, just Google SWOT and a number of good tools will appear in the search. Frankly, I like to build on the strengths and find ways to mitigate weaknesses.

4 Write Your Plan: Now that you know what you want to do and are aware of the opportunities and limitations, it’s time to put your plan onto paper. First list the Top-5 Basic Business Performance Goals for last year, the current year, and next year. The sheet might look like Figure 1. Now write down the three to five strategic initiatives that will get you there and what tactics you think it will take to make them happen. In this case it might be like Figure 2.

5 Get Intense: Make a Tactical Implementation Checklist (TIC). On a spreadsheet, list the action items required, who is responsible for getting them done, when they are due, and any comments that are necessary to note about each. Set a time once a week to review the checklist and update it. It doesn’t matter if you are working the plan alone or with a group. The discipline of reviewing the list every week will drive you and your team to higher performance and to hit your plan.

Should you wish to ask a specific question related to your individual plan, feel free to contact me at [email protected]