9 ways to make time for Strategy

With the best of intentions, strategy is often neglected.  One of the Catch-22 problems of growing a business is that the more successful you are, the more operationally demanding the business becomes.  The more operationally demanding, the less time to think about and plan for the future.  Very soon, business managers run into the busy-ness trap.  They have to run hard to stand still.  It’s not just that the hours in the day are all filled up;  it goes way deeper.  The demands of a growing business are such that our internal safety valve says “no more, turn down the ambition please” as a protection mechanism.  The unconscious reaction to new opportunities is negative, disguised as “I haven’t got time”.  The world around gradually evolves and the business is becomes slow to adapt.  The risk is becoming stale and irrelevant.

Here are some ideas for making sure you do give time to strategic thinking and planning:

1.  Track your competitors on Duedil.com  If you don’t already, it will be a wake up call.  People often create a story within their business that their success ebbs and flows with market trends.  It’s often a comforting lie.   You will see winners and losers.  You will see some gobbling up others’ market share.  Are you seeing competitors’ strategies and market positions rewarding them or punishing them?  Are you getting stronger or weaker?  If some competitors are growing faster than you, find out how.  If you are declining, use this information as a spur to action.

2.  Ask staff about the strategic direction.  Ask them strategic questions such as:  What are the three biggest challenges we as a business face?  What are the most valuable opportunities we need to take?  If they come back with a jumble of answers or say “not clear”, this could be the kick-start you need to get working on it.

3.  Delegate relentlessly.  Most people delegate less than is good for the business.  As a thought experiment, imagine you’ve been invited on a luxury world cruise with the person of your choice for six weeks.  Now, come back from that particular daydream please!!  Write down everything that needs doing whilst you are away. Cross out anything that isn’t essential.  Now decide who should do it.  Do a delegation plan.  Head it “Things that are now someone else’s responsibility”.   If you persist in hanging on to tasks because only you can do them, you either need to develop/hire better people or confront what you are avoiding by hanging on to tasks.  You may have to improve your delegation technique if you find that delegation goes wrong.

4.  Be accountable.  Write it into your job description and performance plan.  Then make yourself accountable to someone for delivering an updated strategic plan (powerful but as short as possible) periodically.  Commit to your coach, a mentor, your Board, investors, the bank, fellow Directors, staff.   External commitments increase the likelihood you will follow though.

5.  Make it easy.  Don’t imagine that planning is about producing a BFD (Big F****ng Document).  The more complex your business, the more it needs to stay simple.  Use a template.  I have dozens ranging from one pagers to full investor business plans.

6.  Do a one-pager.  If your strategy isn’t explained in one page (okay, maybe A3), it’s too complex, simplify it.  Contact me if you want a copy of my 14 Strategic Questions.

7.  See it as an ongoing activity.  It’s never finished.  It’s not like building a bridge, it’s more like creating and managing a garden out of wilderness.  You have to claim the land, prepare the soil, plant new things, manage pests and weeds, cut back, prune and shape it.  Whilst you might have big days or weekends at key moments in the season, the best gardens get a bit of attention every couple of days.  Use the questions above as your ongoing guide.  Pin them to your desk.

8.  Join a group.  There are a number of peer groups such as The Alternative Board www.thealternativeboard.co.uk that can give you the structure and discipline of sitting down once a month to think about the big things.  There is lots of research to show they are effective.

9.  Have an Away Day.  Get someone (like me) to create a set of exercises to challenge your thinking and give you space to stimulate new ideas.  It’s always good to develop strategic momentum with a group or team.   It will kick-start your strategic thinking and planning process.  Call me if you want to think through how it might work.  Tel 07931 38 26 76 or email jim@optimaandco.com

More than talent, more than hard work, your strategy, combined with the markets you select will determine your success.  A bad market or strategy will beat a good team any day.  Make sure you are not stuck in the minutiae when the tectonic plates of your market are shifting.