Why Your Business (or any Organization) Needs a Strategic Plan

Far too often, we boil leadership down to bite a sized quotable. Over every social media platform, you see brilliant quotes from the leading influencers of the moment or of the great leaders of the past.  I have shared many quotes that speak to me and will most likely continue to do so in the hope that they will inspire others to action.  After all, that is what a leader does, inspires action.  But leadership is far more complicated than a great one-liner from Marcus Aurelius or John Maxwell.  Leading is hard.  There is endless criticism (from inside and outside of your organization), tremendous pressure to perform, and endless amounts of problems to solve.

That is why it is vital to have a plan for your organization.  A solid strategic plan will help reduce the pressure from you and the leaders of your organization. So how does a strategic plan help in this way?  First, when I work with a business or organization, we establish its reason for existing.  The leadership team must determine the reason the organization exists and ensure it has real implications for how they will make decisions moving forward.  Then we work on values.  Not just generic values that we wish to work towards, but a clear set of current values that describe “who” the organization really is.  This work is vital to ensure the organization knows who it is and why it does what it does. Doing these steps and a few other pieces will establish the initial foundation for the essential strategic work.

Next, we can work on differentiating the organization.  Or to put more plainly, identifying the few strategic guidelines that the organization will use to make decisions. For example, maybe the team determines that it has a “flat” and agile administrative process that their customers appreciate and regularly compliment.  The leadership team would then need to ensure that future decisions should protect this “flat” organizational structure at significant costs!  Any processes that the organization implements should be tailored to fit its flat and agile administrative process.  Doing so will keep the unique advantage.  But if the team did not identify this as a strategic advantage, they may inadvertently lose an essential aspect of what makes their business great. Lastly, we work on organizational priorities and organizational roles.

Once you have worked through this process, you will be able to communicate your vision to your people.  The ability to increase communication and bring your team together and get them on the same page is immeasurable.  Everyone will know what the priorities are, everyone will know what the leadership team is using to base their decisions on, and it will align the entire organization. 

A solid strategic plan will make implementing objective tracking systems much easier.  Anything from OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) to a Balanced Scorecard are great ways to keep track of who is working on what and how you are going to achieve your key objectives. 

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It’s Not Just Business

How many times have we heard the term, “It’s nothing personal, just business.”? It is in music, movies, and ingrained into our general culture. The problem is business is personal. We invest in them with money, sweat, tears, and time. Many personal sacrifices go into our businesses or our work. So how can it not be personal and what do you do about it? The answer is simple: Grow a thick skin and take things personally. ​

This most certainly does not happen overnight, it is not easy, but it is crucial. People’s criticism, although sometimes hurtful, is feedback and feedback is essential to business regardless of what the business is. Even outside of business it is vital.  An individuals performance will rarely improve without feedback. 69% of employees state if they are given feedback they will work harder and are better because of it. Most of this is because they know they are being observed and that people care about them and the work they are doing.

If you are the author of a blog, you will be criticized (trust me on this one). If you own and run an ice cream shop, you will be criticized (probably less than the blog).  If you invent a time-machine, you will be criticized. There will always be someone who is critical of you and your work. The point is to accept that you will be criticized and keep doing your thing. Do not let it deter you from your cause. There is no doubt this is much easier said than done and I struggle with this myself. But if you identify it as something worthwhile, and are deliberate about getting better at it, then it can be done.

I used to believe a good feedback mechanism was 360-degree feedback.  I still think it is a great idea, but a much too “the world is full of rainbows” idea.  People are very bad at taking feedback from superiors, let alone from subordinates or peers.  In order to implement a 360-degree feedback system in your organization, you would need to spend significant time working through the culture to get the leaders of the organization to accept the feedback.  Most likely, this approach would cause resentment from the subordinates because they would feel like their feedback is ignored.  Regardless of your feedback method, if you do it enough and force yourself to evaluate what people tell you, you will grow a thick skin with it you will be able to take feedback from random strangers or customers.

 

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