On a recent drive to Picton I found myself tootling along with my eyes glued to the road in front, the oncoming cars and trucks (and those attempting to get into the back seat of my car), the speedometer and the ice patches on the road. In-between the comfort of the passing lanes, cars passed others at great speed at opportune and less than opportune moments. The need to keep in the flow of traffic and keep a gimlet eye on the road and the driving conditions meant I caught only fleeting glimpses of the icing sugar coated Kaikoura’s, the greening up of north Canterbury and the magnificent coastline.
So where exactly is this road taking us, you ask? The journey made me consider the parallels between distance driving on busy roads and being in business. It struck me that often we’re very busy doing the doing with such an intense focus and speed, with our eyes on the competition, others in the marketplace and on existing organisational realities. Often we don’t stop or slow down sufficiently to consider what we are doing or how well (or otherwise) we are doing it, let alone consider whether we are on the right road anymore.
How often do you seriously and comprehensively consider the next 1-2 years, or more? How often do you put your business through a warrant of fitness, so you know you are in the best possible shape to continue? How quickly do you attend to minor problems and issues when they first appear, before they become major problems with the potential to cause real damage and difficulty? How often do you do bits and pieces of a planning process at different times and say yes, I’ve blown the dust off the mission statement, identified business drivers, but haven’t done anything else this year? Or, have you heard yourself say we did do strategic planning once, it was a dreadful experience and we haven’t done anything since?
Whether you are a small, medium or large business, it does pay to look regularly at every aspect of your business and to examine where you’re headed. Reviewing, reflection and deliberate planning is an important business activity so if you’re reluctant to do it, what may make it easier for you to do?
The first step is awareness, in knowing that proactive reviewing, reflection and business planning is as equally important as the reactive actions. If you are aware and want to maximise your business opportunities, a call to action – commitment – is then required.
Develop a process to suit you and your business
Consider what you want to do, how you want to do it, what you want to achieve, why it’s important and who should be involved in the process. Then develop a process that will suit, one that will allow you to identify the areas of your business for a warrant of fitness and allow you to seriously consider your businesses goals.
A good result is more likely to be achieved when there are a number of focused, interested and committed minds involved. The benefit of involving others is that they bring different perspectives and experiences. It’s easy to lose sight of or lose perspectives on situations when we are too close to them. Others may see what we cannot. Ask participants to come prepared and ready for full participation
Use a facilitator
Sometimes it’s difficult to simultaneously facilitate a process and be a full participant. If it’s going to be too difficult to do everything yourself, identify someone who can guide and direct you and others through the process. Before you look externally, consider looking internally – it could be a great developmental opportunity for staff . Brief the facilitator with what you want and ensure they have the resources needed to do the job. Be mindful that even with skilled facilitation, you may have participants who are ill-prepared, unwilling to be involved, or who believe that planning exercises are basically a load of cobblers. In this situation, the exercise may falter in the face of individuals’ intentional or unintentional attempts to sabotage proceedings.
Identify the successes and the progress to date
Remember to consider the business successes and achievements to date, along with its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Take time to acknowledge the successes – it gives positive energy and encouragement to fuel the work ahead.
Do something with your findings
One way to get real benefit from your planning exercise is to do something with it….beyond the planning day(s) themselves! If you have identified issues that need attention, new priorities, a new direction, different business drivers, whatever, then translate your findings into something meaningful and useful. Create documented business plans, the establishment of project teams or new policies, practices and systems. Carrying critical plans around in your head or in the minds of a few trusted others, may not be the best move. Accidents, sickness, sudden deaths, retirements, resignations or long service leave – all happen, eventually.
No point keeping business plans all to yourself – if you require staff to implement the business plan, then they need to be involved and informed. Communication is critical. Ensure your communication channels are established and open and ready for two way messages. Then check that the messages you convey are the ones that have been received and understood – and vice versa.
Establish monitoring processes
To ensure all your good work isn’t wasted and that what you’re wanting to achieve is being achieved, develop a system to monitor the implementation of your plan. It isn’t enough to think you’re doing ok, get evidence to know that you are. You may want to monitor some key areas daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly.
Tie it all together
Tying everything together = maximum gain. This means working backwards from the business goals, the requirements in the business plan, to ensure those goals and key requirements are reflected in business unit’s or services’ goals. Ensure those goals and key requirements are also reflected in position descriptions. This way, ideally, all effort and energy will be expended in the right areas.
Remember to pull off the business highway occasionally. Check out the whole vista, not just the bit directly ahead and ensure your business has a current warrant of fitness and is following an up to date map. It makes good business sense, wouldn’t you agree?
First Published in NZBusiness April 2002�