Key learning outcomes:
- Recognise the benefits for your business of business planning, such as increased productivity and profitability.
- Establish the importance of involving your team in the business planning process to improve employee engagement and motivation.
- Conclude that detailed research and analysis of the market and your competitors is paramount in successful business planning.
- Understand the need to supplement your business plan with an action plan.
Planning is an essential component of any successful business strategy. Of course, there are some businesses that operate on a wing and a prayer and manage to do okay. However, the reality is that most successful businesses are that way because they have planned for it. We think these wise words from Abraham Lincoln perfectly sum up the need for planning: “The best way to predict your future it to create it”. This article shares the tips we have developed for successful business planning, which we use while working with many successful businesses across a wide range of industries.
1. Be clear about what you want to get out of the process
It might seem obvious that what you want to get out of the process is a business plan and this is of course one of the end results. More importantly, however, it is important to be clear on what do you really hope to gain from the process?
Do you want to create a more cohesive team environment? Do you want to set a clear direction and vision for the team? Do you want to put a plan in place that allows you to exit the business within a certain time period? Do you want to work on a particular aspect of the business? Do you want to undergo the process to help determine the long-term viability of the business? Are you considering what the next step might be?
It is important to understand that the clearer you are on what you want to get out of the process, the more likely you are to achieve it.
2. Involve your team from the outset
Involving your team in the business planning process can have enormous benefits in relation to lifting employee engagement levels. We have a number of articles in the “People Management” section of the website that will highlight how having a more engaged workforce will improve the productivity and profitability of your business.
One of the things that we know improves engagement is enabling your employees to have input into the business and their own job roles. By allowing employees to share their ideas and communicating the reasons for implementing certain strategies in the business, you motivate them to do a better job.
We do understand that some business owners are not keen to share too many facts and figures with their employees. Obviously, the amount of information you share is up to you. However, we can tell you that the more transparent and open you are with your team in regard to the business’s current performance, the more they will want to be part of its future.
3. Draw a line in the sand
The past is the past. Good or bad, nothing can be done about it and it will have little effect on tomorrow’s results. One of the most important things when you are business planning is not to get caught up in what has happened in the past. It is important to take your history and results into consideration, but remember your business plan is about what you want to happen in the future.
Use past results and history purely as information. It is important to take the emotion out of them. Lengthy discussion about why something did not work or who was to blame is non-productive and leads to your session becoming focused on the negatives. It is important to focus your team’s attention on creating a new future for the business.
4. Do your research
“Knowledge is power” are words that people working with Absolute Best hear and see a lot. We know that the more knowledge you have about your business and your market, the more effective your business planning will be. Too often we see business owners try to move into a new market or in a particular direction without doing the proper research. Good gut feel is something that most small business owners have. However, in the current competitive environment across virtually every industry, decisions regarding business strategy need to be made based on solid facts, figures and evidence. You may quickly find out that your gut feeling was right; but you might also discover some new information that changes your thinking and business direction.
We have a number of articles in the “Research and Analysis” section of the Absolute Best website which can help you to find out what you need to know. At the bare minimum, we suggest that you complete a SWOT analysis on your business, look at your market share and also complete a competitive analysis.
5. Always start with the big picture
When you start your business planning, it is important to start with the big thinking. No doubt you will have some specific goals, ideas and actions in mind, but we find that in the first instance it is important to think big. One of the key questions to ask is where do we want the business to be not just in 12 months, but also in three, five or ten years. It is easy to start fine-tuning and adjust your goals; however, it is much harder to expand your thinking if you start too small. This type of small thinking usually results in justification about why things cannot happen rather than creating an environment of open-mindedness.
You want people involved in the process to feel that no idea is crazy or out of the question when you start brainstorming. This process is all about getting as many ideas out there as possible. Once you have a long list of goals and ideas, you can start going through them identifying the ones that will have the highest impact on the business overall. Our article “Quick Wins” will help you to sort through your list and identify the priority items.
6. Know what you stand for
There is a big difference between having a mission statement displayed in the front office and actually living and breathing it every single day. It is important that as part of your business planning process you review the “core values” of your business – refer to our article. Follow the link in our step-by-step guide to determine the core values of your business and your team as part of your planning session.
When building a team, it is important that values are shared by those working with you and that everyone agrees with them and is committed to delivering them. If this is not the case, you will find that employees act outside of your core values and this can adversely affect your customers’ perception of your business. For example, if you hold and promote “service” as a core value, but no one working in your business agrees, it is likely that the level of service delivered by your employees will not match your customers’ expectations.
It is also essential to use the planning session as an opportunity to determine your team’s standards. These are the standards of behaviour that the team set and apply when interacting with each other and with customers, along with what they will commit to in regards to delivering the outcomes decided in the planning process. Our article “Setting Team Standards” takes you through the process.
7. Set an action plan
Once you have defined your goals and come up with ideas to move your goals forward, it is important to determine what can be achieved in the next 30 days. Without a clear action plan, some very good ideas are never implemented.
In your planning session we suggest that you determine the three to five most important ideas you have brainstormed as a group. Then, as individuals or as pairs, write down all the actions required to implement each of the ideas. Each person or pair then reports to the group, and after some discussion, agree on the next step for each idea and decide who is going to lead the process. You will find the framework in our “Action Plan” article useful here.
8. Document your plan
It is tempting to think that a positive planning session will be enough to boost the team’s motivation and swing them into action. Certainly, a well-run planning session can do this. However, it is important to remember that words can very quickly be forgotten in the days or weeks following, when day-to-day work and activities take over.
It is essential for you to document and share what comes out of the planning process. The document does not have to be pages and pages long, but it should include the following elements:
- Who was part of the planning session
- The agreed goals
- The agreed core values
- The agreed team standards
- New and relevant information resulting from research
- Results of the group SWOT analysis
- A list of ideas, and an indication of those that are high impact
- 30-day action plans.
This document helps to increase the team’s level of commitment to implementing the plan. It also serves as something to work through in your subsequent review meetings.
9. Be accountable
We strongly recommend that you build accountability measures into the process. Even if an activity or idea will take more than one person to implement, it is essential that one team member takes responsibility for moving it forward. Always work to a schedule, not just for completion but also for reporting progress back to the team. It is essential the person agrees with what is achievable within the set time frame. Clear signs of progress will help to keep motivation levels high.
Set regular meeting review dates. We suggest a monthly review as this is in line with the 30-day action plans. An agenda should be set for the review meeting, an agenda should be set and minutes distributed with new agreed action items for the following 30 days. Once the system is up and running, you will begin to see signs of progress every month.
10. Understand that it is all about the process
When consulting with clients, we often hear that the business plan did not go to plan. Failure to meet goals can be for a variety of reasons and the important thing is to identify what these reasons are and to learn from them. Without exception every business we have worked with gains from the experience. They almost unanimously find that while not everything went to plan, the business did move forward. Often businesses gain the most momentum when they follow this process in the second year. They tend to learn from mistakes made in the previous plan, and with the benefit of experience and hindsight are able to move actions forward at a much faster pace.
Completing the business planning process with your team is one of the most beneficial activities you can engage in as a business leader. It does take some hard work and commitment, but the benefits will be substantial, not just in terms of increased productivity and profit but in your team’s motivation and engagement. You will find a lot of helpful learning articles on our website; however, if you feel you need some additional guidance, please do not hesitate to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire about our coaching and business planning services.
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