This question came up with clients a couple of times in February.
This challenge is especially acute as 2022 kicks off with so many uncertainties. Many organisations have seen their “known knowns” torn apart in the last two years.
Brexit was followed by the pandemic, which in turn has been eclipsed by a brutal war in Ukraine.
Home delivery, working from home, supply problems combined with racing inflation… The world doesn’t look like it did last time the senior team had a planning session in a country hotel.
So when is a good time to start planning?
Most business schools start their programmes with the strategic challenges like vision, purpose and strategy.
Likewise, if you were about to launch a business start-up then conventional advice is to begin with a plan. Even if that plan is a simple one-pager that sets out the key aims of routes to market of the operation
[The business model canvas from Strategyzer is one of the best-known and a good start point]
In the real world, though, most businesses are already up and running. So when is the best time (and how do you find the time) to build a strategy?
If you really don’t have a plan worthy of the name (and you’ve read this far!) then you probably know it’s a job you need to do sooner rather than later.
So book a date in your diary and maybe think about re-phrasing the question: What should be in my plan?
There are three critical components to a successful strategy:
- The Plan itself, which might include Values, Mission and so on. The What
- People: What’s the culture of the business; how do you recruit and retain the talent that will ensure you deliver. The Who
- Implementation. The details, tasks and milestones that ensure the plan is delivered, not just filed until the next planning session. The How
If you’re not clear where to start then begin with your customer:
- Who are your key customers and will that still be the case as markets change and new products/ services are introduced?
- Can you define your ideal customer persona and find more of the same?
- What do your customers love about you and how is it better than your competition?
Answering these questions should lead you back to an assessment of whether you really need to focus on Plan, People or Implementation.
If competition is fierce, your margins are squeezed and you “never find the time to think” then maybe you should start with the Plan. Even if it’s a simple summary of the five critical things you need to deliver next quarter it will help focus minds and energy.
If your team is flat out and you’re finding it difficult to keep your best employees, then a People first approach might win out. The UK has unexpectedly exited Covid with a shortage of skilled employees and finding a way to hang onto your best talent might be the best investment you make this year.
Or if customers are offering “feedback” about inconsistent process or missed customer service standards then you might need greater focus on implementation. Listening to key customers, understanding their challenges and keeping them close to you will pay back both short and long term.
If you know deep down that a strategy or plan is something you need to do then take the plunge and get some first thoughts down on paper. Your gut feel will likely be 80% right and from there you can refine, question and ask for others’ input.
Wherever you begin, keep in mind that the three components of Plan, People and Implementation together are what help you deliver the sustainable sales growth that you’re aiming for.