Archive for March, 2013

The Difference Between A Strategy And A Plan

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Hang on a second, don’t tune out yet!

I’m not going to write a scholarly piece which will bore you to death.

I want to talk briefly about what I think is one of the worst mistakes – confusing strategy and planning. Roger Martin wrote a post for the HBR last month in which he dealt with this very topic.

I frequently hear business owners talk about the need to do “strategic planning” in order to create a “strategic plan”. Some talk – every year – about holding a “strategic planning meeting”.

But if you really are reinventing your strategy every year, isn’t that a bit of an indictment of both the strategy and the way it was developed?

Coming back to the meeting, the expectation is that the output from it will be a document, a plan. And that will contain a long list of initiatives (often referred to as strategies) with time frames for their completion.

Martin wonders how (and if) this “strategic plan” differs from a budget. I think that’s a great question. But I have a different one.

Isn’t this so called strategic planning meeting really an annual (business) planning meeting? That doesn’t make it any less important – because it still plays a key role in the execution of the company’s strategy.

And if that’s the case, shouldn’t we stop calling the output a “strategic” plan. And start calling it what it really is – the initiatives, which if completed in the next 12 months, will propel the company toward the achievement of its strategy.

Each initiative is accompanied by the Action Plans required to complete it. Each action plan has a champion who is accountable for it’s completion. The action plans have resources allocated to them. And they support, or even drive, the sales and margin forecast and expense budget.

Now let’s go back and talk about the company’s strategy for a moment.

Roger Martin puts it really well –

• “…we need to break free of this obsession with planning. Strategy is not planning…”

and then

• “…strategy is a singular thing; there is one strategy for a given business — not a set of strategies. It is one integrated set of choices….”

Choices about, for example, where and how a company will compete.

The strategy sets the context for the annual planning meeting. It should make it easy for the owner and her/his management team to decide which initiatives are relevant. (Assuming, of course, that they have already developed an effective strategy.)

I think the first step toward developing and executing business strategies that actually yield results is to stop misusing words.

If we call things by their real names we’ll stand a far better chance of understanding what they really are – or vice versa.

You can read Roger Martin blog post in full here.


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Strategy – Don’t Think It, Experience It

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Being Told What To Do Isn’t Good For Business

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

I do not believe that it’s a consultant’s place to tell a client what to do.Business owners must ultimately make their own decisions

I do believe that it’s our responsibility to give the business owners we work with the best possible advice we can.

And when I say give, I don’t mean that we just hand the advice to them by saying “Here’s what I think you should do….” or “Here’s what I would do…”

I believe one of the most effective ways to ‘provide’ advice is by using questions to help owners realize that there are, for example, possibilities they may not have considered; opportunities they may not have seen; and alternatives that may not be obvious.

Then we have to allow the owners to decide for themselves what to do with the ‘advice’.

Those of you who follow my posts know that I hold another belief to be very important. That is that rules are for the guidance of wise people and the blind obedience of fools.

So when, with respect to giving ‘advice’, do I break my own rule?

There are 3 situations which spring to mind.

First, if I see an owner, or his or her management team, about to do something that is likely to end in disaster.

I’ve accumulated almost as many grey hairs as I have experiences. I think it’s called ‘grey haired equity’. Some of mine has come from making brilliant moves but most of it has come from my own, or other people’s, mistakes and hard knocks.

It would be irresponsible to allow someone to repeat a move that is certain not to work.

Second, if a business owner asks directly for my opinion, or what I would do if I were in their shoes.

Even then I always ask “Are you sure you want my input?” before volunteering it. That’s because the owners we work with often already know what has to be done but don’t want to do it. So they’re hoping I’ll tell them to do something else, something that will, for example, not hurt people.

The third and final situation occurs when I lose my concentration and forget my own rule.

That happens most often when we’re facilitating – for example either a strategy development or business planning meeting. Particularly toward the end of the day when we’ve been juggling process, timing, making sure everyone is engaged and that no input is overlooked.

To avoid the third situation we have to be well prepared for every encounter with a client.

We have to think carefully about the objective, format and content of each interaction or activity we do with, or on behalf of, the companies we work with. That takes time.

I believe it’s time well spent because the alternative is that the owners we work with become used to us telling them what to do. That’s a form of dependency.

And we don’t do dependency. But that’s a topic for another post…


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Why You Need A Consultant With Hands-On Experience

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The Single Biggest Thing A Business Needs To Grow

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

I’ve been working with business owners for almost 15 years. So, when someone asked me…The need for, and a willingness to change in order to grow successfully

“What’s the single biggest thing that you think separates companies which grow successfully from those which don’t?”

…I realized that I needed some time to think about it.

As I weighed one thing, then another, over the next few days, I came to the conclusion that the answer is NOT about having:

•    Plenty of cash
•    A price advantage
•    Top quality products and services
•    Products or services protected by patents
•    A broad customer base, not just 1 or 2 really big ones
•    A presence in several markets
•    Great people (which you will know, if you read this blog, I think is huge)
•    A winning strategy
•    A great culture.

Yes, you need all of those things – and others I haven’t mentioned. But they become worthless if one thing is missing.

The single biggest thing that I think separates companies which grow successfully from those which don’t IS…the business owner understands that he or she personally will have to change, and they are willing to make those changes.

At first I thought the answer was just the owner understanding that she or he needed to change.

Then I remembered that we’ve worked with entrepreneurs who have demonstrated that. But they have subsequently been unwilling to make the changes.

In some cases, what we perceived as unwillingness may have actually been inability to change – either because they couldn’t see the need or they lacked the skill to make the changes required.

The owner’s role remains constant – to provide the direction and to put the people, processes and other resources into place in order for the company to grow. However, as each revenue plateau is reached, the way in which they do that has to change in order for the company to successfully scale the next one.

They not only need to learn new things and hire people with the skills they lack, but they may also have to adapt their management/leadership style and even their behaviour.

And they have to do that while ensuring that the other challenges – for example, adapting to changes in the market or industry; funding growth; maintaining product/service quality; recruiting good people, fending off competitive action – are dealt with.

This is not easy. So it shouldn’t be surprising that some owners either choose not to do it or that some simply can’t.

I don’t believe that it’s for us, or anyone else, to judge a business owner by whether or not they do or do not grow their company. Just starting and building a business requires courage and the willingness to accept a level of risk that many people can’t, or won’t, take.

So that’s not my point.

It’s simply my opinion that the single biggest thing that separates companies that grow successfully from those that don’t is the owner’s understanding and willingness to change him or her self.


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy

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5 Mistakes Made On The Way To Success

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

One of the things I dislike about the popular media is the way they create the perception of instant success.To err is human and mistakes are part of the equation when striving for success

When they write a story about a business or an entrepreneur they focus on what she or he has achieved. The failures that went before the success get much less time than the ultimate, hard won, success – if they’re mentioned at all.

Are the media doing business owners a dis-service? I think so.

Years ago I saw a great quote (I don’t know who said it) – “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

I’d like to modify it to read, “The dictionary is not the only place failure comes before success.”

Persistence is important. But when everything that could possibly go wrong does, it’s easy to falter. And faltering becomes easier with every setback that occurs.

We need to know when to quit. But that decision must be based on informed judgement and the advice of those we trust. It’s also not a decision to be made immediately after a failure. (Wikipedia says that James Dyson created 5,127 prototypes before developing the vacuum cleaner he thought was perfect.)

When things go wrong our emotions come into play – and they can be influenced by an article/post about an apparent male/female wonder.

So it’s nice to see a piece that helps restore balance.

There was a blog post in January that recorded the 5 biggest mistakes that, in the author’s opinion, Steve Jobs made. I’d either forgotten, or didn’t know, that:

1.   Jobs lured John Sculley to become CEO of Apple. Sculley had Jobs fired and almost broke the company.

2.   Jobs thought Pixar would be the greatest hardware company ever. Easily overlooked now given Pixar’s huge subsequent success with digitally-animated films like Toy Story.

3.   Few Silicon Valley insiders agreed that NeXT computer was a great success when Apple purchased it. The company struggled from the beginning to understand the right customers and markets for its products.

4.   The (numerous) products that failed – the Apple Lisa; Macintosh TV; the Apple III; and the Power Mac G4 Cube. The iPod, iPhone and iPad were such great successes that it’s easy to overlook the bombs.

5.   Jobs tried to sell Pixar numerous times in the late 1980’s for around $50 million. There were no takers. Just as well. Disney paid $7.4 billion for it in 2006.

There’s no doubt that Steve Jobs was an exceptional man, a visionary. But it’s reassuring to know that he didn’t win every battle he fought. He was human – just like the rest of us!

That will help me the next time I’m having a really bad day. What about you?

Peter Sims, who wrote the blog post, closes by saying that “The antidote is to try a small experiment, one where any potential loss is knowable and affordable.”

Reminds you of the ‘pilot, perfect and scale up’ process we talked about last week doesn’t it?


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Persistence and Execution……

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