Posts Tagged ‘tactical’

More Heat Less Chill

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Although the weather’s changed a bit since my last post – Don’t Let The Summer Heat Cause A Winter Chill – we’re still in vacation season and it’s still hot.

But we’re also well into the third quarter of 2011 and heading for the annual business planning; budgeting; whatever you call it, process for 2012.

And I believe that process is the engine that drives your growth. So in the last post I talked about 2 things business owners should be thinking about now. Here are another 3……

1. The Opinion Trap.

The planning process has to be completed by a specific date. Often that’s set to enable Finance to use the output/numbers to produce projected financials for the upcoming year(s) while still completing their regular work. 

However vacations, short work weeks and long Holiday weekends and a more laid back, summer mind set can result in the focus being on doing the things that are urgent rather than the things that are important. 

So, even although the deadline is well known, the process is often started later than it need be. And that puts the value of the output at risk.

Why – because the logical thinking required to make the process effective declines in direct proportion to the increasing proximity of the deadline. It becomes more and more about getting it done on time and less and less about getting it done right.

When that happens the basis on which key assumptions are made is less likely to be well collected and considered data and more likely to be someone’s opinion. And by definition an opinion is a subjective belief, often the result of emotion.

2. Who’s Baby Is It Anyway?

The owner must take ownership of, and remain the champion of, the planning process. If the perception that anyone else is driving it is allowed to take hold, the motivation for doing it thoroughly will suffer.

If, for example, the accounting department are seen to be driving the process it will be seen only as a number crunching exercise. And people will treat it simply as something to be completed as quickly as possible and get off their desk.

The only way to get everyone involved, engaged and buying in is if the owner demonstrates the importance of the process by leading it personally.

3. Keep It Together.

I talked to an executive recently who was busy completing annual expense budgets. This at a time when many of the people who had the detailed knowledge required to complete the schedules thoroughly were on vacation.

They told me that budgeting had been separated from the creative, thinking part of the planning process so that the Finance department could meet their internal deadlines.

But I’ve also seen other variations of this in the past. A favourite with companies which have enjoyed a leadership position in their industry for some years, is to start by producing the numbers – revenue, bottom line etc. – and then develop action plans and programs to fit them.

That’s as bad as a company that completes the creative, thinking part of the process then becomes distracted by tactical issues, allowing a lengthy period of time to pass before completing the numbers. Valuable momentum is lost and the participants are left to wonder if anything is being done with their input.

4. Last Words.

It’s not enough just to have a planning process and to complete it.

Like any other engine, if you want to get maximum output from it the parts must work smoothly, without friction, and you must use a high energy, premium power source/fuel.

Otherwise it’s unlikely to carry you anywhere near to where you want to go.

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It’s THAT Time of Year Again

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

The last quarter of the year can be very frustrating. In addition to the “normal” workload, there’s all the seasonal stuff to be done – what should our Holiday card say, what will we give people this year etc.? (O.K. so I am a Grinch.)

Second, the results for 2010 begin to take shape. Hopefully you’ll have a great year, possibly even so good that you’re not keeping up with demand. A less attractive, but still acceptable, alternative is that you’ll make your targets (if only just). The outcome that no one wants is that you’ll fall short of some or all of your goals.

Then, of course, strategic or business planning has started/is starting/should have started for next year. And what is happening in 2010 will affect the “mood” and possibly the approach, to that exercise.

By the way does anyone really enjoy strategic planning? And does it achieve anything in this age of constant change and heightened uncertainty? I saw 2 blog postings over the weekend that argued we can no longer do strategic planning as we’ve always done it.

The first, Time to Retire Strategic Planning and Adopt Innovation Strategy by Kamal Hassan, said that that strategic planning has become too formulaic and we’ve come to rely too much on what has worked in the past. But isn’t that argument rooted in the application of the process rather than the process itself?

Kamal went on to say that we currently study the past to plan the future but that history is no longer the best teacher. However, as someone (I think it was Winston Churchill) said, “If we don’t learn from history then we are doomed to repeat it”.

This posting closed with the comment that inventing the future is better than predicting it. To invent the future we have, amongst other things, to replace historical data with subjective data (customer surveys, competitor strategy, trends, gaps, etc.). But haven’t been doing these things for some time now? I know the companies we work with do.

While saying that attempting to define the business over a 3 or 5 year horizon is probably foolhardy at best, the second post Strategic Planning and Innovation by Jeffrey Phillips, did acknowledge that it is very important to define strategic milestones or goals and determine how the firm arrives at those goals.

Jeffrey thinks that these are more “tactical” activities than pure strategic planning. At the risk of splitting hairs, I’d say they’re more about execution of the strategy.

In closing Jeffrey says that he doubts we’ll ever see the end of “strategic planning” but that what we will see over time is the realization that innovation and trend management is the actionable part of the strategic planning process. And I tend to agree with that.

I was talking to a colleague today who articulated the point I want to make really well. The strategic planning process will always be with us but it must develop, as most things do, with time. However we must adapt the process rather than declare it hopelessly broken and throw every part of it away.

Forecasting several different scenarios, building assumptions on thorough, comprehensive research (formal and informal) and thinking through contingency plans are just some of the things we can – and must – do in this age of fast, unrelenting change. Looking at, and adjusting, our goals more frequently is also, I believe, simply good sense.

So, I think strategic planning is as relevant in this age of constant change and heightened uncertainty as it has always been. And I think it can accomplish as much, or as little, as we allow the links between strategy development and execution to achieve.

But as for enjoying it, well……….

“You Can Achieve Any Result You Want To……”

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

If you’ve read any of my earlier blog posts you’ll know that I play golf. I realize that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the game so you will find absolutely no discussion of the technicalities of golf in the following paragraphs.

In fact, if you want, you can substitute any game you personally prefer and still get the benefit of the points I’m going to make.

At the beginning of the summer I decided that my golf really had to improve. As a result, I took some lessons from someone with the experience to help me improve my swing. He turned out to be a terrific teacher who not only helped me improve my practical skills but also gave me confidence in my ability to become a “decent” golfer.

At one point, when we were discussing my goals, he said to me “You can achieve any score you decide to.” These were words of great encouragement for me. When I thought about it later I realized that he was pointing out two things:
• I alone had control over how much of my potential I realized.
• My attitude would play a large part in determining how good I actually became.
Adrian also told me that I had to practice hard, 2 or 3 times every week.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

After taking stock of my personal strengths and weaknesses as a golfer, he gave me the opportunity to develop a better swing by avoiding the threats of a bad grip, bad posture etc. (OK so I lied a little bit about golf technicalities.) This was the golfing equivalent of a business owner developing a strategy for growing her/his company.

But actually making an improvement in my game would depend on how well I executed that strategy – the consistency of each swing at the ball (a process); how often I practiced (implemented the action plan) and how I adapted to what happened on the course each time I played (regular reviews using feedback from actual results). Also similar to the things a business owner has to do when he/she is growing a business!

I don’t want to draw this metaphor out for too long so let me tell you what happened. For a number of weeks I practiced regularly, improved my swing and learned my lessons when things didn’t work out during a game. My scores steadily got better.

Then, just as happens so often in business, things began to get in the way. I had to go to the UK, then we had house guests arrive. Work was being crammed into early morning and late night sessions.

I stopped practicing regularly (lost focus on my action plan) because I “had” to deal with these other things. My performance on the course (that great golf marketplace) and my scores began to slide again. I did wake up before I’d fallen too far behind (that razor sharp analytical mind at work). And I have improved, but not to the extent that I might have done, could have done, should have done.

I fell into the classic trap that we face as business owners – the day-to-day, tactical stuff took more of my attention than the strategic stuff.

So, the lesson I’ve learned this summer is that I have the potential to achieve a “decent” score in golf. I was certainly able to develop a better strategy (swing) than I’ve ever had before. But my attitude to execution meant I didn’t get to reap the full benefit of my strategy.

But I am now keeping a keen eye on the execution of my business plan (see Physician Heal Thyself)!

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