A version of this article appeared at Inc.com.
It’s just about now that the best of the business leaders I work with start making preparations for the upcoming strategic planning season. (Assuming a calendar year-end, proactive leaders try to get their next-year strategic plan cut by around October. Not-so-proactive leaders are often still scrambling to finalize details in early January.)
But if what you want is a strategic plan that will actually deliver – one that isn’t flopping around like a beached whale by mid-year – then there are three crucial decisions you need to make now – before the strategic planning process cranks into action:
1. What’s your business’s current state?
“Current state?” Sounds like a pretty vague question, right? In fact, your ‘current state’ is something very specific – what position has your organization reached on the business growth lifecycle?
Most business leaders have no real clue as to where their business (let alone each division, department, project, group or team within their business) falls on this vital life curve.
Truth is, you can’t write a strategic plan that works without having a laser-clear understanding of precisely where you’re starting from, any more than you can create a road map to your next destination without a starting point. Start by finding out if you’re in Early Struggle, Fun, Whitewater, Predictable Success, Treadmill, or even (gulp) The Big Rut.
2. What’s your desired future / desired state?
There are two points on any road map – the starting point, and equally important, the desired end point.
In strategic planning, identifying your desired end point is considerably easier than you might think, because there are in fact only two viable options – Fun or Predictable Success.
The difference between the two is relatively simple, but has immense implications: In Fun, you can grow, but there will always be a cap to that growth. A business in Fun is essentially an outgrowth of the founder / management team. In Predictable Success, the business is a fully-fledged entity in its own right, with the ability to scale.
Which do you want? The choice is essentially between lifestyle (Fun), and legacy (Predictable Success).
3. What’s your team’s ability to execute?
Many otherwise brilliant strategic plans fail for a simple, but often hidden reason: While the plan itself is great, the team doesn’t have the underlying skills to execute.
The moving parts involved are actually pretty simple. To succeed, every team must have four key leadership styles fully active: A Visionary, to set the overall vision; a Processor, to design and implement the underlying systems and processes that ensure repeatability and consistency; an Operator to get out there and make it happen; and a Synergist who aligns and motivates the team.
Do you know the V-O-P-S makeup of your team (if not, this self-assessment may help)? Remember – if your team can’t effectively deliver on all four, your strategic plan is doomed to fail, no matter how well it’s written.