You’re always looking for new ways to grow. But the trap most owners fall into is that they spend too much time figuring what they’re going to do, and not enough on what they’re not. It’s the ‘secret ingredient’ to our 6 step planning process—the simplest way we know to figure out where you want to go and what needs to change to get there.
Assess the Business as a Whole
You look at your balance sheet and get nervous. You put on your best “calm” face and walk over to your top salesperson, or maybe to your marketing manager, and ask them what they're doing today to get some new sales. You know in your heart that's not the answer—they're already 'doing' everything they can—but you don't know where else to turn.
It takes real strength to see that the first step to real growth is a step back. It starts by asking questions instead of demanding action. Go to those same people—but this time instead of pushing them for results, push them for innovation. Ask questions like, "If a friend asked you, what would you tell them are the three reasons more people don't buy from us?" "What is it about our customers that you think we don't fully understand or appreciate yet?"
Big Picture Priorities
To figure out where you need to go, you need to look at your long-term vision. Where do you want to go? What do you want your business to achieve this year? Next year? The year after that? Take 20-30 minutes. Turn off any possible distractions, and do whatever else you need to do to shift yourself out of “task” mode.
Ask yourself how you could double your gross margin dollars in the coming year, at half the cost and in half the cycle time to deliver. Then just sit with this for a bit, and be curious. What would you have to do? What would have to change in your business to reach this seemingly impossible set of goals in the next 12 months? Make a list of the 8-10 things that would get you closer to your overall goal.
The more you invest in this step, the more creative solutions will emerge through the rest of the planning process. And no matter what your budget or other resource constraints are today, you'll be able to take a significant step towards reaching your goals.
The real reason your business is stagnating (or not growing as fast as it could) is because you've let it. Over time, you've allowed the shortcuts to accumulate. And it's going to be hard to change until you're ready to accept that real growth comes from a different place.
Start by looking at your obstacles to growth and the solutions for achieving your goals through the lens of Leadership. Then move to Brand and Finance. Then Managment, Sales and Delivery. And end with Marketing. If you solve the Leadership, Brand and Management dysfunctions that are causing your Marketing, Sales and Delivery to be less than world-class today, then getting to world-class is only a matter of time.
Now go through your list from Step 2 and put each item in one of the following categories:
- Leadership if it seems like it's about the company not walking its talk in terms of core values.
- Brand if it reveals a disconnect between what you feel about the value of your service and how the market feels about it.
- Finance if it shows you that you don't know how money is moving through your business, where it's going or why.
- Management if it reflects that your people aren't growing or changing, or that you don't have systems in place to empower them to do that.
And, whatever's left at this point, mark it as:
- Delivery if what you've identified is a missing experience, or set of experiences, that results in your customers being satisfied, but not blown away.
- Sales if an item indicates the absence of a system that allows your salespeople to confidently receive people and give them a step-by-step feeling that they came to the right place.
- And Marketing, if it shows there's more to learn about who you're trying to reach, where they live and what they really want.
Hopefully, what you're seeing is that great planning doesn't restrict innovation or freedom for you or your team. Great planning makes room for it, by establishing (or re-establishing) boundaries that help focus and concentrate everyone's energy. And, part of that planning is making the hard choices on how to allocate scarce resources, to tie those resources to specific goals, and to get clear on who's responsible for tracking and reaching them.
Delegate for Real
With your list from Step 3, it’s time to delegate ownership and results to your team. You can go through these questions over multiple meetings, but the goal is to get to a place where it clicks—where you feel you've got someone who's really “owning it” and they feel that too.
Apply these questions to each component of your plan:
- Is the person on your team who is the obvious choice to take ownership and responsibility of this element—because of their title—actually doing that? If not, can you mentor them to pivot or does this get you thinking about making a change?
- What commitment can I make to myself—specifically relative to my management of this person—to make sure that I don't undermine them from the top?
- How can we structure this part of the plan in a way that accomplishes the tactical goal, but isn't putting a band-aid on a problem?
These conversations can be some of the most meaningful, illuminating and challenging there are for you as a leader and manager. Because you get to challenge yourself, and each and every member of your team, to a new standard of care for yourselves and your customers. And in the end, that's what every business plan should be about.
Tell Your Story
Finding a theme for the year ahead. and every year, can be very powerful tool. Just imagine if you knew what that word was in advance to connect your long-term and short-term goals, and could use it as a conversation starter to talk to everyone in the company about what the year was going to be like for them?
One of the most common errors business owners make is assuming that the only thing employees want to hear is that the company is growing rapidly. But that’s not true. Your people want to hear the truth.
Take a few minutes to look over everything you’ve done in Steps 1-4. What one word or phrase captures what this year is all about. Once you've got it, you're going to make a really big deal of it. Schedule a company meeting, whether you have 1 employee or 100 employees. Tell them about the process you went through to figure out this year's theme. Show them how much you care about not just today's results, but the journey that your business is on—no matter how difficult or overwhelming it might seem on any given day.
You'll be amazed what happens when everyone—but especially your key managers—can feel how this year will lead to the next one. You aren't selling anyone on anything, you're just giving them an experience of what it will feel like when the business is that much healthier than it is today.
Grow Out of Control
Let's start by considering there's really two kinds of control. The first kind—the one nobody really wants—is the micromanaging dictator kind. The kind you want, which sounds like a paradox, is the kind of control where you relax. The kind that comes from the conviction that the ship won't sink if you take your hands off the wheel for a few hours. From knowing that your team will—day in and day out—do the right thing for the customer. The kind of control that tells you that your business can roll with the punches.
Steps 1-5 were designed to get your plan built and put into motion. Step 6 is about how you prepare yourself, and be a role model for your team along the way. Because while you absolutely have to have great systems and processes in place, mistakes will happen, and it's how you respond in those moments that defines your company culture. It's the difference between weak leaders who scramble to “get back” in control, and strong leaders who use those moments as opportunities to help everyone evolve.
So the last step to your growth plan is bringing the technical side of what you do out into the open, and firing him or her from the two or three jobs they just love to take on when the going gets tough.
Here's something you can do when you're really serious about turning the tables. Copy and paste this letter—modify it as needed—and post it in your company break room or somewhere else your team walks by every day:
Unless you confront the part of you who wants to stay stuck in today's reality—and replace those unproductive habits with productive ones—you'll be right where you are now. How about doing what's necessary to make sure that you don't have to repeat your New Year's resolution next year?