Riddell: What road you take does matter
April 7, 2015
In a previous column we defined one of the key roles of leadership to be putting people into positions that allow them to succeed. Inherent in this intent is a clear understanding and definition of exactly what this success entails and this definition can be as unique as the business and its leader. Indeed, this personal definition of success and the desire to bring it about are major drivers and motivators for everyone who decides to forego safety and caution and start their own company.
Once this mental and emotional picture of success is conjured, the next critical step is to figure out how to move it from aspiration to reality. While business consultants refer to this as planning and execution, today's column will deal primarily with the planning issue; we'll cover execution in the next one.
When talking with business folks about the topic of planning, I am often reminded of the Irish proverb that says if you don't know where you're going, it really doesn't matter what road you take. Large companies recognize this need to the extent that most have very structured programs for strategic planning. They do this time-consuming and expensive ongoing exercise because they realize that they have limited resources and the best application of these resources is critical for their personal and corporate survival. Unfortunately for most small businesses, their limited resources raise the stakes for failure even higher, making it extremely important that they take the "right road."
When discussing this topic with many small business owners, the first challenge is to get past the rolling of the eyes. Because they do not understand the "plan for survival" mindset, many think this is solely a "big" business activity, an area left to the realm of expensive consultants and MBA jargon. Nothing can be further from the truth.
“When talking with business folks about the topic of planning, I am often reminded of the Irish proverb that says if you don’t know where you’re going, it really doesn’t matter what road you take.”
Strategic planning for a small business can be very simple process. The first step is to write down the previously mentioned definition of success. While simple, I did not say it was easy. But when this gets done in a way that any third party can read and easily understand, every action aspect of the business suddenly becomes clearer. It becomes the focal point for step two, which is to define what it takes to get there, to achieve the defined success.
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This involves specific actions that have to be undertaken to move the organization toward the goal. This could involve topics such as finding and employing skill-set specific employees, or acquiring additional product lines, or perhaps a new location. Whatever actions you decide to follow, you need to overlay a realistic timeline. This is as easy as saying "I will complete such and such a task by (put in the date)."
To increase the probability of successfully completing these milestones, many folks will build in supporting check points. And last, but certainly not least, be fully prepared to review, modify, and adjust this plan as your fiscal year progresses. But please, if you do nothing else, at least commit whatever plan you have to writing.
There is an old business axiom that emphasizes planning your work then working your plan. The reason that it is an axiom is that it works every time. Planning gives a definition of purpose for every day a business opens its doors or answers its telephones or responds to an email. It also gives a certain peace of mind and confidence to the planner. In the topsy-turvy world of small business, this alone can be priceless.
Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.