Okay, savvy business owner. Here’s a question for you. You have to get from point A to point B in an unfamiliar city. What one item will virtually guarantee your successful arrival?
The humble map is indispensable when it comes to travel. It points you in the right direction and provides a reference point by which you can gauge your progress and determine if you’re still on course. And if you’re not, the map shows you at a glance how to get back to where you need to be.
When it comes to travel we all understand the need for maps in order to reach our destinations as quickly and painlessly as possible. Now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with business, and why a CFO-to-go is yammering on about sightseeing.
What’s in a name?
You see, whenever I talk about strategic planning to clients, a funny thing happens. Eyes glaze over and formerly excited business owners eager to improve their profits lose all interest in what I’m saying.
I know it’s the phrase ‘strategic planning.’ It’s one of those phrases that have become jargon, losing all meaning. You hear it and immediately think of futile exercises with no earthly practical purpose, exercises that keep you from what you need to be doing—running your business.
So I try not to use the phrase, at least not right away. Instead, I explain that there is an exciting, energizing tool you can use to bring focus, vitality and direction to your business, giving you a map leading straight to success.
One of the reasons strategic planning has developed a bad reputation is that a large part of the process involves dreaming. Business owners aren’t supposed to sit around daydreaming! They’ve got work to do, businesses to run, fires to put out.
We tend to view action as the required ingredient to success. Planning is omitted because, hey, there are only so many hours in the day and you’ve got to spend them getting things done.
It’s true that action is critical if your business is going to reach its full potential. Planning on its own gets you nowhere. But in the same way, action without defined purpose—a plan—is not going to allow you to move forward. Instead, you flail about, using trial and error and taking the long road to a destination you may not have desired.
You need to know where you’re going
Visualizing what you want in the future is the only way to develop a plan that will allow you to reach your goals. Would you laugh at a group of tough, grizzled army generals sitting together and daydreaming? That’s exactly where strategic planning came from. The military wanted to ensure that the enemy would be met under the most advantageous conditions. So they brainstormed in order to identify those conditions and formulate a way to achieve their goals.
The term was adopted by business in the 1960’s to describe a thoughtful, analytical approach to improving companies. It is now the most valuable management tool in existence. Realistically, you simply cannot experience growth in your business—and increased profitability—without strategic planning.