Imagine it is the year 2020. The Wall Street Journal is doing a story on your business.
What is the headline?
The answer to that simple question could be the difference between you building your dream business or just being average.
What Your Article Would Say About You
How would that article answer some of these questions?
- What problems do you solve for your customers or clients?
- How big is your business?
- Who are the people that work there?
- What is your role?
In business, thinking about how to answer these types of questions is strategic work. Strategic work is considerably different than the tactical work you do day in and day out; like answering emails, serving customers, training staff, putting out fires, creating an advertisement, updating your social media, doing the books, networking, following up with people, and, on and on and on.
Dreaming about what you want your business to become is some of the most valuable work you could be doing. Unfortunately, dreaming about the future feels like you are not being productive, so you just don’t allow yourself to do it when there is “real” work to do.
A Dream Come True?
Of course just having a dream about your future is not enough to make it happen. You also need a plan. Envisioning where you want to take your business and creating a plan to make it happen is the essence of strategic planning.
You know you need a plan to run your business better. All of the business books tell you that the “most successful businesses” all have a plan. Of course, you would prefer to run your business from a plan. Many business owners embark on creating an annual strategic plan. For some it has become a habit that enables them to continue to grow year after year. For most, it becomes an annual exercise in futility. You spend your time and staff time creating your plan that frankly doesn’t get looked at again until…well, the next year this time.
Your reality is that maybe you have a rough plan of what you are suppose to do each week. The truth is very few business owners work from a plan; or spend any time articulating how they intend to run, manage and grow their business.
Business Growth by Design
Strategic planning is not as complicated as you may think and the best managed businesses treat strategic planning as a business process and not an annual event. The typical strategic planning process has these four basic steps:
- Update the plan annually
- Execute the plan weekly
- Track and monitor the results quarterly
- Making adjustments and updates as need dictates
Because your business is unique there is no one-size fits all strategic plan you can make your plan. With our business coaching clients we use a strategic planning framework that is flexible and adaptable to each client’s needs. We call our version of strategic planning the Business Design PlanTM because it will help you design, build and grow your dream business. It is both a framework to create and execute your strategic plan. It is centered on just three questions. You can get your plan started by answering these three questions:
1. Where are you now?
As you think about where your firm is now, look to see if you have the foundational elements of your strategic plan in place: your core values and core purpose. These two elements rarely change and they probably will not require a lot of time to revisit or potentially revise. Here is where you want to step back and “see how you are doing?” You can do this by:
Analyzing Key Metrics - As Jim Collins wrote in Good to Great “you need to confront the brutal facts”. Pull all of your key numbers together and understand your business’s current performance.
Conducting a SWOT Analysis - This is a traditional strategic planning tool. It helps you to understand and evaluate your company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
Together your Key Metrics plus your SWOT analysis paint a picture of where you are now.
2. Where are you going?
This is the “dreaming” part. You want to envision the most ideal future for you and your business. For many owners this is the hardest part of strategic planning, trying to envision what your organization will look like in the future. As the economy has demonstrated over the past few years, almost everything seems unstable and unpredictable. So how exactly are you supposed to predict the future of your business?
You probably can’t. But you can create your future.
It starts with envisioning what your business will look like at some future date. You may have some revenue targets and other goals you would like to achieve. Go further. Describe how your company must look, feel and act in order to become your dream business. Use the questions at the beginning of this article (the Wall Street Journal questions) to paint a picture of your dream business. The value to answering these questions is they will enable you to be more intentional about designing and building your business.
3. How will we get there?
Now that you know where you want to go, you’ll need to determine how you will get there. What are the specific strategies you will use to reach your destination? Usually there are multiple routes you may take. The path one business might choose may not be exactly right for you. Brainstorm and choose the best strategies for you. This “strategizing” will drive your strategic planning process.
Important strategic areas you will want to work on include:
- Your life design strategy
- Marketing strategy
- Client service strategy
- People strategy
- Organizational strategy
- Management strategy
- Succession and exit strategy
Actions Speak Louder than Plans
In order to reach your long term vision of your dream business you next need to covert your vision and strategies into action plans that focus on what to do in the short-term. For each strategic priority you need an action plan. Each plan will include the deliverable, action steps, responsibilities, costs and due dates.
Now is the best time to decide what your 2020 Wall Street Journal article will say about you. You still have the opportunity to intentionally design your future. It is easy to get caught up in the urgency of getting through each day. Don’t fall into that trap. Dedicate some of your time to your long term dream and strategic plan. There are multiple reasons why having a strategic plan is an imperative:
- Adding new business
- Increased revenues
- Higher profits
- Increased valuation
- Getting your team on the same page
The overlooked and more valuable role strategic planning plays in your business is that it helps you clarify your dream. Which enables you to take consistent actions toward that dream. This in turn results in a much more enjoyable business ownership experience. This work will help you design the life and business you want.
We offer Annual Strategic Plan coaching and facilitation. Contact us to get more information.Read more
Get More Done and Work Fewer Hours
Wouldn’t you like to work fewer hours? Of course you would, but the reality is you’re always running out of time before you run out of things to do. It is hard to find a business owner who hasn’t complained about “never enough time to get everything done”.
- Ready for a vacation
When it comes to time and work, business owners are in a unique position. You do not get paid to be at work from 9 to 5. You get paid for results and ultimately for what you build (the value of your business).
Unfortunately many owners treat their business like a job; not in the sense they only work 9 to 5 – we know you work a lot more – in the sense that you are too focused on hours and not on results. Too many business owners get caught up putting out fires, wasting time on things that aren’t moving you forward and using your time haphazardly and ineffectively.
Time Management is a Choice
It is true you cannot “manage time”. What most time management advice is trying to tell you is that you need to do a better job of managing yourself in relationship to time. In other words, use the time you do have better. That starts with making better decisions regarding how you choose to spend your time.
How do you decide where to spend your time when you have so much to do?
Your choices should flow out of what you are trying to accomplish in your business and your life. This clarity will enable you to make better decisions and choose to do the things that are most important to you and your business. When you start to think of yourself as the steward of your time, you will want to be more intentional, and look for ways to be more productive and for ways to add more balance in your life.
Here are five good habits the most productive business owners use to get more done and work less:
1. Stop Doing List
The most productive business owners are selective about how they spend their time. They are constantly looking for ways to reduce their workload and get things off their desk. A great way to do this is to “stop” doing things you shouldn’t be doing. Make a list of all of the work you should stop doing, including the work you don’t enjoy doing.
The list is the starting point. Next you need to develop your strategy and plan for how you will stop doing each task on your list. This may include how you might delegate the task, outsource it, or how you might literally stop doing that work all together. Maintaining a Stop Doing List should become an ongoing habit in your business.
2. Routine Calendar
The most effective and productive people have a routine they live by. Their routine is reflected in how they schedule their calendar. They are predictable, consistent, and intentional. They have a weekly plan for how they will spend their time. Think of it as being similar to a financial budget, only you are planning how you will spend your time as opposed to how you will spend your money. Just like the financial budget you spend it on paper before you spend it for real, to ensure you are using it wisely.
These productive business owners have set times when they do all of their required work. They will do their leadership work, management work, client work, marketing work, etc. at the same time every week…week in and week out. It has become habit for them. They even get to work and leave work at basically the same time every day. It is their routine. Each weekly plan is almost identical to the previous week’s plan. You can set your watch by them.
Routines may sound boring and even restrictive to many entrepreneurs. However, routine will actually set you free. They are very liberating because, in a sense, you don’t have to think about what to do next. You have a plan for what you are working on and you are in the habit of doing your most important work regularly. You are less stressed because you are not reacting to every little thing. Your mind is free to be more creative and strategic.
3. Time Blocking
When developing your routine calendar, you have to schedule everything that matters, not just appointments. The way to do that is to schedule your work in blocks of time. Each time block will be dedicated to a single task. This will strengthen your focus and minimize distractions.
Time blocking will help you be more intentional and less reactive each day. Since a percentage of your work is repeated week in and week out – this routine work – can easily be blocked out on your calendar. This includes the majority of your appointments. Who your appointments are with may be different each week, but the time you block off for these types of meetings will be the same each week. The rest of your work is project work and problem solving. This work can also be broken up into blocks of time and scheduled on your calendar. If it is not scheduled on your calendar something will “pop-up” and this work will not get done
When things don’t go according to plan and you are forced to make adjustments in your schedule time blocking is very effective. Instead of “blowing up” your entire schedule, time blocking allows you to “swap blocks of time”. This gives you a good way to get all of your planned work done, just in a different order. There is a physiological component to working this way as well. You don’t feel guilty for skipping some work, because you know you have a block of time you can use to get back on track.
4. Prioritize and Make Progress Each Day
Productive people have a purpose and a plan for each day. They know what work is most important each day. Use a daily prioritizer to ensure you are working on your most important things each day. If you don’t prioritize your work someone else will – especially staff or clients – with emergencies and special requests. You then become reactive instead of intentional. The demands on your time are greater than ever. You need a daily strategy and plan to minimize distraction and improve focus that aligns with your routine calendar.
You can use the daily prioritizer tool to strategize and plan each day. I recommend it only contain your top 3 to 6 priorities for that day…not your entire to-do list. By prioritizing you can decide what needs to be done in what order. Even when you don’t finish all of the work planned for that day, at least what is done is the most important. You will feel like you are making progress.
5. Leave 30 Minutes Early
What is the difference between your typical day and a day when you know you need to leave early? You do not procrastinate; you have a sense of urgency and you get more done. You set deadlines for the work on your desk, so you can leave when you need to. You are more productive.
One of the reasons things don’t get done in a “timely” manner is because you fail to set hard deadlines for the work you do. Deadlines are essential to productivity improvement. Try this: set a deadline to leave work 30 minutes early tomorrow. Don’t allow yourself to take work home. For each task you need to accomplish set a deadline. Then repeat this once per week for the next several weeks. You will be more productive when you leave early.
Start Being More Productive Now
We are all bound by the restrictions of time and it is hard to get everything done. Don’t let that be an excuse to let your life get totally out of balance. Take responsibility for making better decision about how you spend your time. Use one or all five of these habits to be more intentional and productive.
If you would like a copy of our Stop Doing List, Daily Prioritizer or Routine Calendar / Time Blocking templates contact me directly and I will send them to you via email.
You’ve decided you want to systematize your business. How exactly do you do that?
The best way to systematize your business is to document one system at a time.
Documenting means capturing the way you do something and being able to share it easily. Typically you are writing down how the work is done step-by-step and storing your documented systems in operation manuals. You can think of operation manuals as “How to Guides” for each employee to do his or her job.What system should you document first?
To some degree, it doesn’t matter which system you choose to start with. The most important thing is to get started. Pick a system and document it. That said, we recommend and would prefer that you do all work in your business intentionally and by plan.
You and your team can brainstorm and list all of the core systems you need to make your business run. This will become your master systems list. Then go back and organize that list by priority. You will decide which system you need to document first, second and so on. You can turn this prioritized system list into your systematization plan by assigning documentation accountabilities and due dates for each system.
Although you want your entire team involved in helping systematize your business, make sure each system has one person who will be accountable for the actual documentation of that system. Think of each system you want to document as a mini-project, and then the person accountable is like the project manager. Multiple team members can be involved in the documentation of any one system, but only one person is in charge. You can have a documentation specialist or you can use multiple people; I have seen both ways work. The key to your systematization plan, like all good planning, is to have clear accountabilities plus due dates to ensure the work gets done.
A System to Design and Document Systems
Now that you have your systematization plan, it is time to document each system. To ensure consistency across your business you will want a standard way to document each of your systems. A way you can teach your people how to do it. You need a system to design and document systems. Your system to create systems should include a system design template to provide a framework for your people.
Here is our 7-step system to design and document a system:
1. System Title
Pick a system that you want to document and give it a descriptive title. The title will help you understand what the system is used for and help you locate the system when you need it.
2. Determine System Objective
Every system you design and document must have a clear outcome it should produce. Define the result you will achieve with the system. Being clear about what you are trying to accomplish makes it easier to determine the tasks required to produce that result.
3. Create System Work Plan
The work plan is used to capture and document all of the details of the system. You will show the sequential steps (or tasks) required to produce the system results. You will indicate within each step who is accountable for performing that work. You will indicate the timing or due date for each step. You will also include any standards that must be followed when performing each step. The completed work plans are then stored in your operation manuals.
Work plans are most often used to teach your people how to do their work (primarily a training tool). Each work plan is as detailed as you need it to be. Therefore, a work plan may be fairly lengthy; especially for your more complex systems.
Work plans may be the most important part of systematizing your business, because they are capturing “how your business works”. They are your collective knowledge. You are getting how the work is done in your business out of your peoples heads and onto paper. Now the business “owns” how the work is done. It is a form of knowledge management. Documented systems in operation manuals is what makes a franchise so valuable.
4. Create Checklist
The checklist is a simplified version of the work plan. You don’t need all of the details you included in each step of the work plan. Instead you want roughly one sentence or a phrase that reminds the system operator what they need to do in each step. Add a box to “check off” when the step is completed and then you have a checklist.
The checklist is the primary tool used by the system operator. If the work plan is the most important part of systematizing your business, then the checklist is the “work horse”. It is what will be used most often throughout each day.
The person accountable for running each system is first trained how to run the system using the work plan. Then the checklist is used to remind them of the steps required to achieve the system objective. Instead of trying to recall the steps from memory, the checklist is a tool to help your people be more effective and efficient. Additionally it provides feedback to both the person doing the work and their manager. This allows both of them to know how the work is progressing.
5. Create Script
A script is used in systems that have either employee to client conversations or employee to employee conversations. It is a written narrative used to guide a conversation. It is the words the system operator should use. Not every system requires a script. Many systems scripts are not designed to be memorized word-for-word, but learned to guide the conversation. Practicing the script will help the operator feel more comfortable and natural.
6. Create Forms
Forms are used to gather information, data and track the results produced by the system. A well designed system is one that produces a measurable result. A form is used to capture those metrics. Quantification is a key ingredient in the successful design and use of business systems. This data is used to provide feedback to the person using the system, track results produced by the system and used to aid in making improvements to the system.
There is no one type of form that can be used by all systems. You will have to create custom forms based on the type of data the system produces. Typically they tend to be reports or tables in spreadsheets.
7. Implement and Innovate
Just having a documented system doesn’t mean you are finished. You must train your people how to use the system and begin to actually follow the steps in each system. You will want to make sure your people get into the habit of using the documented systems, especially the checklists. One of your goals is to create a process dependent culture in your business. Don’t fall back into the habit of keeping everything your firm does in your peoples head.
The world and your business are dynamic – things change. Your systems need to change as well to keep up. In order to grow and get better at what you do, you will also want to continuously make process improvements. We call this continuous system improvement process innovation.
Don’t be tempted to do too much process improvement when you are initially documenting your systems. Capture how you currently do the work first. Then you can go back later as a separate project and look to improve each system. As a matter of fact, you can make your systematization plan a living document and use it to schedule periodic reviews of each system in your business for possible innovations.Time to Systematize Your Business
Systems occur all over your business; they either just exist in your people’s heads or they are intentionally designed, documented and used. The benefits of documented systems will be seen in performance improvements, increased effectiveness, improved productivity and increased business valuation. Systematizing your business is hard work, but the payoff is they will make your life easier.
If you would like a copy of our system documentation template, contact us and we will email you a PDF version of our template.
Why You Want Systems in Your Business
One of the byproducts of growth and success is that complexity increases in your business and your life. This complexity eventually puts an artificial ceiling on your growth and you feel stuck or like you hit a wall. You are unable to move to your next stage of growth.
In an effort to break through to the next level you fall back on what got you this far, hard work. You work harder and put in additional hours. Unfortunately your time doesn’t scale. This leaves you exhausted, overwhelmed and feeling burnt out. You are no longer confident you know how to break through to the next level.
To move forward we need to take a quick look back and see how you got here.
A common way for a small business to start out is with one person…YOU. Maybe, if you were optimistic, you might have even started with a support person. You had a simple vision to provide a great product or service, while making enough money to live. From a management perspective your business was simple to manage: little or no staff; only a handful of client relationships; and you made all of the decisions = simple.
Eventually you had enough business to add employees. New people were added randomly and layered on, one at a time, to handle the additional work load. People were added as a reaction to the stress of trying to keep up, rather than based on any type of strategic plan. They were hired because they already had “experience” doing the type of work you were hiring them for. You now have a staff of employees all doing things their own unique way.
When you have multiple clients and multiple people complexity increases exponentially. Your span of control and influence begins to exceed your comfort zone. At times you feel the business is “out of control”. At this point you will often take back some of the work or involve yourself in work, just so you feel more in control. You are working harder and longer hours than everyone else and maintaining your workload is a real challenge. It is hard to scale when too much of the business depends on you; therefore it is hard to grow to the next level. You begin to question whether you really want to grow any larger.
To Scale or Not to Scale…What Is Next For You?
On one hand you’re thinking about how you can get your business back to be being simple again; and on the other hand you’re thinking about how to scale and move your business to the next level. What is next for you? Are you going to scale and grow or shrink back to a smaller, simpler version of your business?
What if you could scale and simplify your business; wouldn’t that be ideal? I think you can if you add just one missing ingredient to your business. One of the big weaknesses of most small businesses is they are missing documented systems.
Yes, the path to your next level requires you to focus more of your time on strategic areas of your business like planning, marketing, team building, and profitability. Obviously, these are all important areas that require your attention in order to move forward. Additionally, we have found if you also focus on business systematization you can scale and simplify your business. Systems will free up more of your time to do the strategic work of growing your business.
Systems Are The Solution
Systems are predetermined documented procedures for getting everything done in your business. They are fundamental elements required to ensure all key areas of your business are working. Systems are the way you do what you do in your business – from serving your clients to how you pay your bills. They are the steps, standards and accountabilities required to get things done.
Without systems, you’re just a group of people doing work every day, hoping you each remember the best way to do it. Without documented systems it is very difficult to:
- Teach a new person how work is done, or cross-train a team member.
- Delegate work that you can’t do or would prefer not doing to others.
- Trouble Shoot a problem and trace it back to the root cause.
- Replicate your successes and maximize the firms’ effectiveness and productivity.
- Scale to grow and add team members easily.
Systems are the solution to many of your challenges. Documenting how the most important work of your business gets done is the antidote to complexity. Adding systems to your business is the way to both simplify and scale your business.
Strategically Systematizing Your Business
You can actually build your scalable business one key system at a time. The way to do that is to think of the business you are building as one big system, comprised of many smaller systems and sub-systems. A good analogy is the human body, which is a complex system comprised of multiple smaller systems like: the nervous system, respiratory system, circulatory system, etc. Your overall health depends on how well each one of your body’s systems is working. Similarly, the health of your business is dependent on how well your business systems are working.
Strategic systematization is your process for identifying all of your key systems, and then designing and documenting each one. You will want to systematize all of the key functions of your business: leadership, management, marketing, service, finance, lead generation and lead conversion.
There are multiple benefits to having a systematized business:
- Enhanced and consistent client experience
- Increase profits
- Increase confidence from your staff
- Knowledge management
- Improved productivity and efficiency
- Scale and leverage
- Increase the value of your business
Systematizing your business is no easy or quick task. For that reason, many small businesses won’t take the time to put systems in place. Sure they agree it is a great idea (like working out and eating right) but most never make it a priority.
However, making strategic systematization a priority in your business will help you overcome many challenges of growth. Systems will allow you to have a life outside the business and still maintain the quality you have set for the business, even as you add new employees. Systems are the secret to growing your business to its next level of success.Read more
Imagine for a moment you are coaching your child’s youth basketball team. You’re on the sidelines. You have to get results from your team, all without you touching the ball, making any baskets or playing defense. How would you do that? You would have to:
- Evaluate team member strengths and weaknesses
- Organize the players by position
- Give them some plays to run (structure)
- Develop each individual player
- Develop them as a team
- Coach your players during the game
It is the coach’s job to improve the team and get results. You would be spending time with the players as a team and as individuals, working on their game.
Back in Your Business
Now you’re back in your office, but instead of you being the main player in your business, I want you to stay on the “sidelines”. Can you get results from your business, without you personally doing the critical work? Of course you can…but how might you do that?
You would apply the same principles needed to coach a basketball team. You must get results from your people, as opposed to you doing everything. Getting results from your people is our definition of management.
Unfortunately many business owners have never been trained in the fundamentals of management. You don’t understand it, you are not good at it, you spend very little time managing and you don’t like “managing people”. You feel much more comfortable doing the work and getting results based on your own efforts. Business owners are some of the hardest working people I know. However, eventually your hard work alone is no longer enough and then it is time to learn how to get results through others – it is time to learn how to become a more effective manager.
Business Management 101
So where do you start? John Wooden, widely considered the greatest basketball coach of all time, spent most of his teams practice time focused on the fundamentals. Here are five business management fundamentals that will get you started on becoming a better manager:
1. Clear roles and accountabilities – In basketball there are clearly defined positions (roles) – guards, forwards and center. Each position has specific accountabilities that they must do during the game in order to be successful. Create and use an organizational chart and position accountability statements. They will give your business the structure it needs, while providing employees clarity about their roles and what is expected of them. Your organization chart and position accountability statements are tools to manage your business.
2. Documented Systems – A sports team captures how things are done in a playbook. In business, capturing how work is done takes the form of systems in operation manuals. Having systems for each position in your firm will help your people to be more productive. Increased productivity leads directly to improved profitability. There are intangible benefits of having systems as well:
- Peace of mind knowing your people know how to do their work
- Increased employee confidence and empowerment because they know what is expected of them
- Confidence knowing you can bring on a new employee and quickly teach them how to run their position
Remember, to be a system, it must be documented and readily accessible.
3. Employee Development Meetings – How often do you meet for a scheduled performance discussions with your people? Some owners will say once per year for annual performance reviews. Is that really enough to help your people improve their performance and produce better results? A more effective way is to have bi-monthly one-on-ones with your people. These meetings are designed to develop employee knowledge and skills required to improve performance. An additional benefit of these meetings is that you will build better relationships with your people.
4. Delegation – Most owners have unintentionally designed and built their businesses to rely too heavily upon themselves. Learning how to effectively delegate not only frees up more of your time, it is necessary if you want to grow beyond you. Delegation is also useful in succession and career development. It’s a great way to test your people’s abilities, discover their strengths and determine what areas they need to work on to move to the next level. Delegation increases your company’s capabilities.
5. Behavioral Coaching – A basketball coach is continually giving players feedback regarding their performance in an effort to win the game. The fastest and easiest way to improve employee performance is behavioral coaching. Observing your people as they work and providing them with feedback based on behavior is employee coaching. Learning how to coach your people is a must if you really want to build a great team. Behavioral coaching is a daily habit for the most successful managers.
Doing vs. Managing – Where do you spend your time?
During any given business day you are frequently required to change hats. At times, you are doing things yourself – your technician role. At other times, you are getting things done through others – your manager role. For the small business owner it is like being both a player and the coach simultaneously. Finding the right balance between these roles is what is going to move your business forward.
One of the reasons a small business gets stuck is because the owner spends too much time doing and not enough time managing. You may simply enjoy doing more than you enjoy managing. You may not naturally recognize the difference between doing and managing. Or, it may be because you were never trained in how to manage people.
Your beliefs about management will also affect the amount of time you spend doing vs. managing. If you believe that the best and highest use of your time is doing the work, you won’t spend much time trying to get results through others. If you believe people should not be managed, you won’t spend time managing. If you believe people should “manage” themselves, you won’t spend any time managing. However, if you would like to grow a scaleable and saleable business then getting results through others is a great use of your time and the way to leverage yourself.
Start spending a little of your time focused on implementing these ideas and you will become a more effective manager. If you need help with any of these concepts contact us to learn how we can help you.