by Jeff Bush, author
Imagine closing your eyes, throwing a dart at the Wall Street Journal to pick a stock you had to invest your entire savings in. You can’t look at the price until the last day of the year; nervous? But yet, this is how most businesses plan. They choose one time a year, develop a plan, put it in the drawer only to review it at the same time the following year and hope they achieved their goal. This approach is not a good investment strategy, nor is it a good business planning process.
Everyone has heard the saying, “hope is not a plan.” That’s because it rings true. But equally true is that your life is only limited by the work you don’t do. You work to achieve. Achievement is the manifestation of executing more consistently and methodically. Are you ready to achieve your goals? Are you prepared to get your business back on track? Try this strategy.
A more fluid approach to business planning is more realistic in the “real world” vs. the one-and-done way of planning. Business planning should be a living, breathing process that follows a cycle of brainstorming, winnowing, executing and measuring, which naturally leads to the next planning opportunity. This process can be as short as weeks or as long as years. Each part of a business follows different timelines, and the planning process for each should match.
Just like New Year’s resolutions fall away quickly because of a lack of an execution strategy, business plans succumb to the same fate; destined to collect dust on a shelf or occupying the ignored bottom position in your inbox. Why? Because these methods lack a quantifiable execution and measurement strategy, which is a pivotal portion of the planning process – the part of the process where most fall short.
Whether you’re well on your way to achieving your business goals and are ready to shoot for something bigger, or you’ve fallen short of expectations and are looking to get back on track, a measurable execution strategy must be deployed and continuously redeployed through the process.
Make the goal actionable
The first step in any execution strategy is to define the issue in sufficient detail such that anyone in your organization will intuitively understand the incremental activities necessary to achieve the goal. If you cannot break the goal down into actionable steps, you need to continue refining your goal. A goal is only actionable when it is evident to everyone in your business what those actionable steps are.
The most straightforward example is a sales goal. Most business plans will state a specific numeric goal, “$50 million in product sales.” But, if your organization doesn’t understand the connection of that goal to unique job duties it will likely never happen.
Instead, restate the goal to something more actionable, “Maintain 100 percent client retention of profitable $1 million clients while sourcing, vetting and closing one new client that will average $5 million in sales.”
If the goal is restated in such a way to that every department of your company understands its role in achieving that goal it is much more likely to happen. A sales goal is not going to get a person in accounts receivable to change their behavior. Arguably, an overly zealous receivables person could be detrimental to your goal by collecting in such a way that drives clients out the door. By changing the focus of the goal to an action statement, it changes the way your staff views their role in executing their part in the process. It focuses a goal into a philosophical change with obvious incremental steps.
Now list the steps, as few or as many as it takes, but it must be actionable and measurable.
- Identify five leads weekly.
- Qualify three prospects per week from the leads.
- Each month, close one client with a potential average $5 million in annual sales. Keep in mind, if you onboard a new client late in the year, they likely will not do $5 million in sales this year.
- Reduce new client onboarding time to three business days.
- Prioritize your customer service model to spend 80 percent of your time with those clients making up 80 percent of sales. (Once again, the old 80/20 rule.)
- Achieve 100 percent on-time shipping every day.
- Reduce accounts receivable to 45 days.
Do the work
Now, you have to do the work. While this seems obvious, the majority of goals find their way to the scrap heap for the most basic of reasons. The work was done intermittently but honestly, the work was not done.
Someone first said, “What gets measured, gets done.” And they were right. So measure your action steps. Use technology to help keep track of your progress. Reminders on your phone work, but some prefer something more visual. Use a spreadsheet program to come up with a customized action tracking sheet.
A suggestion: At the end of the measuring period, color code the boxes to highlight successes and challenges. Distribute the finished sheet each period to all stakeholders. “What gets measured gets done.”
And finally, you need to have a consistent and honest accountability system. Accountability means doing the small, necessary steps to accomplish your goal, both in quantity and quality. The fallacy of the spreadsheet of reminders is we can lie to ourselves. As human beings, we have a horrible ability to lie to ourselves and, worse yet, believe our lies.
So how do you manage this fault? Have an accountability partner. Find that person who cares enough about your success that they won’t tell you what you want to hear or make you feel better about only half-hearted work. Share with them your spreadsheet each week and go over every single event. Mutual accountability works well. Find a fellow salesperson, manager, significant other or business owner that is working on their own goals, and be accountable to one another.
It has been said, “If success were easy, everyone would be successful.” While it is not easy, you have more control over your success than you think; and sometimes it is just about having a definable goal, doing the work consistently and being honest with the quantity and quality of your efforts.
Jeff Bush, Wall Street’s Washington insider, is a dynamic and insightful speaker on tax and fiscal topics, and the author of American Cornerstones: History’s Insights on Today’s Issues. A 28-year veteran of the financial industry, Bush works with executive teams, business owners and high income individuals to proactively prepare their organizations to succeed in an ever-evolving marketplace. For more information on Jeff Bush, please visit www.JeffBush.net.