What’s the best thing you can do NOW to make next year great?

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It’s hard to believe, but we’re almost half way through the 4th quarter, fall is in the air and baseball is unfortunately behind us (great season by the Royals though…). This is the perfect time to start thinking about how you’re going to make next year better for your business and yourself. There are a lot of things you could focus on – developing new marketing tactics, rolling out a new product or service, checking in with your best customers to see how they’re doing, getting clear on your financial situation or maybe hiring that next great employee who could put you over the top.

All of those might be good ideas depending on your situation…but it turns out there’s one thing that everyone should be doing this time of year and it’s the one thing that could, by far, add the most value to next year.

Now is the perfect time to do some strategic planning.

I know…I said the ‘P’ word and it’s likely that your first reaction as a business owner is either “I don’t have time for that” or “I’ve done some planning stuff before and it ended up being a waste of time” (or possibly both of those things). Despite what the MBA programs out there might lead you to believe, strategic planning doesn’t have to be painful, require binders of information or be overly complex. In fact if done correctly it should be simple, direct and help you clearly identify what needs to be done to move the needle for the next couple of years. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for how to make your strategic planning effective this year.

1. Get every brain in the game…

As the business owner it’s not your job to come up with all of the answers – if that’s still how you’re operating, now is the time to start changing that. Your job is to ask the right questions and get everyone contributing to the right answers. That means involving your employees in the strategic planning process. Depending on the size of your company it may not be practical to have everyone in the room for the planning session but at a minimum you should have your leadership team there and before that meeting they should be checking in with all of their reports asking for suggestions and ideas on how to make the business better. The people on the front lines often have experiences and ideas that we won’t be able to get to without their direct input and a group is always going to be smarter than just you.

2. Get some additional information to work with

You’ll start with your basic metrics that help you run your business – updated financial reporting, key metrics, information on upcoming opportunities, etc. However it also makes sense to include some other information and perspectives – here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • At Aspire we use an assessment called the Business Effectiveness Evaluation that asks 10 challenging questions across 10 aspects of the business. It’s a great way to get a feel for where things are going well or where you might be constrained.
  • Consider a Profit evaluation / assessment – this is a quick evaluation that will help you figure out if you’re generating enough profit for the size of your business. Ask me if you’d like to learn more.
  • Have your leadership team do a SWOT analysis exercise (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat) – this is a great way to drive out ideas and likely priorities that you might not have considered otherwise.

 3. Get some outside perspective (and facilitation help)

It’s often difficult to see things when you’re too close to them, so having a 3rd party participate is often very valuable. They can bring in ideas from other industries and businesses that you might not be familiar with and they will have a different perspective than you do. (As a side note – if you’re stuck on where to find someone to help you – facilitating strategic planning is something we at Aspire do with a lot of business owners). Likewise it can be a huge benefit to have someone else facilitate your planning meeting. That allows you, as the owner to step back a bit and actively participate in the discussion instead of worrying about running the meeting.

4. Make it actionable

If there’s one area where most strategic planning fails it’s that most of the great ideas that are identified don’t get translated into concrete next steps and so they remain great ideas and nothing more. Give yourself plenty of time at the end of the meeting to identify your top priorities (not more than 3 to 5 of them) and identify the tactics and owners for implementing those top priorities. The final take-away should be a list of great ideas plus a clear plan with next steps, owners and dates for your top priorities.

Finally, in terms of duration for your meeting, it depends on how big your company is and how in-depth you want to go. You can certainly get some things done with a 1/2 day session but a full day or more would be better if you have a bigger team or if this is something that’s fairly new to you.

When was the last productive strategic planning session you had for your company? Do you do them on a regular basis? What was missing or what did we miss? Share your thoughts in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach