Every year, NSCA spends an immense amount of time talking with members about strategy and planning. Success doesn’t happen by accident; the best companies in our industry have great leadership, and they execute their plans accordingly.
We’ve also seen companies that have seemingly “fallen” into success. In these cases, though, time seems to be the great equalizer. Success like that is rarely sustainable, and it often leads to a false sense of confidence that lulls a company into a long-run demise.
Great success happens by going beyond just having a “plan.” You have to have the focus, resources, and commitment to be able to execute on that plan. Building a great company comes down to three things: planning, execution, and accountability.
Planning is a great step for most small companies. Spending one day in a meeting before the year starts (or soon after the year starts) to create a “plan” is not what we’re talking about.
Most great companies have full-time people dedicated to planning and strategy. These folks don’t directly execute the plan; they make sure that there’s a plan in place, and that the plan is realistic and achievable.
It’s difficult for companies in today’s fast-paced world to keep up with planning (especially small companies); for this reason, it’s helpful to break planning into smaller pieces.
For instance, each function (sales, marketing, finance, project management) can invest some time in reviewing current statuses and putting together plans. This way, key stakeholders in each group are involved in the process and hopefully buy into the plan submitted to upper management. Another key element of planning is doing your best version of SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) on a regular basis, planning to make sure you consider what you’ll face in the short, mid, and long term. All of this can be aggregated and put in front of senior management to create final plans and budgets.
Execution is usually where companies start to miss the mark. So many companies do okay at getting a plan down on paper (maybe not a great one) but have almost no idea how to execute that plan.
Business activities, such as reviewing and adapting the plans, need to be done frequently to make sure you stay the course. It’s really easy to get sidetracked by customers and other daily activities. Be diligent in setting up your reviews. Have them on the calendar just like any other meeting. Don’t let the meetings slip, and don’t let other things take priority – that’s the first domino in letting business planning and performance fall into an unwanted sinkhole.
Lastly, who owns the execution? Who is accountable if the plan succeeds or fails? Companies that are great at strategy tend to be very overt and vocal about their strategies. As business leaders, does strategy happen in a bubble? If so, this is a big problem. It can’t just be a binder on a shelf with a few strategy topics and pro-forma income statements. It needs to be vocalized. The plans and strategies need to be shared with the teams that are accountable for executing them. Also, executive leadership should feel comfortable summarizing the plan in its entirety to the whole organization. This helps create buy-in at every level, and it makes executives as accountable as employees.
Talking about strategy and planning is important; writing ideas down before the start of the year is the beginning of a plan. Great companies, however, go so much farther with planning. They have a process they follow each year with the long term in mind (three, five, or 10 years, for example).
Next, they have a strong habit of focusing on execution with regular reviews and management of the plan. Knowing how fast things change, a plan must be looked at far more frequently than just at the beginning of each year.
Finally, management must be vocal about the plan. It shouldn’t be a secret – especially if you want the whole organization to be part of the plan’s success. What is your organization’s approach to planning? How have you done well? How could you do better?