Rapid Growth Causes Overwhelm

Rapid growth causes overwhelm, especially for small business owners who haven’t taken the time to plan in advance. They set up their business and start the marketing without any road map for growth. Then as new business opportunities come their way, they step up to meet that demand, until one day they realize they have no time for anything else. They are overwhelmed and putting out fires.Stress and overwhelm caused by rapid growth

I’ve been meeting with a business owner who suffers from rapid growth and no plan to manage that growth. He wants my help with the company’s social media marketing. But the owner keeps missing meetings. He’s constantly putting out fires that get in the way of finalizing an agreement with me. His company has grown so fast, he is trying to serve his customers, take on new jobs, and cover all the bases ….without any office staff.

The business has grown beyond the point where the owner can handle all the back office work – accounting, payroll, taxes, hiring and training – as well as work in the business. Until he gets organized and hires one or more people to run the business operations, he likely isn’t ready for my marketing help.

He has established offices in several locations across the US and is in the process of training staff to manage the local work at those locations. Simultaneously the business regularly gets new projects to take on since it has successfully become the exclusive resource recommended by several realtors in the business owner’s headquarters location. Without staff, he has to serve those customers.

Meanwhile, he also handles back office paperwork and staff training, in addition to marketing and local community involvement. He’s understandably overwhelmed and things are falling through the cracks.

Does this sound familiar? Is your business suffering from rapid growth?

Marketing is not the issue here. Getting yourself organized and hiring at least one other person to handle the back office stuff is the key. If this resonates with you, it’s time to take a step back and analyze what’s happening in your business and the steps you need to take to rectify the situation. This is lesson 101 in Michael Gerber’s book The E-Myth.

Step One – decide what you really want from the business. First, write down the broad goals you want for the business. Then, begin working backward to today following the next steps. Look back at where you started and where you are today. Have you achieved the initial outcomes you set for yourself? Perhaps it’s time to set new outcomes, or a new target to reach for a year down the road.

Step Two – once you set that new target, identify the critical goals you need to achieve in order to reach the new target and how you are going to measure your progress toward those goals. These should include staffing and delegation, financial goals, community involvement, perhaps even head office relocation. Perhaps it’s time to move into a larger space that also affords you storage space for all the business materials you use.

Step Three – look again at your current situation and how stressed you are. What is and isn’t working right now? Analyze your own strengths and weaknesses as a business owner. What do you enjoy most about running the business? What do you enjoy the least? What do you do well and what tasks do you not do well? These will help you begin to see areas where you can delegate once you find and hire the right people to take on these tasks. This will add to the payroll. However, if you don’t do this, you may find your company retracting rather than growing. You have reached the point where you either choose to grow or you lose ground. Companies can’t remain static they must continually adapt and change. There is always someone else ready to move into your territory and take over. You need to get yourself organized and learn to delegate to staff and/or outside contractors so you can spend most of your time working ON your business rather than IN it.

Step Four – Look at the new outcome(s) you want to achieve a year or more down the road. Look at the goals you set in order to achieve those outcomes. Then take a look at your current situation and what is and isn’t working. You should see some areas which become the key strategies to focus on in order to keep growing in an organized fashion and reach the new outcomes. They may include:

Staffing/training:  Hiring a COO take over the operational details of running the business, and coordinating the operations at the various locations.

Financial:  Outsourcing your financial management, bookkeeping and tax management tasks so you can focus on doing what you enjoy and do best.

Marketing: Outsourcing your marketing and social media efforts to keep your business top of mind and maintain customer satisfaction.

New offices: Relocating out of the small office or even home office may now be necessary, especially as you contemplate hiring a COO, a bookkeeper or CFO, and/or marketing staff.

Rapid growth can be managed with planning.

Planning frees you up to manage your business. You need to spend your time focused on the long range outcomes for the business, maintaining community connections, and ensuring your staff  is delivering the quality service you demand for your customers.

Your job is now to provide the checks and balances to ensure everyone is doing the right kind of work towards achieving those targets you set. In fact, keep in mind that the primary job of leaders is planning and managing change. Some of your tasks will include:

  • Holding periodic meetings to get updates from everyone on what is working well and what isn’t, and make joint decisions about resolutions to any problems or challenges that arise.
  • Keeping people accountable for doing work that ties directly to the critical goals you’ve set in order to achieve those future outcomes.
  • Monitoring external factors and changes in the marketplace, the economy and your industry that could affect your company’s progress towards achieving its future outcomes.

The result is that you’ll be better organized, happier, and less stressed. Things will stop falling through the cracks. You’ll be able to make and keep commitments. Your customers will be more satisfied. Your staff will more satisfied and goal-oriented. You’ll have a team that is pulling together in the same direction, instead of trying to do things on their own without direction, and delivering less than excellent service. You’ll have a much better chance of actually achieving those new future outcomes for your business. It won’t be without its own challenges. Things will occur that may derail your progress, but if you revert back to these steps and stay focused on the key strategies and goals, you’ll get yourself back on track quickly.

Volunteer Burn-Out is a Non-Profit Dilemma

Takeaways: 1) Age demographics and volunteer burn-out are dilemmas for member-based non-profit organizations, 2) Why clear and concise communication is paramount, 3) Why change must be embraced with a revolutionary approach.

Member-based non-profits inherently are subject to the dreaded disease of volunteer burn-out. As I scan the world for member-based non-profits and consider their membership age demographics, two things are crystal clear.

First, the most obvious one is a seriously older demographic, from the few members left of those who were adults in the mid 1900’s to the huge population of baby-boomers worldwide.

Second,  very few of those organizations are working really hard at recruiting and engaging new members of ages 25 to 45. Those that are, struggle to connect across the generational chasm that has generally tripped up humanity for centuries.This has deepened in the last 170 years with the rapid cultural changes brought on by technological advancements.

Balancing planning with action is a common struggle for non-profits, and if they are membership-based, perhaps even more so. This may be more evident among organizations that are 30 years or older, but it also affects those that are newer and have instituted some mature processes and structures.

I am looking at two very worthy member based non-profits. One is experiencing continued success but mild growth in membership. All of its programs are very well received by the communities it serves and its members are overwhelmingly deeply engaged. The other is experiencing membership decline, slow action among its leadership, a lot of activity in planning for the short and long term, and is struggling with its value proposition and member engagement. The first one is over one hundred years old, the other a respectable 15 years young.

A common thread I find in successful organizational development continues to be that of clear and concise communication. Communication of vision, values and goals in a timely and simple manner continue to be the key ingredients to successful member engagement. Why? Because it provides key support and direction to the leaders of the local groups to keep everyone moving toward the same overarching goals.

I see a number of aspects to what I call The Maturity Dilemma. One is that mature member-based organizations generally have a long-established way of doing things that worked for their generation of members. This creates a culture that is comfortable for that age group but likely misses the mark with other age groups. Another aspect is human nature’s normal resistance to change. Throughout our lives we have been taught to seek long-term conformity and stability, in spite of things changing around us all the time. We are not taught to thrive in change and therefore continue to hold this aversion to it. We have not developed the skill sets to thrive in change. So the organizations we lead tend to suffer from the same shortcoming.

Like all systems in the world, yet another aspect to this Maturity Dilemma is entropy. Our member-based non-profits are becoming so comfortable in our “way of doing things” that we simply never respond to the changes taking place OUTSIDE our organization.

I propose that like nearly all for-profit organizations, we must stay more in tune with our “markets” and our external environment. We must establish the processes and structures that will embrace change and help us thrive. We must, in a word, become “revolutionary” from within.

What does that really look like? To me it looks like making change happen fast, like in most revolutions. It looks like planning quickly, acting decisively and being prepared to adjust quickly to the changes we are creating. It looks like we must rapidly evaluate how to leverage the positive results of the changes we make and just as rapidly mitigate the negative results of those changes. It looks like we must not fear failure but instead react quickly to correct it.

I am not suggesting this is easy. In fact it is counter-intuitive to human nature and how we have been taught. We have to be, as author James B. Swartz so eloquently put it, “Seeing David in the Stone”, a reference to the courage displayed by those who pursued a vision without a manual to show them the way. We have many, many tools at our disposal to start us on our way. Planning strategically or tactically is key among them, but balancing that planning with rapid, decisive action is what will win the day. Forcing ourselves to maintain that balance will also drive us to communicate those plans in a timely and concise manner, thereby short-circuiting the entropy that creeps up on our organizations in uncanny mimicry of Alzheimer’s Disease.

If you would like to discuss this topic further, please contact me. My expertise in accelerated change management and deep knowledge of non-profit organizations may be helpful to you!

Simple Planning Model for Small Businesses

A while ago I came across an article written by Noah Weiss for Medium.com (Nov. 2014),  which describes a simple planning model he calls #now, #next, #later. In it he discusses a method for smaller businesses and teams to create effective action plans using what he calls “Priority Buckets”.

Priority Buckets
Original image by Arvid Rudling,Flickr creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/arru/4919629582/sizes/l/

As I read on, I realized this might work really well within the systems thinking planning model. You still need to have a direction, a Desired State or Vision of what you want to achieve. But once you’ve identified that, it would be fairly simple to then ask yourself the following three questions:

If XXXXX is what we want to achieve or what we want our organization to BE in 12-18 months, then…
1) What do we need to do #now to make sure this happens?
Now is within the next 2-4 weeks. These are the most critical actions that will make the biggest difference in the shortest amount of time. They are usually easy to identify, and many may already be underway. Once those are identified, then ask…

2) What do we need to do #next to achieve this Desired State or Vision?
These are the actions or activities that must be accomplished in the next 1-3 months AFTER the #now activities.

These are harder to identify, so sometimes a simple exercise of “If this, then that”, may be necessary here. Developed by a colleague and project management pro, Terry Schmidt, this consists of asking “If this is to occur, then what needs to happen to make it so?” Keep asking that as you identify each of the steps or activities needed to achieve a specific goal.

For example, if your team is trying to determine which of two software investments to make, you might ask….
A.  If we make investment #1, then what else will need to happen? These could be
> additional IT resources will be needed for new programming, for example, and
> we’ll need to create new training programs for the staff who will use the new tool.
The initial investment may be the least out of pocket cost, but what are the internal costs of additional resources being diverted for extra programming and training? How many months will it take to get approval for the resources, do the internal programming, and create and deploy the training modules?

B.  If we make investment #2, then what else will need to happen? These might be
> no additional IT programming since the tool exists in the cloud, not on the company servers.
> no need to create training programs since the investment comes with pre-recorded training videos.
This out-of-pocket investment may be more, but it will enable the company to hit the ground running and be up to speed faster without diverting additional resources for programming and training.

3) What do we need to do #later?
This is the final question to ask and concerns the activities that may take place 3+ months AFTER the #now and #next activities. Essentially, this is a place to park the ideas that various members have a passion for, but which aren’t necessarily critical to achieving the Desired State or Vision. Just list them here and re-visit them again in three months to see if anything has changed.

By asking these questions, your team has essentially created a simple action plan that includes your Desired State or Vision with a date by when that’s to be accomplished, and then the critical actions that need to take place to achieve it. Each action needs to have dates by when they must be achieved and a leader to move that action forward. You will also need to identify the minimum acceptable goal for each activity.

For example, if purchasing the software in the above example is the decision, and you don’t have all the funds in place, then you need to identify the minimum dollar amount you need to raise within the next 3 months in order to purchase the software. Remember, the purchase of that software is one of the critical activities that will help you achieve your Desired State in the next 12-16 months.

You also need to identify the specific activities you need to undertake to raise that minimum dollar amount to purchase the software, who will lead each fund raising activity, and by when each will be accomplished. Then gather together again as a team within the next 3 months to review your results, make any changes, and adjust your #now, #next, #later activities.

Each team member can then tag their own actions as fitting under #now, #next, #later to help them prioritize the detailed activities they are working on under each of the larger action items.

It’s easy to get mired in the details the further you go down this path. It’s somewhat like following Dorothy down a rabbit hole and getting lost in the woods. So it frequently helps to have a facilitator in the room to keep you on track and help you find your way to the “yellow brick road”.

Contact us if you have questions about this and/or would like help implementing this at your organization.

Overcoming Planning Mistakes

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International  11/18/2012

Takeaways: Overcoming planning mistakes requires some strategic thinking up front to ensure all the possible outcomes and issues have been addressed.

I recently had the opportunity to address a group of folks who are undergoing some community-wide leadership training. The topic I was asked to focus on is strategic planning and I tied some leadership issues into the process. I am about to describe a couple of examples of planning mistakes that were takeaways from this session and offer some possible lessons from them.

Imagine you are a coordinator for public services. This could be related to municipal waste management, child protection services or perhaps court administration. You are informed that a new building is being constructed and are told which departments or activities will be moved to the new building. To that end, the people in charge of the planning interview you and your teammates to gain insight about the best use of the new spaces where you will be working. You provide the input and everyone involved walks away with the impression that all the needs and details have been adequately handled.

The new building goes up and suddenly you realize that the way the spaces have been laid out –  in the way of room size, number of rooms and layouts – actually produces a large amount of wasted, generally little-used space.  In addition, the types of users of those spaces and the number of users were not really considered. The planners and designers made some assumptions along the way that were incompletely informed. Their intent was good, just not fully informed.

What do you think went wrong? What may have been missing from the process? Who should be held accountable?

Clearly defined vision is needed

Here are my suggested learnings from this example:

  1. It seems highly probable that a key missing element may have been a clearly defined set of desired outcomes for the public that will be served at that location. Basically, keeping the customer in mind, always.
  2. Not enough time was devoted to laying out the process and the structure for the planning. A little more time devoted to this might have resulted in keeping all the stakeholders, including you, informed, involved and engaged by asking why you thought certain things should be a certain way, all the way up to the end of the project.
  3. Once the initial consultation with you had taken place, the leader of the planning process could have held a brief meeting for the express purpose of laying out how you and the other stakeholders could continue to provide input. Those responsible for executing the project have ultimate decision-making authority but their decisions could have been better informed.

Accountability is subjective, to some degree of course. However, if you are coordinating public services, are you not accountable for how they are delivered and aren’t the facilities an integral part to how effectively those services are delivered? Consider for a moment that you might be engaged in coordinating services for family mediation.

Is it not really valuable to the family attending a counseling session that the environment they are in during such a session be of an appropriate size and have the right furniture to ensure a comfortable and safe environment?

Here is where leadership is also part of the conversation. You are experienced in coordinating these public services and understand the needs of your customers because you are on the front lines, right? Your leadership could be in play by setting up your own structure to stay involved in the planning and execution of the new building so you can keep asking the question “ Why?”, making you accountable to yourself for ensuring a good delivery of services to your customers. Others don’t need to ask you to do it, you just do it as part of your job of being a high performer.

That’s the first level of leadership – Self – followed by One-to-One, Within Departments, Between Departments, Organization-Wide, and then the Organization’s Environment.

Now for another example…..

Let’s say you operate a real estate brokerage with four employees and two months have gone by since you created a strategic plan. This plan outlines the broad strategies that your business is to follow over the next three years. You have established a vision for your business, assessed how the future environment may affect your business, established some key success measures, assessed the current state of your business, outlined those broad strategies, and now must define the major action items that will help you close the gap from today’s reality to your future vision.

Again, I ask: What do you think is going wrong? What may have been missing from the process? Who should be held accountable?

  • First, what strikes me as missing is actually typical of many long-term planning efforts, but probably more common in smaller organizations. Let’s acknowledge that planning takes time and in a small business this means time away from DOING the business, or time away from maintaining a balance in your life. You feel you have created your plan and that’s enough, it’s time to get back to business, right? I say “NOT YET!”
  • You still should spend some time putting the structures and processes in place that clearly outline the expectations and accountabilities of everyone involved in working the plan.
  • The structures could simply be a calendar of meetings that everyone agrees are mandatory.
  • The processes could simply be the owner sharing a series of agendas that the meetings will follow and assigning roles to the staff, like someone to send out reminders, someone else to take minutes of the meeting and someone to gather input from the others on specific topics before the meetings.

Essentially what is going wrong is there is nothing in place to make the plan sustainable. It’s two months after the planning session and you still don’t have action plans and a calendar to follow up. Do you agree with this? Do you sense the plan is already forgotten?

Now, what do you think the next steps are after the long-term plan is completed? Is it complete? I propose it is missing two key parts. One already mentioned is that the major actions are missing that need to be acted upon over time to keep closing the gap toward the vision. These actions are supported by the key success measures also previously mentioned, but they must be clearly written out to serve as references and checkpoints.

Another missing piece is what you can call a Yearly Map of Implementation. This is a schedule of meetings and actions that the business owner or CEO must set up as the strategic planning “retreat or meeting” is concluded. This Yearly Map includes the periodic meetings of the staff (to formally check progress against the plan and make adjustments), specific tasks the owner/CEO must do monthly to hold him/herself accountable to the plan and to check in with, mentor and coach the employees in staying true to the plan.

If your plans, short term or long term, seem to fall short of achieving their stated outcomes you might consider reading more of our articles and exploring how our customized coaching and consulting services can help you improve your organization’s performance. Just contact us to schedule a no obligations interview to determine your needs and how we might help.

Whether you are a non-profit seeking to maximize your fund-raising, an auto-repair shop facing challenges in growing the business, a department or a division of a larger organization or a thriving organization looking to sustain a high level of performance, we can help. Our passion for long-term, sustainable, high performance in managing organizations can help you save money, make your employees and customer happier, and your organization’s future more controllable.

Planning is Dead: A Restaurant Case Study

By Jeri T & Eric A Denniston, Denner Group International   3/24/2013

A Case Study about how lack of planning creates unintended consequences

Takeaways: Planning is critical to ensuring your objectives are realized. Lack of planning can cause unintended consequences that affect your outcomes and leave you with less than satisfactory results.

Imagine you own a Mexican restaurant in an area where there are a few other similar restaurants. You position your restaurant as having authentic food from Central Mexico, rather than the typical Tex-Mex fare that so many US Mexican restaurants offer.

As the owner of a Mexican restaurant you know there are certain times of the year customers expect you to offer something special, whether it’s a special food items or entertainment or special promotions. This requires planning. If you don’t plan in advance, you can be caught facing those nasty unintended consequences, such as the entertainment not showing up on time, or not enough customers coming in the door because you forgot to promote the occasion or you didn’t promote it properly.

Take Cinco de Mayo as an example. Like it or not, if you own a Mexican restaurant in the US, patrons expect you to do something special. Most people in the US think this is Mexico’s Independence Day, but in reality, Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla. Nevertheless, it has become a “party” day in the US, much like St. Patrick’s Day.

So what should you do as a restaurant owner? You might bring in a Mariachi band. You might bring in Baile Folklórico dancers. You might offer special Mexican beers at special prices. You could offer specials on pitchers of Margaritas. You might offer a special dish, such as Pollo en Pipian Verde (Chicken in Green Pumpkin Seed sauce) or a Chicken Mole, which you normally don’t serve.  But if you don’t start your planning far enough in advance, you won’t be prepared. Here are some of the steps you might need to take.

  1.  Determine what you want to achieve for this day.
    • Increase your liquor sales by xxx dollars
    • Increase the food served by xxx dollars
    • Get new customers to try the restaurant for the first time
  2. Determine what success looks like

    • The dollar volume of liquor sales over your normal daily sales volume
    • The dollar volume of food sales over your normal daily sales volume
    • Introduce 50 new customers to the restaurant
  3. Evaluate your current situation

    • Number of servers on staff
    • Number of additional servers you might need
    • Your chef’s ability to make the specialized dishes
    • Your stock of beers and other liquors – is it sufficient?
    • Your food supplies – do you need to order more?
    • Where to get the entertainment
      • How much will it cost?
      • Do you have to pay travel expenses?
      • When will they perform, for how long?
  4. Determine your advertising budget

    • Is it sufficient?
    • Do you need to consider radio, flyers, billboards, online promotion?
    • Your customers – how can you engage them in bringing in new customers
  5. Identify the actions you need to take by when to ensure you achieve your objectives

    • When to start your promotions and where
    • How to engage your customers – special offers
    • Contacting the potential entertainers – how far in advance, what kind of commitments
    • Backup plans if the first choice entertainers can’t make it
    • Where to find additional servers
    • Do you need to advertise?
    • Can your current wait staff handle the extra load
    • Incentive pay for longer hours?
    • Getting commitments from your food suppliers to lock in prices and orders (they probably are serving your competition, too!)
    • Training your chef if necessary or hiring a special chef just for the day
  6. Scope out your competition to see what they are planning

    • Check the papers, the radio, the billboards
    • Visit their restaurants to see what they’re promoting
    • Ask your customers if they eat at other Mexican restaurants and what they like best about them, as well as what they don’t like
    • Ask your suppliers what they’ve heard about what your competition is planning

So when do you start thinking about this and then writing it down?
It depends on how far in advance you need to make the first commitment. If the entertainers are the key and require 3 months lead time, then that’s your start date. If they require 6 months lead time, then that’s your start date. Your vendors/suppliers will need advance notice as well. Find out from them by when you need to make those commitments. Your advertising / promotional choices will also determine how far in advance you need to start planning. If you intend to insert flyers in chamber newsletters, you need to create those a month in advance.

If you don’t write it down, something is bound to fall through the cracks. You’ll forget to get a back-up for the entertainers who suddenly can’t make it because of car trouble. A server you were counting on comes down sick and can’t be there. The radio spots you were planning on can’t run because the stations are totally booked and have no air time available, or the only time they have available is between 2 am and 5 am when your prime customers aren’t listening.  

These are some of the unintended consequences that can occur when you don’t plan far enough in advance to consider possible consequences and set contingency plans in place. Planning does not have to be onerous. But it is a critical step to ensure you achieve your desired outcomes. And you need to have a schedule to continually check the progress on each action to make sure everything is on track.

So don’t let planning die! Learn some of the tricks of the trade. Get help from experts. Devote the time. Spend the money. Train yourself, train others in your business, and build the skills for planning in your organization. Most importantly, set schedules to review and update plans to keep the documents alive and out of the credenza.

And remember these four steps, which you take in order then circle around and repeat them again and again: LEAD – THINK – PLAN – ACT. There must be a reason that the Association for Strategic Planning has that as their motto.

Planning is Dead

By Eric A. Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International   3-22-2013 

how you think matters when doing business planning

Takeaways: Gain clarity in how the type of thinking can affect the outcomes of your work and planning for your business. Get some insight about the importance of skill building in how you think.

Haven’t you heard? Businesses have stopped doing any planning. Why bother? It eats up resources of   time, and also money if you get outside help, especially for strategic or long-term planning. It’s distracting from the work at hand. It’s complicated. We can do it on our own. And then…someone writes the plan up and it’s forgotten!  Sound familiar?

This is called a paradigm, which just means that it’s a pattern, or model or a series of practices that we accept as a community. What’s important is that it’s a pattern that we accept and follow because we keep our thinking rooted in today’s and tomorrow’s sales, profits, successes and results. The short-term outcomes.

What ‘s important is that it’s a pattern that we live with because we DON’T think about what our customers will want from us in three, or five or ten years. I’m not talking about the next iPhone we will invent. I’m talking about the next step in delivering quality and value to our customer. The quality and value that will keep our current customers coming back and new customers to seek us out. The quality and value that will make our vendors and other stakeholders want our business, because we’ll be growing. The quality and value that will make workers want to work for us instead of someone else. The quality and value that permits us to improve our lives, those of our employees, and those of others. The quality and value that motivates us and others to do even better.

When we DON’T devote the time and invest the resources in THINKING and ACTING in a manner that supports creating that FUTURE quality and value for our customers, we are failing to create a sustainable business. In today’s world, any business that does not seek out AND create its own change is doomed at least to continued mediocre performance –  if not outright failure.

So why state that “Planning is dead”? Most likely, these words are not new to you. Perhaps what might be new or only somewhat familiar to you is that there are two acknowledged styles of thinking when it comes to managing a business. They are tactical thinking and strategic thinking. And don’t think it’s as easy as saying that tactical is short term and strategic is long term, because they are both short and long term, only to different degrees.

Learn to Think strategically

Why is a style of thinking important in planning? Consider this: If you are REALLY going to focus on long term planning, shouldn’t you do just that, FOCUS ON THE LONG TERM? Perhaps to the exclusion or near exclusion of the short term? If you have tried this, you know it’s nearly impossible to accomplish excluding one from the other. The good news is there are skills you can apply to your thinking style to adapt the style that is most appropriate to the task at hand.

For example, let’s say you are working on an issue involving the design of a critical part for a machine and the result of the solution, once attained, will produce the perfect part. To address this, you would primarily apply tactical thinking to break the problem down into discreet parts (materials, measurements, manufacturing processes), solve for each part, and then test until you know you are done. A secondary type of thinking would also be applied here to make sure the manufacture of this part is going to fit into the whole system that the part must operate in. Maybe it’s an engine for a vehicle, and making this part affects how the engine is designed and assembled. Can you see the interrelationships here? What you plan to do is design a part that is perfect for the application. That design comes about in a relatively short time; however you have applied both tactical and strategic thinking to resolving the design issues.

You, or perhaps a coworker in another department, are responsible for making sure the part you design meets certain strategic criteria. Here the strategic thinking part of the planning will be looking at the whole system, perhaps the engine, the vehicle(s) that will be using the engine, the operating environments intended for the vehicles, and the geographic markets it is intended for, instead of addressing the discreet parts of the problem. Maybe you can see how the short term and long term views overlap here. It’s not black and white, short and long. It’s a mixture, or a blend of the two.

This is why it is valuable to learn the skills to think and act tactically and the skills to think and act strategically. What is more important is to know the difference and when to use or apply which one and how to blend them when necessary. This skill building will also drive home the importance of devoting the time, resources and effort to carry out disciplined long term planning for your business

Planning next month’s sales is just as important as planning next year’s expansion program. Granted, it’s easier to see next month’s sales, but if you don’t spend time planning and creating the changes necessary to meet the demands required for next year’s expansion, the expansion very likely will either not happen at all, or will be far below expectations, or dreams.

So don’t let planning die! Learn some of the tricks of the trade. Thinking is one of them. Get help from experts. Devote the time. Spend the money. Train yourself, train others in your business, and build the skills for planning in your firm for next year and beyond. Most importantly, set schedules to review and update plans to keep the documents alive and out of the credenza.

Good planning involves clarity and focus in your thinking, discipline in working and adjusting the plans, and keeping it all simple. Single page documents for tracking, not long reports. Use digital tools for sharing information whenever possible, there are many cost effective tools out there. And, perhaps just as you see an attorney or an accountant for specialized advice, tap your favorite management consultant or strategic planning advisor on the shoulder from time to time and ask for help.

And, remember these four steps, which you take in order then circle around and repeat them again and again: LEAD – THINK – PLAN – ACT. There must be a reason that the Association for Strategic Planning has that as their motto.

Why is Business Planning So Difficult?

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International 2-20-2-13

Takeaways: Business planning requires strategic thinking and analytical thinking skills. It’s important to understand the difference between the two. Best practices include having clarity about where your business is going, keeping the planning process simple, and involving your staff in the planning.

Nearly all small businesses struggle greatly with most everything having tPlanning mazeo do with planning for their business. The most obvious obstacles are the basic resources of a small business: time and money. I have no doubt that the two most overlooked obstacles to business planning are the lack of management commitment to planning and the lack of skills in planning. Planning skills are not a subject generally taught in school at any level but perhaps graduate degrees and beyond which mystifies me.

So much really good material has been produced about best practices in business planning but it’s not emphasized enough. If you, dear reader, agree with me, read on. If not, you may be among the few who are well-practiced in the disciplines, skills and arts of business planning.

Discipline and Concentration Required

Most small business owners, naturally, wear many hats. This has the effect of preventing one from devoting the discipline and concentration to actually doing the planning, and much more importantly, to establishing the processes and structures to support the execution of those plans. So, what can business owners and managers do to effectively and efficiently introduce profitable planning activities to their organization?

First, I suggest you recognize that planning skills are learned mostly through practice.  However, in addition to courses at your local colleges, a great resource is a local or online consultant that can also more easily tailor some instruction to your needs.

Second, also recognize there is a learning curve that might delay your progress in planning. This you can overcome by hiring a consultant to facilitate some planning sessions for you. The big advantage here is that you can learn along the way. A good consultant trains and coaches you through the planning process so you and your staff can build the skills your organization needs.

Third, become serious about having discipline in your planning programs. Keep it simple at first, but plan on building your programs to an optimal level for your organization. When you set schedules for planning meetings, stick to them. If you don’t, you are telegraphing to your staff that planning really is not that important to you as the owner or manager. And insist on attendance at the meetings. Make it part of staff evaluations to participate in planning meetings.

Best practices to implement immediately

> Gain clarity on the distinction between strategic planning and operational planning. Strategic planning is creating a Vision and a Mission, defining the values that guide the organization’s behavior, and determining what positioning the business wants to have in the eyes of the customer, not in your eyes. Strategic planning is also about laying the general route of the journey the business is on to reach its vision, defining the key success measures you will use to know you are still on track. It is about having clarity on where the business is today and what its strength and weaknesses are. It is about defining the core strategies you will follow and the key action items to implement to achieve the vision. And finally, it is about constantly scanning the external future environment your business operates in to better address the changes you’ll have to make in the future on your way to your vision.

By contrast, operational planning is concerned with the tactical issues of running a business. Budgets, meeting schedules, action plans to support the strategies, setting policies, defining roles and tasks, outlining market segments and pricing, hiring, firing, advertising, etc., all are part of your operating or business plan.

Recognize then, that you should have two separate plans – a strategic plan and a business or operating plan. And develop them in separate sessions, with the strategic plan first. Also, more importantly, recognize that each planning process actually involves thinking very differently. This is a distinction that schools should teach.


Most of our schooling is in how to think analytically or tactically, therefore, we are under-prepared to think strategically or systemically. This means we need to make sure we build up our strategic thinking skills. Much has been written about this so you can search the internet for books, articles and courses on this. But, you can also learn while you do the work, which often is the most productive way to do it. Consulting firms like ours help you do just that.

> Another best practice is to keep it simple. Just the idea of a planning session will make most business owner and managers roll their eyes as they think of how of their employee’s time is tied up in doing this. A carefully laid out plan that accounts for how your business and employees must operate is an important factor in efficient planning. The skills a consultant brings can help enormously. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I have yet to find an entrepreneur who did it all himself or herself. They found good help along the way so don’t be bashful about asking for help.

> A third best practice in keeping it simple is to use a framework tool that I know works in all sizes of organizations. Called the EABC model for planning developed by the Haines Centre for Strategic Management, this model has you answer five questions in this specific order:

  1. What are your desired outcomes –  your future desired state?
  2. How will you know you are on track to reach them?
  3. What is your current state, which can easily be achieved with a SWOT analysis?
  4. What do you need to do to bridge the gap from where you are today to your future desired state? and
  5. What will be occurring in the future that will affect your achieving your future desired state?

If you would like a free copy of this model, please visit our website to download a copy.

Best practices in planning also include an understanding of the time required to draft a plan. And don’t forget, the time to establish the structures and processes to make sure the plan(s) are implemented or executed. Too often, once a plan is drafted, nothing happens because this crucial step is overlooked or ignored. We actually recommend a brief,initial “Plan to Plan” session to set the stage for success before you implement. This allows you to identify the personnel, financial and time resources required to truly achieve a successful planning program.

If you are conducting your first strategic planning process, I recommend two full days in an environment that eliminates distractions. A retreat is a good idea, but what is important is not being distracted. A good, experienced facilitator can make this happen in one day but what will be missing is some training for the staff on the planning and implementing processes and structures required.

Also, be inclusive with your staff. Let them know what is going on and be prepared to involve and engage them in the planning process. Again, an experienced facilitator can be very valuable in coaching you on how to engage staff, keep them informed, and on what to engage them in.

To wrap up, let’s remind ourselves of some key practices in planning.

  • Set a schedule and stick to it.
  • Be inclusive and keep people informed.
  • Build planning skills any way you can.
  • Understand the distinction between strategic planning and operational planning and do them separately using the appropriate way of thinking.
  • Establish the structures and processes to ensure your plans are executed and measured efficiently.

To speed up or simply make the planning happen, don’t be bashful in asking for help. A few hundred or thousand dollars for a consultant’s help could mean 10 to 100 times return on your investment, and likely more engaged and productive employees in your organization.