Jacob M Engel
Author and CEO of The Prosperous Leader. I help CEOs and their organizations prosper.
Most people don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan. This adage has been around for a long time and still remains true.
In my experience as a business consultant and leadership coach, I find that few entrepreneurs and business leaders have well-thought-out strategic plans that they follow religiously. Often, when I ask a client where their plan is, they say they don’t have one or that it’s outdated, not relevant, in their head, etc. Even if they do have a plan, it's not being updated and followed. When I ask them why, they say it’s mainly because they're overwhelmed by so many tasks, and it seems like just another one to add to their lists. "When I have time, I'll do it" is their motto.
In my experience, though, many entrepreneurs and leaders really don’t care for plans. They like shooting from the hip and don’t appreciate being held accountable to plans.
However, some would really love to have one; they just don’t know how to create one and are too embarrassed to ask someone to help them do it. Let’s say you'd like to have a plan, but you just don’t know a simple yet effective format.
Here's one I use with my clients. It's a three-step model that I call the GSAP.
These are the biggest objectives that you want to achieve. Some might be short-term, some medium-term and some long-term. Think big and wide. In their book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras call them BHAGs, which is short for "big, hairy, audacious goals." While you may want to consider setting anywhere from three to five goals, realistically, if you look at growing the top line (gross sales) as a goal and growing the bottom line (net profit) as another goal, they cover almost everything. I find that many companies don’t bother with other goals as these cover almost all the activities a company will be focusing on.
This step includes the different strategies you can use to reach your goals. Let’s say your goal is to increase sales. You might strategize on how to sell more items to your current customer base or to a new customer base or both. If you're selling offline (wholesale, physical retail, etc.), you might strategize on how to sell online (perhaps on Amazon). If you sell online, then you might want to think about how to sell to brick and mortar retailers.
3. Action Plans
This step is where the rubber meets the road. Here every detail of the plan gets written down, including the responsible party and timeline. So if your goal is to increase sales, then you likely need buy-in from the sales team regarding what kind of increase they believe is feasible and by when. If it's to increase net profit, then the team must agree on how they'll produce the increased bottom line, say by cutting expenses or buying direct, and by when.
Once you've outlined your goals, strategies and action plans, I’m a fan of using project management applications, such as Asana, Trello or Basecamp (many of my clients use these and other similar applications, and it doesn't matter which one you use as long as you follow and update it), to help keep track of all the tasks that need to be accomplished, along with their timelines and responsible parties. These items can be reviewed on a weekly basis with the leadership team, usually in the management meeting, so that nothing falls through the cracks and to ensure
transparency and accountability.
Transparency and accountability are two very important ingredients in any organization, and your action plan can help you create them. Transparency is created by having all managers and leaders sitting around the table with everyone briefly reviewing what priorities they were working on last week, what was accomplished and what they’re working on this week. Accountability means having people take responsibility for the goals or desired results so that projects stay on track.
A lack of transparency and accountability can lead to things falling between the cracks, finger pointing, missed deadlines or even worse, a situation where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, meaning two or more people are working on the same thing. Without a plan, it can be very difficult to track who said they'd do what by when and then track the accomplishments.
Following the GSAP model for creating a strategic plan can help get everything on the table, meaning that it clarifies what the expectations of each individual team member are and allows for continuous follow-ups without it looking like you're micromanaging the projects. Over time, either your people will get very used to following the agreed-upon plan, or you'll have to decide who might be a better person to put in charge of executing the plan. Either way, this model can help you achieve success and prosperity.