Imagine you join the board of a company. You ask for its strategic plan so you can understand how the business intends to move forward competitively. In lieu of a concrete business plan, the CEO tosses up a four-slide presentation with generic goals like “Hire great people” and “Drive more revenue.”
I’ve encountered similar situations again and again as I’ve helped businesses turn around. As many as 85% of companies spend less than an hour every month discussing a strategic plan, perhaps because many leaders tend to think that putting one together is hard. It’s not—it just takes work. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to provide a real, calculated direction for your business.
1. ESTABLISH YOUR VISION AND VALUES
Have a clear vision for the business. I’ve been in board rooms and lobbies of companies with a poster of their four-paragraph vision that was far too dense for anyone to remember.
The goal when writing a vision statement is to create something simple yet powerful so at least 80% of your team can tell you what it is. To reach that goal, ideally, the statement should be no more than 20 words. Each of those words has to mean something, reflect how people actually talk, and make the vision relatable.
Relatability should connect closely to your values. What do you believe in as a business and want to build into the culture? What do your workers believe in? Those belief systems should match up if you expect your team to be motivated. They should also set the foundation for all of your core capabilities: the primary operations or services you provide exceptionally well.
The simplicity-values combo shows up in the vision statements of some of the world’s most famous companies. Nike’s statement, “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world,” is straightforward while still being encouraging. It helps customers feel like Nike sees them as individual people with limitless potential. It’s also a statement built on the idea that everyone has personal internal power, allowing Nike to go beyond specific products or sporting events.
Similarly, Google has a great vision statement: “To provide access to the world’s information in one click.” It communicates Google’s goals, yet there’s no jargon to get lost in.
2. BREAK DOWN THE NEEDS OF YOUR BUSINESS
Once you’ve got a concise vision statement people can connect to, focus on what the company needs within that vision. How are you going to grow? Operate? Support the company?
Pumping up your business centers around sales and marketing. Even the most innovative product in the world won’t make a difference if nobody knows about it. There are many ways to go about achieving growth and gaining this attention. You might conduct more research to better get to know your customers or do affiliate marketing. You can also grow quickly if you keep looking at how to expand your existing core capabilities.
At my company, we did this by applying all the expertise we had in the smaller industry of summer camp transportation to the goliath that is last-mile delivery, which is when a package moves from a distribution hub to a customer’s doorstep. You can also maintain growth through rebranding, new partnerships, and developing new innovations. The main question should always be, “What’s required to communicate and deliver on our vision so that we establish and maintain a long-term relationship with customers?”
Operations refer to how you execute whichever strategy you put on the table. Which teams do you need, and are they properly aligned? Is there a specific resource you need to acquire or use? The key here is to remember that, even though operations should always align with your vision, they can be flexible to meet changing demands and take advantage of new developments.
Supporting your business usually means bringing in experts from different areas. One professional might help you with your financial points, while others may help with human resources or legal. Many professionals find it tough to delegate these kinds of tasks because their love of the business gives them a tendency to micromanage. But because no one can know everything or be everywhere, it’s imperative to let others help you.
3. DECIDE HOW THOSE NEEDS CAN BE MET
When you break down your needs, you might see that multiple pathways could get you where you want to go. Your role as a leader is to think critically about why one path may be better than another. This requires asking questions. It also means not letting a fixed mindset get in your way. There has to be a better reason for choosing a strategy than “This is how we’ve always done it.”
When I worked with a technology company, they were initially stuck on using a warranty-oriented model and were losing serious money as a result. I helped them explore how they could leverage the workforce they already had across the country to break into an industry that could give them more valuable exposure: support for medical devices. That eventual willingness to think differently about what they already had at their disposal helped shape how they viewed their options and contributed to their final development decision, leading to great success for a company that was well on its way to potentially losing everything.
IT’S ALL ABOUT GETTING STARTED
As you try to develop a strategic plan for your business, you may find yourself obsessing over different methodologies or worrying that a particular method is “wrong” because it’s not as popular. Ultimately, all that matters is that you know what’s best for your company and have the confidence to build and implement a plan that will work toward that end. This takes effort, like running a marathon. But even a marathon doesn’t have to be hard—it’s just one foot in front of the other. Trust yourself, commit to your path and every step in it, then go win.
CEO of Merchants Fleet, transforming the company’s business model and creating a new fleet industry category known as FleetTech.