Rethinking Your Business Plan

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” –Yogi Berra

What do machine gun feed chutes and floor care equipment have in common or, perhaps, flavored coffees and parts cleaning equipment? How about non-food items in a convenience store and a turbocharged diesel engine system in a main battle tank? Each pair describes the two principal product lines of three multi-million dollar companies and represents the result of several small, logical decisions played out over many years that create odd product/service pairings.

Are you a successful entrepreneur that is not where they thought their company would be or a less-than-successful entrepreneur trying to turn things around? The process is the same, but the urgency may be different.

Since you have read this far, you want something different than what you have now. But what? What does personal and professional success look like to you?

First, look introspectively. Take some time and think about the next 3 years.

    • Write down the 3 most important personal goals you would like to accomplish
    • Write down the 3 most important corporate goals you would like your company to accomplish

Put the goals in a drawer; we will come back to them later. In the mean time, assemble information about the past:

    • The most recent business or strategic plan
      • You do have one- don’t you?
    • Thirty six months of past financials
      • Income Statements
      • Cash Flow Reports
      • Balance Sheets
    • Thirty six months of past customer data
      • Sales by Account
      • Profit by Account
    • Thirty six months of past product/service data
      • Sales by product/service
      • Profit by product/service
    • Thirty six months of past industry data
      • Industry Sales
      • Technology Trends in products/services
    • Thirty six months of past competitor data
      • Sales
      • Profits
      • Products/Services

Identify a group of 5-10 trusted advisors. These can include business associates, family, employees and even (shudder) consultants. Do not use a bunch of sycophants that will tell you what you want to hear. Look for insightful people inside and outside the company who are motivated to help the business and not themselves. You should expect to compensate them for their time and they should approach the task seriously and confidentially. Give them copies of the information you’ve assembled.

Do individual S.W.O.T. analyses

Strengths, Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats Analysis can be one of the best ways to establish the business’ current position and identify potential future directions. Each participant should do the analysis individually based upon their perception of the company. A diversity of opinions is healthy and enables everyone to look at the company with ‘new eyes.’

Strengths and Weaknesses are internally focused. Look at all the functional areas of the company- Financial, Product Development, Operations, Sales, Marketing, Human Resources… Clarify why something represents a strength or weakness.

Opportunities and Threats are externally focused. Look at the market and the competitive and regulatory environments; clarifying why it is perceived to be an opportunity or a threat.

Do a collective S.W.O.T. analysis

Have the individual S.W.O.T. analyses turned in anonymously and create a master S.W.O.T. from everyone’s individual analyses. Seriously consider using a third party; someone who does not have an emotional stake in a specific outcome.

Assemble your company’s advisors in a place that has no distractions. No phones. No interruptions. Refreshments and meals catered in. This is the company’s future and everyone needs to give it 100% of their attention. Use a third party as a facilitator, someone committed to the process, but without an emotional stake in a particular outcome.

Review the collective S.W.O.T. analysis. Maintain an open mind. Do NOT react or challenge and do not be surprised if some strengths are also viewed as weaknesses and vice versa. The same can be said about opportunities and threats. Individual perspective will influence how an attribute is categorized.

For example: Centralized decision making can be faster, more efficient and ensures alignment with corporate goals, culture and vision. Centralized decision making can also be viewed as stifling to new ideas, does not encourage employee involvement or empowerment and what happens if something happens to the decision-maker(s)?

Set Goals and Priorities

Goals should be firm, but they are not permanent nor are they unchangeable. Circumstance can require goal changing; for example, the emergence of a disruptive technology. Goals need to:

    • Align with the overall strategic direction/mission/vision of the company
    • Be fully supported by upper management
    • Be objective:
      • Who is/are responsible?
      • What is to be accomplished?
      • When is to be done by?
      • Where is it going to be done?
      • How much is it going to cost?
    • Looking at the SWOT Analyses, prioritize from most to least important. Which are going to have the most significant positive impact upon the
      • Customer?
      • Employees?
      • Financials?
    • Be realistic:
      • No slam-dunks
      • No impossible dreams
      • Those responsible must believe the goals are achievable

Take Action

Put together an action plan that enables the company to pursue the top 3 priorities relentlessly. Taking on too many priorities depletes everyone’s energy and dilutes the effort. A few things done well will do the company more good than many things done halfway. When those priorities are achieved, return to the list and see if the next three are still relevant. If they are, attack those next. And so on.