This is part of a series of articles looking at some fundamental areas of business and I should start out by sharing where these ideas have come from. My career started over three decades ago and during that time I’ve inevitably worked in different areas and sectors of business and sent products and services out to different parts of the world. I’ve also volunteered with schools and charities experiencing the world outside business. It has continually fascinated me to find that there are some issues that prevail no matter what sector or type of organisation I encounter.
Define and share the goals
Today I have the great privilege of meeting and working with organisations large and small in both the UK and overseas. I help them with everything from marketing planning to international trade strategy. Almost always – and often over coffee or lunch – questions emerge that would best be put in the category of Business Fundamentals. For example, I am frequently chatting with companies exporting to numerous regions around the world about their international trade. When we drill into their challenges, inevitably they’re nothing to do with international trade. There are several common issues, these include:
- Inter-department communications, or lack thereof.
- Activities that take place regularly but without consistency.
- Lack of awareness of the company’s overall goals.
Lets start with this last one – the fundamental need to have a plan.
No plan? Then how do you know what to do?
Winston Churchill famously said, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” He most certainly had a point!
If you don’t have a plan how do you know what to do? Think about that for a moment. If there isn’t a goal, or a purpose or a vision you can do anything. You can, and so can your employees! All those well-meaning actions will fill your time but won’t necessarily take you where you want to be. But if there is a plan with a defined goal you will know what to do and, just as importantly, what not to do.
Planning takes different forms in different organisations. It would be remiss of me not to share an example of the structure of a plan. Let your organisation format its plans in the ways that work for them but make sure all the elements are included, even if by different names. And if there are different names, make sure everyone knows! See my previous thoughts on this topic.
Goal: This is an inspiring general description of what you are aiming to achieve. It’s a sentence or two. It is aspirational, it is positive. it describes something that is measurably better than today.
Objectives: These are precise statements that will show you have achieved your goal. When these statements are true, you will know the job is done. They are SMART.
- Specific objectives are non-ambiguous. If you are aiming for project deployment that means that the project is in use not nearly in use, or about to be in use.
- Measurable objectives almost certainly have a number, £XX revenue, XX customers, XX users, etc.
- Achievable objectives are possible. Goals should be inspirational and challenge people, but they shouldn’t be impossible because that’s frankly simply de-motivating.
- Realistic objectives recognise that none of us exist in a vacuum. They take account of the world around us and those on whom we are dependent.
- Timed objectives have a date. The project will be in use by XX number of users by YYY date. When YYY date arrives, the project is either in use with the specific number of users, or it isn’t. It will be obvious whether the objective has been achieved or not.
Strategies: These are the activities you will undertake to accomplish the Goals and Objectives. They describe activities in general terms rather than minute detail – that comes later. Each Objective will have a number of Strategies.
Budget: Very few projects or goals in business can be accomplished without money and understanding how much of this crucial resource is available is vital.
Elements: These are the tactical activities you are going to undertake. Each of your Strategies is likely to have a few elements to it. If the government wants, for example, to remind us all not to use our mobile phone while driving they will have a plan with several elements. They may undertake television advertising, social media activities and perhaps some PR to get the topic on the news as well. If they are really creative, they might also work with a leading soap opera to feature a story on the topic. If you’re marketing services, high value products, and bespoke products you might use events, advertising, webinars, white papers, etc., etc.
Resources: Naturally this includes budget, but it also includes people, facilities and anything else you need to achieve your Goal.
Timeline: Working back from the dates in the Objectives, the timeline shows when each element will take place all leading to the final successful outcome. This is the detailed project plan.
Once you know the plan and the route that will take you there, you can assess all the attractive looking side roads that will inevitably turn up along the way. That’s life – in business or your personal life there are always new opportunities that can be explored. With a plan you can assess these new opportunities and consider one of three options:
- You may follow the opportunity because it helps you achieve your goal.
- You might decide that no matter how exciting or appealing, you’re going to drive past the new idea because it just doesn’t take you towards your goal.
- Or you might decide that it’s right to adjust your goal. That’s OK from time to time – repeatedly changing your goal might be escapism or, worse, lack of commitment to success. A mindful choice to deliberately change the goal for good and considered reasons is flexibility and that’s a good thing. Reacting to a new shiny toy or opportunity is generally not a good thing!
You should share your vision with those who can help you achieve it. That naturally includes your employees and your team. For a small business that might also include those that support you such as your business advisors, the bank, and others. In a larger business it will be the other departments and teams that are dependent on you or on whom you depend. Mutual support for other teams can best be achieved when each team knows what the others are trying to achieve. They probably don’t want full chapter and verse or the whole plan. But sharing the key points and your overall goals and objectives can help them understand what’s important to your team.
Document or slides?
Your plan doesn’t need to be a lengthy written document, although it often is. It could be a set of slides or a vision statement with bullet point goals and strategies. Frequently the process of building the plan is the most valuable part. It enables you to examine your goals, discuss your vision and truly get under the skin of what you’re setting out to achieve and how you’re going to do it.
The final word belongs again to Winston Churchill who is also quoted as saying, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” I couldn’t agree more!