3 Questions to Identify Roadblocks to Business Growth (and How Strategy Can Clear Them)

What challenges you most about your management and leadership role as business owner? Do you think about it? Our observations suggest too many business owners work according to learned practices which they do not renew. The result is company financial performance staying well below potential. Good and reasonable performance can become a hindrance to excellent and exceptional results. It’s easy to think ‘we are doing OK, there’s no need to change.’ Consider your response to any of the following questions:

• Please explain your marketing strategy and how all the methods tie together.

• How does your business use strategic planning?

• Describe your long-term strategic plan.

• Do you have an effective written business plan or marketing plan?

• What are the key elements of your staff training and development program?

The first step to facing uncertainty and challenges is to admit there are potential roadblocks to creating business growth. The second is perhaps admitting ‘I need help to remove the roadblocks’. If you take the second step to seek help, you are in the top 25% of business owners. Most resist help. A recent classroom experience at a prominent Australian University highlights this. A working student from India observed Australian business owners seem to be very independent and commonly have the view it will all work out in the end. ‘She’ll be right mate’ still prevails. This attitude may cost your business significant profit performance.

There is a key understanding every business owner needs to grasp if consistent growth is to become normal. We all have blind spots and beliefs we hold onto and thereby restrict success, breakthrough and improvement.

Will we confront and remedy our blind spots? Gaps in vision, strategy planning, marketing plans, leadership and management practice, our experience and even how we view our own industry or product groupings can form craters of restriction.

Let me suggest 3 questions every business owner could answer to start to identify gaps and reveal blind spots. You may find the questions confronting. None of the answers are necessarily easy to find, let alone the solutions simple to implement and establish in your business. Don’t put aside the questions if you are overwhelmed by the multi-faceted specifics required to instigate change and create growth. Consider the exacting specifics of research and change required in industries such as airlines, development technology, communications, security, automation, medical practice and more, where blind spots or neglecting systems can cost lives.

Q1. What time, energy and money are you prepared to invest in research, relationships and skill acquisition to begin or accelerate business growth?

Any change or adjustment will upset routines, historical practices, processes and systems, or the current lack of them. This is often the reason change and improvement is avoided. It disturbs routines, the status quo and demands careful change management. The easier part is usually discovering what is required but the high level challenge is in execution and implementation of the business plans to be introduced.

We’ve observed so many businesses try to create a strategic plan using basic goal-setting practices, but the day-to-day pressures pull staff back to operational and more urgent matters. There is no overriding business plan in place to maintain accountability and ensure target achievement. Strategic planning is not only the realm of large companies.

Q2. How will the required changes be achieved and what process will be used to advance all facets of a new business plan?

A Harvard Business School study found that 70 to 80 per cent of small businesses fail to see the projected return on investments due to the inflexibility or lack of strategy. Many small to medium business owners ignore or resist strategic planning for growth because it’s too hard or perceived as irrelevant. Hence, there is no certainty of business practices or clarity of company purpose beyond basic revenue generation and continued existence.

A successful business plan begins where we are and moves us towards where we want to be. Strong implementation and execution must articulate how we are going to move there. Clarifying goals and expectations is part of the process and ideally should be in light of relevant product and market life cycles. Plans start with small, deliberate steps for what’s important now and then create projects with longer-term specific action plans. Maintaining team focus on the desired outcome will then happen.

Q3. When was the last occasion your senior team members spent dedicated time with you as business owner to grapple with the high level thinking, leadership and creativity needed to see a breakthrough into new ways of running the business?

We worked with a company that supplied and installed a hi-tech product with increasing demand. The company had a staff of 10 people and the business was growing quickly. The director of this company argued in an elevated tone that he needed no one’s help, he was self-sufficient and no person can change how they operate. He was certainly right about himself. Discussions with staff showed he was blind to the true needs in the business and most staff were cruising well below capacity. A strategic plan would have accelerated the business into exceptional growth.

Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, authors of The Strategy-Focused Organization, identified in larger businesses, 85 per cent of executive teams spend less than one hour per month discussing business strategy. Too many SMEs never even mention a strategic plan. To lead a business into high-level thinking, leadership and creativity the key team must be reading, studying and keeping up to date with what is happening in their industry and business at large.

“Pay special attention to evidence that contradicts your beliefs” – Charles Darwin

Decide to push through those long-held beliefs screaming at you ‘it’s the only way something can work’. Remove the roadblocks, fill in the gaps and move forwards with certainty and clarity.

Build a Strategic Plan For Business Growth – Connecting the Plan

Once your company’s strategic plan has been completed and a “growth map” is in place, it is time to execute it. But unfortunately, the reality of business, with all its pressing concerns, can quickly cause plan execution to falter. The answer is not to try harder or make the plan an urgent priority. Instead, the solution is to integrate the plan into the company’s ongoing activities so that execution takes place as part of the normal course of business.

The most common and deadliest enemy to strategic plan execution begins the moment that a company’s long and involved planning process comes to an end. When executives finally turn their full attention back to running the company, there is often a pent-up demand for their time. Customers have issues, suppliers bring challenges and shareholders want immediate results. And that doesn’t include regulatory demands, legal considerations, human resource needs, etc. The list goes on, and unfortunately the “dust gathering” process for the strategic plan often begins before the ink is dry.

Even when executives make time to execute their plan, initiatives can falter as part of the company’s “project list”. The problem is that when projects are prioritized, strategic plan initiatives are nearly always labeled “important” rather than “urgent”. And urgent projects, like the ones that customers are waiting for and those that will increase cash flow, tend to be implemented first. So as the year progresses, strategic initiatives often fall behind and executives must be content to report the reasons. At year-end, it can become embarrassing for a company’s executive team to realize how little of their strategic plan has actually been implemented.

Instead of attempting to keep the plan in better focus or placing its execution ahead of urgent matters facing the company, the permanent solution is to integrate the plan into the company’s normal operations. This way, plan initiatives will not be seen merely as additional projects.

The first step to effective plan integration is to separate each plan initiative into “action plans”. For example, let’s assume that there is an initiative called “Build A Marketing Program That Targets Small Businesses”. This initiative can be split into 5 separate action plans, as follows:

1. Identify the products and solutions that will be required.

2. Develop tailored presentation materials

3. Prepare advertising and promotion plans

4. Initiate relationships with appropriate trade organizations

5. Create a sales target list, with contact information

Once action plans have been established, the next step is to assign responsibility for each of them. Although the company’s marketing executive would likely be responsible for the overall initiative in the above example, each of the 5 action plans should be assigned to an appropriate employee team. For instance, the Customer Service team can be responsible for action plan 1, the Promotion team can handle action plans 2 and 3, the Sales team can initiate the relationships with trade organizations in action plan 4 and the Sales Support team can create the target list in action plan 5.

At this point, the initiative has been pushed deep within the company. But an even further step towards integration is to make timely action plan completion a part of employee compensation. For example, when teams meet their goals for the quarter, which should include completion of assigned action plans, the members of those teams would receive performance pay in addition to their regular pay. Similarly, completion of the overall initiative can be one of the components of the executive team’s compensation.

With this level of integration, it will likely be rare for initiatives not to be completed on time. And yet, execution is not forced or placed ahead of other pressing projects. Instead, it is spread throughout the company and connected to routine employee compensation. While development of a powerful and insightful strategic plan is essential, execution by the entire company can make all the difference!