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.

Rude Questions You Must Answer Before Your 2010 Strategic, Marketing & Leadership Planning

Strategic planning and decision-making is tough but when personalities, politics and biases are involved it becomes even more complicated. It takes courage to confront conventional thinking. Someone has to ask those uncomfortable questions that people think about… but never have the guts to raise. Sometimes there is a strong temptation to be quiet, don’t challenge the process and just get it over with.

Okay, I’m going to ask the tough questions. As my grandmother said, “The only way to change is to do things differently.” If you want to stimulate some real, measurable, relevant change then be bold, step up, man up and ask. Every process needs to be challenged from time to time. Start kicking the scared cows with questions like these.

15 Rude Questions You Must Answer

  1. Why are we doing this? Do we have compelling reasons?
  2. If we were starting all over would we do things this way?
  3. If there were no company politics, rivalries or biases involved how would this project or decision change?
  4. Who are the people who are conceiving, driving and doing the work and who are just watching?
  5. Why do we need the people who are just watching?
  6. What are three big things we can do with our customers that would have the greatest positive impact on their business and ours?
  7. Are our products and services really different and do they offer real, measurable value?
  8. Whose solution are they using while they are waiting on our solution?
  9. Are we easy to do business with and are we easy to buy?
  10. Is our Unique Value Proposition actually unique and valuable?
  11. What is our company doing to steal business from our competition?
  12. Is our department developing strategies to grow the business or just to protect our budget?
  13. Is our marketing attracting the business we want or just the business that wants us?
  14. Are the customers/clients we have today the ones we want and need 3-5 years from now?
  15. How do we change our business model to get the customers/clients we want and need?

Why you have to ask

No one sets out to make a bad decision. Actually, every bad decision begins as someone’s attempt at a good decision. Most of the problems stem from not having a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how to make it happen. So the great corporate tap dance begins, the process gets longer and longer until all the best options fade away. Remember, the last available option is never the best decision.

Every change begins with questions and answers. If you never ask the tough questions – nothing positive happens. So have courage, ask, challenge and grow the business in 2010.