Your Business Plan, Business Goals, & Tactics – Where Are Yours?

For most business plans the document is the end itself. It is such a commonplace of my practice to ask a business owner, or manager, “Do you have a business plan?”, only to have them look around in a bookcase, or in a pile of papers in the corner, in response.

A good business plan is the result of a process in which the management team comes to a common understanding of:

  • the business situation
  • the value the business provides to customers
  • strategies to achieve new business goals
  • obstacles to be overcome or avoided along the way,
  • tactics to bring the business goals to life – this includes who is responsible, resources assigned, timeline of tasks, and results expected
  • schedule of review meetings to measure results and take corrective actions

The plan also provides a common language about the business and a platform to communicate  business goals and values to everyone involved, employees, vendors, and customers.

So here we are at the key question:

If your business plan authentically identifies the business goals of your company, how can you put your management team into action to achieve that future as opposed to the future that will come willy-nilly and that almost inevitably is not the one you desire?

As Peter Drucker said about planning, “a plan is only deployed to the extent that it has devolved to day-to-day work”((1))

Making a  Business Plan Become Day-to-Day Work

This is where you the Owner, the CEO must take the lead. Otherwise the plan is just a plan and is not converted into action. If you have done a good job of establishing the tactics, the step by step actions required, you will know:

  1. who is responsible
  2. resources assigned
  3. desired results
  4. success metrics
  5. timetable for action
These five items characterize every tactical action. Good project management practices demand them. Without these five elements, the tactics are just a plan, a bit of wishful thinking, they are not in fact in action. You cannot achieve your business goals without taking these practical steps.

By tying your business plan to your existing financial reporting system and project management tools, you will be able to measure results directly. The review sessions are not designed to be dull reports, but opportunities to understand where the difficulties lie and where new opportunities pop up. A review session brings together the management team to work on the most important strategic activities of the firm.

Let’s wrap up.  

Your business plan is converted into action through the tactics identified in the plan. These are supported by active supervision and follow up by the Owner, the CEO. Only you can provide the impetus to sustain the management team over the long haul. Without your involvement the management team will fall back to day-to-day busyness and not spend the time required to drive the tactics to reach your business goals.

  1. paraphrase from Drucker’s The Effective Executive: a definitive guide to getting the right things done (Harper Collins: New York, 2006) []

Podcast – Delegation (Outsourcing) and Keeping a Focus on Strategy and Results

Delegation and Outsourcing Share a Common Management Focus on What Needs To be Done, What Are the Results Required, and When?


Delegation (Outsourcing) and Keeping a Focus on Strategy and Results

Yesterday I was scanning through the Tweets from my friend Bruce Peters and came across a reference to a blog posting by Bernadette Doyle, “Discern Your Strengths – Delegate The Rest“. Its always good to return to these complementary concepts – strengths and delegation (outsourcing), so I read on.

Ms. Doyle’s concatenation of “delegation” and “outsourcing” is a very productive idea. Delegation is normally seen to be a personal act by a manager. A manager delegates certain tasks or responsibilities to someone else in the organization. Outsourcing is most frequently the retention of a third party, external to the company, to perform a function or tasks. Setting these two side by side provides an interesting example of the overlap between the personal skills and attributes of the manager and the larger practice and processes of the organization.

Delegation and outsourcing share many management requirements

Delegation and outsourcing share many management requirements. And they illustrate the overlap between the personal and organization spheres. Both benefit from a more nuanced use of the general management maxim, “Build on Your Strengths”. Both require a substantial understanding of what needs to be done, how it should be done, the results required, and the needed timelines. And, finally, both require ongoing management involvement to assure that those responsible for the tasks or functions, whether individuals or vendors, succeed.

Discern Your Strengths

Ms. Doyle argues that we should examine ourselves to determine our strengths as an initial step. She even provides a link to a tool to help in this adventure. I have talked about this earlier in my posting “Managing for Weakness – a mis-management myth

“What are my strengths?”

The simplest way to answer this question is to look at the activities where you have had the most and best results. These are your strengths. You might enrich this line of thinking by asking which activities make you happy, put you into a state of flow where you really concentrate and loose track of time? An external, third party assessment can be helpful. I have used StrengthsFinder 2.0. It is good, adequate detail without overreaching. There are others.

Then ask this question:

“Am I spending most of my time working on my areas of strength?”

If we turn to the classical argument for outsourcing, companies are encouraged to define their core competencies (strengths) and strategic must do functions and outsource everything else. This quickly became reduced to a simple examination of the relative cost of doing a function in-house versus via a third party.

At this point delegation (here Ms. Doyle uses the term “outsourcing”) becomes an obvious solution to increasing the amount of time and energy spent doing work that fits into your strengths by offloading tasks.

Focusing on Strength Is Not Always a Good Idea

Although in general it makes eminent sense to focus on your strengths, this is not a rule that should be followed without some thought.

In my practice I can think of numerous examples where the business owner is doing a good job of obeying the “follow your strengths” rule, but, in fact, not achieving the results that the market opportunities are providing. For example, some business owners who are highly detail and control oriented find it easy and fulfilling to remain intimately involved in all sorts of processes that fit into their strengths profile like bookkeeping, inventory control, purchasing management, human resources administration, etc. They are happy doing this work because it feeds into their need for work that is detail and control oriented. Here is a case where I argue that even though they are comfortable following their strengths, they need to drop many of these tasks and devote their time to driving the marketing and sales efforts. For these particular owners, this is uncomfortable territory. This is work that focuses on some of their weaknesses. But, in small firms, even medium size firms, there is no replacing the impact of the owner/CEO in the mind of the customer. So, even though the owner may not be the best possible person to do this marketing and sales work, they are the resource available. And, the impact on the marketing and sales results will show the wisdom of this refocusing on weakness.

I would also note that managers do learn new skills, even in areas of weakness. though your natural bent may not be the world of sales and marketing, for instance, the approaches and skills required are not particle physics. There are plenty of learning tools and business coaches who can help you become more than competent even in fields that you might describe as weaknesses.

In an example of strength misdirecting, I recall a large size electronics firm, a Fortune 500 company, in the 1980s and 1990s. The great strength of this company was manufacturing. Almost all of the managers in the top ranks came from manufacturing functions. Manufacturing widgets was what they did really well. As the world of electronics evolved, they kept doing what they were good at and let product and market development work, activities critical to the future of the company,  take a back seat. Soon market share fell from 45% to 20% and the game was over. There were certainly managers at this firm who intellectually understood that they needed to make product development work and marketing a strength, knew that they needed to make these core competencies, but the inertia of the past strengths was too difficult to overcome.

So, one can not follow strengths blindly.

Three Questions for Success in Delegation and Outsourcing

What Needs to be Done, When, and What are the Results Required?

Once you have made decisions about what to delegate or outsource, a key to success is developing a clear statement of what needs to be done, when, and what are the results you want to achieve. The answers to these three questions arm you to select the best person or organization to perform the work and the basis for useful discussions of progress. Nothing like having a clear statement of the results expected to focus the collective minds. With a clear definition of what needs to be done and the results expected you can make the best choice for whom to delegate a task to. Has this person had success in achieving results in the task area defined, do they have the functional expertise required to produce the results? If you are looking at outsourcing, the same information arm you to ask questions about the track record of the various vendors. Do they have the capacity to deliver the results on time? And so on.

Taking Responsibility for the Results – Delegation and Outsourcing Do Not Get You Off The Hook

I wrote recently in a posting, “Outsourcing – not a strategy that is as simple as a make or buy decision“,

However, people may think that outsourcing gets you off the hook and solves all of the problems involved in the outsourced functions. The truth is that whether as a one armed paper hanger or a global giant like Boeing, outsourcing must be managed.   You can not manage functions that you do not understand. So, the executive level of any organization (back to the single entrepreneur to global giant span) must understand all of the basic functions of a business (strategy, sales, marketing, product/service development, personnel, operations, finance, information systems, and legal (these are the most important ones)) in order to decide which must be internal and which can be outsourced. Then, you have to have enough knowledge of the outsourced functions to decide on the desired results required, choose vendors, and manage for the results. This may seem to be daunting for the low end of the size scale, but most of this stuff isn’t rocket science at the basic concepts level and one can always draw on people in your network and consultants (like me obviously) to help out.

The same line of thinking applies to delegation. it is simply not acceptable to delegate a task and then not come back to the person tasked for six months to ask, “How are things going?”. Just as with new hires or promotions attentive, timely, and responsive supervision is required. The same rules of responsibility apply to delegated tasks. You made the choice of the person, defined the task and the results required and established a timeline for the results. It is your responsibility to assure that the person succeeds. You have the power and resources to assure that. Although I doubt that delegation is as fraught with failure as hiring new personnel, the failure rate is still high and you can not afford to simply through up your hand six months into the mission and say, “Why did you screw this up?” More here about this management issue, “It’s Always Your Fault – taking responsibility for personnel“.

Managers – Early Intervention Is Key To Getting Your People Right

After you hire or promote a person, there is a tendency to walk away with a big smile on your face. “What a smart person I am. I hired the right person and now my job is done.” Six months later you realize that the person has drowned in their new post, everything is in disarray. But, now it is too late. The damage is done.

To correct this managers need to practice a little humility and be attentive, supportive and alert during the early stages of a new hire or promotion’s tenure. The humility arises from recognizing that more than at any other point in the life span of a manager-supervisee relationship, the early stages require the most intense application of an all important management rule: “If an employee is working below expected or required performance it is always the manager’s fault.” The first place to look is at the manager. After all, the manager hired or selected the person. The manager defines the work, provides tools, training, and all other resources required for the job.  The manager is responsible for the success of every person they supervise. By focusing on the results achieved and understanding how to move the performance towards the desired results, you can focus on tools, training, support resources that will allow your new person to succeed.

Beyond this principle, we have to acknowledge that the hiring and promotion process is one of the more flawed management practices. Some claim that in a third or a half of the cases we make the wrong decision. This merely emphasizes the need to be very observant of the performance of new hires a and new promotions because we need to be ready to act when it turns out that we’ve made a mistake.

So, when you have your new person in place and have given them clear instructions about their initial tasks, set up a time, within a week or so, at which you will have a meeting to review performance and see what further support needs to be provided. This is especially valuable in environments where you have a new hire or promotion in a new position where the variables of the goals and tasks are inherently unclear. There’s nothing like having a quick meeting to take the pulse of the new tasks and make course corrections immediately. And, remind your new person that you are readily available to discuss their work at any time.

If you find yourself in one of those rare positions where your decision to hire or promote a person turned out to be fatally flawed, don’t let the situation just linger on. If you follow that strategy, you will end up with a lot of poor performance and unhappy people. It is almost always true that other people in the organization will readily recognize that your new hire is not performing well and is in fact in the early stages of drowning. When you let a person linger in this manner, you are demonstrating to others that you are not a very competent manager, nor a caring one. And, your new hire or promotion know themselves that they’re having deep trouble performing their job. You are doing no one a favor by allowing a failing person to linger on. If you’re in a larger organization, you should seek out alternative positions where this person could perform well for the company. If such a transfer is not possible, you have to face up to it and terminate the person’s employment. When you act promptly in such situations, everyone around you sees that you are a competent manager who is facing up to an error in judgment. And, in my experience the employee involved is grateful that you dealt with the situation in an objective, fair, and caring manner.