Strategic Planning: How to Do it Right

Many businesses have jumped on board the strategic planning train, which is great! When done right, strategic planning can help you focus your time, energy and resources, develop your team and processes, and achieve your organizational goals.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of business leaders who embark on their strategic planning adventure without much thought or intention.

  • Some don’t actually know where they want to go or how they might get there.
  • Others will start the journey and then decide to go in a totally new direction halfway through.
  • Many will commit to a particular destination, only to jump off early— or let themselves get distracted by every shiny thing along the way.

Should your organization create a strategic plan and put it into action? Yes! But only if you have a clear direction and are committed to riding it out through the end.

Keys to effective implementation

For our purposes, we’re going to assume you’ve already put a significant amount of time, effort, and energy into defining your company purpose and vision. Let’s also assume you have a big-picture strategy for how to achieve these things. If that’s not the case, you’re getting ahead of yourself here. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. And don’t even think about talking tactics.

Go back and start at the beginning.

Once you’ve gotten your key leaders together to figure out and document who you are as an organization, where it is you want to go, and how you’re going to get there, you can move on to the next phase: creating a detailed, tactical plan and actually following through with it.

After developing a solid plan outlining your vision and strategies (think of these as your big-picture ideas), it’s time to begin the tactical phase of your planning.

1.) Consult with your inside experts

Share the strategic plan with your team and give key players the opportunity and authority to help determine which tactics to employ for best results. In other words, let them help build the roads that will lead to the ultimate vision.

This should be done collaboratively, but with a level of autonomy and respect for the knowledge of each discipline. Allow them to be the experts, but ultimately answering back to the company vision.

Involving your internal pros in the process will provide much needed insight as to what is possible and achievable— and sometimes what isn’t.

2.) Set your goals

Think of your goals as the bright, yellow bricks that will pave your road to success. Have your company and team leaders work together to lay them out clearly, and in a way that makes them easy to follow.

Random targets and objectives that pull you in a million different directions aren’t going to move you forward. Off to the side, maybe. But not ahead. Your goals should help you transfer your carefully crafted strategy into purposeful action.

To be effective, your goals need to be:

Specific – Want to be a bigger player in the industry? That’s great! But it’s way too vague for strategic planning purposes. Try something like “Expand service into defined Target Market A” instead.

Measurable – Increasing brand awareness may be something you’re very interested in achieving, but again, how will you know when you’ve made it happen? Deciding you want to achieve 10% growth in website visits will make it much easier for you to tell whether or not you’re succeeding.

Realistic – Goals that aren’t actually attainable are sure to get your team fired up. But not in a good way. Increase production by 150%? Do you have the staff, equipment, and financial resources to make that happen? If so, go for it. If not, scale back.

Consistent – If you have one goal to increase sales by 20%, and another goal to decrease your sales support staff by half, the only thing you’re setting yourself up to achieve is supreme disappointment. With a side of decreased morale.

Flexible – Only time will tell if your goals are achievable. No doubt you’ll need to make some adjustments along the way. Being too rigid with your numbers and metrics is a recipe for frustration.

3.) Make it happen

Planning without action is just as bad as action without planning. Even worse, if you take into account all of the wasted time and resources. Creating the plan is a fantastic first step, but if you don’t take the next steps toward implementation, everyone is bound to lose faith. Including you.

Implementation timelines will vary greatly by organization. The process will be largely dependent on your leadership, your sense of urgency, your company culture, and how ambitious your plan is. The important thing is to keep your energy and momentum going so you don’t get stalled.

To keep your implementation phase on track:

  • Make sure leadership takes ownership, leads the charge, and stays engaged.
  • Communicate the vision, plan, and progress clearly and often to everyone on the team. Integrate these things into the daily workings and the very core of the organization.
  • Assess staffing levels and resources to make sure goals and milestones are achievable.
  • Hold leadership and teams accountable to the vision and the plan.
  • Resist getting caught in the weeds. Keep an eye on the big picture.
  • Meet regularly to review progress toward your goals.
  • Be willing to admit when things aren’t working, and flexible enough to change course when needed.
  • Celebrate successes and reward your team for their hard work.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. Fear based management stifles creativity, innovation and success.

A good strategic plan can focus your efforts, motivate your team, and take your business to new heights. A bad strategic plan can be a demoralizing dust collector.

Which one will yours be?

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners 

For more on this topic, check out Is Strategic Planning Really Necessary?The Strategic Planning Process: Wise Investment or Waste of Time?, and/or Hate Strategic planning? Tips to Take Away the Pain.

 

Photo by Ion Chiosea

Word of Mouth Marketing: Are You Giving Them Something to Talk About?

It used to be that marketing consisted of things like TV and radio commercials, billboards, and print ads. And while these things still exist, it’s in a world where countless other marketing tools and outlets are available simultaneously. In this new marketing reality, customers have enormous amounts of information literally at their fingertips.

They also have access to an another extremely powerful sales tool: other people.

Online sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Glassdoor exist for the sole purpose of providing peer-to-peer customer testimonials and feedback. These sites are frequently used by consumers as decision making tools to help them determine everything from what to eat for lunch, to where to buy a car, to which employers are worth pursuing. And they are not taking these reviews lightly.

The power of peer-to-peer marketing

A few quick facts:

  • Consumers read an average of 10 online reviews before feeling able to trust a local business.
  • 57% of consumers will only use a business if it has 4 or more stars.
  • 91% of 18-34-year-old consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Need to make a purchase? It’s very likely your first move is online.

A quick Google search will instantly reveal online reviews, testimonials, and ratings for just about any product, service, or business. Questions thrown out on social channels will instantly result in numerous comments from friends and family who are all-too-willing to share their personal opinions and buying experiences.

But this isn’t just how you operate. It’s how your customers operate as well.

Potential clients are hopping online to research your company website, Facebook page, and professional LinkedIn profile. They are also seeking out sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor, and their own social accounts and then using this feedback to make buying decisions. And all of this is often happening long before they’ve tested your product or interacted with anyone in your organization.

As a business, you can’t ignore this powerful influence your customers have over your business. You must provide a customer experience worth talking about. In a good way.

  • What makes you different?
  • What do you offer that no one else does?
  • What is it about your company that makes people want to recommend you to friends, family, and total strangers on the internet?

In other words, what are you doing to get people talking? And listening?

Customers make the best salespeople

You can sing your own praises all day long, but when it comes down to it, you will never be as effective at marketing your business as your biggest fans are. If you’re not taking advantage of word of mouth marketing, you’re ignoring a huge opportunity for organic growth.

You can have the best website in the world and the perfect marketing plan in place, but if you aren’t inspiring your customers to speak on your behalf, you’re missing out.

Yes, you need a quality marketing team, but you don’t need them to do all of the work. Happy customers will gladly take on some of that heavy lifting. All you have to do is give them an amazing experience— and one that they want to share.

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

Photo by gpointstudio

 

Why Getting Rid of Your Annual Reviews Won’t Work

You want to get rid of your annual performance reviews— and rightfully so. Nobody looks forward to those stressful, once-a-year meetings.

But simply getting rid of annual reviews isn’t a good idea. You’ve got to replace them with something better.

The “good” old days

The annual review process is clunky and antiquated, harkening back to the days when job security was the norm, employers and employees were happy sticking together for the long haul, and regular raises were pretty much a given. (Two martini lunches may have also been a thing.)

In this Mad Men environment, stability and consistency were the names of the game. Getting together once per year to review standard processes in a standard format was standard fare. Meeting annually to document last year’s performance and this year’s raise was generally seen as good enough.

But times have changed.

The workforce is much more dynamic and diverse. Business and technology are rapidly evolving and changing. Processes change. Consumer expectations change. Employer/employee expectations change. Technology and markets change. And, perhaps most importantly, employees are more mobile than ever.

If you wait an entire year to discuss employee performance, processes, metrics, needs and expectations, you will be having two completely different conversations. If that person is still on staff.

In the current business environment, stability and consistency can lead to a slow and painful death.

An inefficient model

Let’s think about things we do once a year, shall we?

  • File taxes
  • Cook a turkey
  • Try not to forget Valentine’s Day

Sure, you may be pretty good at some of these things. But imagine how much better you’d be at them if you did them more regularly. Chances are these skills would begin to come naturally and these occasions would be much more pleasant for everyone.

Let’s face it. You’re not going to be great at something you only do once a year, which is all the more reason to ditch the annual review process, right? But simply getting rid of it isn’t a good answer. Moving from awkward, inefficient feedback to no feedback won’t solve your two basic problems.

1. Both you and your employees need to talk about what’s working and what isn’t.

Employers need a workforce that can deliver results, and employees need to be clear about what those results are and how to best achieve them.

You can replace the annual review with a system for delivering timely, relevant feedback on a regular basis. Doing so will make performance management much more effective and much less stressful and intimidating. This is definitely a step in the right direction. It may even be the magic fix on the employer end of the equation.

But there’s a second piece to the performance puzzle that can’t be ignored.

2. Employees don’t just want feedback and kudos. They need to feel valued and appreciated.

Which means you need a plan to address career paths and, more importantly, compensation.

If you want your employees to stick around, they have to be able to see a future for themselves in your organization. Having weekly or monthly check in meetings with employees is great! And it would make sense not to talk about compensation during each of these sessions, because that would be serious overkill. But if you take compensation out of your feedback loop and just never bring it up, you’re asking for trouble.  

Like it or not, your employees expect to be recognized, not just with praise and accolades, but with raises. Sure, they may also want new titles, responsibilities, and promotions. But without an increase in compensation, all you’re doing is rewarding high performers with more work. Even if that’s truly not your intent, it’s how your staff will feel.  

Talking about compensation and pay increases is a natural part of the annual review process. So if you want to ditch the annual review, you’ll need to find a way to work those compensation conversations back into the rotation.

Feedback is great, but it isn’t everything

Creating a culture that doesn’t value employees is a surefire way to kick them out the door. But positive feedback, praise, and heartfelt appreciation won’t necessarily convince them to stay.

Employees associate high performance with increased pay. And many of them think the only way to get a significant bump in compensation is to change jobs and/or companies.

Don’t let this be the accidental message you’re sending your team. As you let go of annual performance reviews, make darn sure to put processes in place that address employee development, career paths, and compensation.

If you don’t, your employees will go looking for these things somewhere else.

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

Photo by  Antonio Guillem

Compliance: It’s Not Just About Avoiding Risk

Some businesses think staying in compliance is all about reducing risk and staying out of trouble. But companies that approach compliance as a way to help achieve their overall business objectives will do far more than avoid fines. They’ll build organizations that produce happy and productive employees, loyal customers, and a healthy bottom line.

The relationship between compliance and culture

For business owners, industry rules and regulations are a fact of life, and they can be used in several different ways:

  • As a threat to keep employers in check
  • As a set of rules to keep employees in check
  • As a helpful tool to make your workplace better, safer, and more pleasant for everyone

Now, which one of these three tactics do you think is going to make your business a more enjoyable place to work? Entice new employees to jump on board? Result in a more engaged and productive team?

Yes, you can control your team with threats and rules, micromanage behaviors with fear-based incentives, and rule with a culture of discipline. Or you can use compliance as a way to help you take care of your people and your business.

What’s your motivation?

Let’s think about some of the various aspects of compliance and approaches you may have taken or witnessed in the past.

Harassment

Is your main goal to avoid expensive litigation? Or is it to create a healthy workplace where everyone feels comfortable and respected?

Discrimination

Are you following EEO practices because you’re afraid of being sued? Or are you committed to fostering a diverse workforce with a variety of talents, viewpoints, and experiences?

Payroll

Are you paranoid about compliance because a screw up will cost you back pay plus any added fines and penalties? Or do you value your employees and want to make sure they feel appreciated and get paid correctly?

Benefits

Are you offering health insurance, sick time, and leave options because the law says you have to? Or do you want to invest in keeping your employees happy, healthy, and productive?

Privacy

Do you worry about data security because breaches are expensive and there are fines for releasing confidential information? Or do you truly care about your employees as people and want to protect them and their families?

Licensing

Do you require your staff to have proper qualifications because you don’t want to pay fines or be shut down? Or is it because you want to give your employees the tools they need to succeed and your customers the best service possible?

Safety

Are you checking the OSHA boxes because you’re terrified of the cost of a fine or accident? Or are you genuinely committed to making sure everyone on staff makes it home safely after their shift?

How you view compliance matters

The approach you take to compliance says a lot about the approach you take to running your business and taking care of your employees. If you’ve been looking at compliance as nothing more than a rigid set of rules you have to follow, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.

Short-sighted businesses view compliance as a necessary tool to control staff and protect the organization. But merely wanting to avoid claims isn’t an inspiring motivator.

Innovative, big-picture organizations see compliance as a natural extension of their business philosophy and strategy.

  • They will find opportunities to align their compliance practices with their purpose, values, and vision.
  • They will look beyond the rules to see why they are important and how they can support the things that matter to their employees.
  • They will associate good compliance practices with good business.

These kinds of organizations will also involve their employees in their compliance processes, giving them a sense of ownership and accountability. Engaged staff members can then become happy advocates and active participants in the creation and implementation of policies that create inclusive, safe, and healthy workplaces.

Some companies will continue to look at compliance as a set of boxes to be checked off, and they will technically be meeting their obligations. On the other hand, businesses that choose to embrace compliance as an opportunity to live out their people-focused values are those that will build the best cultures and attract the best talent.

Why not be one of them?

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

Photo by Shopping King Louie

Are Self-assessments a Waste of Everyone’s Time?

Ugh. The dreaded self-assessment! Employees hate filling them out and managers aren’t quite sure what to do with them. Many on both sides will find themselves wondering if employee self-assessments are a useless, redundant activity.

If you’re in the yes camp on this one, it’s understandable. But perhaps you might want to start seeing them (and using them) in a new way.

There are two sides to every story

Employees may be asking themselves, “Why do I have to fill this stupid thing out? It’s my supervisor’s job to review my performance. Not mine.” And yet these same employees may come out of a one-sided performance review wondering if their boss even knows what they do all day.

The truth of the matter is that there are two perspectives going on at any given time. And unless workplace communication is interactive, clear, and happening on a regular basis, those two perspectives may not cross paths much. This is where a self-assessment can come in handy.

Upsides for employers

Alignment: Having your employees do self-assessments gives you a window into how they view their role, their priorities, their performance, and their strengths and weaknesses. If your team’s perspective doesn’t match what you’re seeing or what you expect, now you have an opportunity to talk about it and to create a plan to bring everyone to the same page. If your respective visions aren’t in alignment, that’s a problem. And one you may never hear about without this simple exercise.

Insight: Most leaders are responsible for more than just one person. In some cases, significantly more. Chances are you don’t have time to keep track of each of your reports’ actions and activities on a regular basis. Failures you will likely hear about, because they often interfere with progress. But every day successes can often slip by unnoticed.

Empowering your employees to track their own progress and results not only requires them to be more aware of and accountable for their progress, it also gives you additional insight and details. For even more impact, make sure your assessment encourages honest feedback on the challenges of the position. This will and alert you to specific issues that may be holding your team back.

Focus: A well done self-assessment won’t look like a freestyle diary entry. It will be a tailored questionnaire designed to track employee progress, successes, and challenges. To maximize the value of the exercise, you’ll want to create a self-assessment that addresses goals, priorities, processes, results, training, and career development. Give your employees enough time to thoughtfully fill out their assessments and turn them in well in advance of your meeting. This will help bring focus and structure to your performance management process.

Benefits for employees

The self-assessment process may seem uncomfortable for many. But evaluating yourself in the context of your work can have some positive upsides.

Establishing your worth: It’s easy to get caught up in the busy day to day of simply “doing your job.” If someone were to ask you spontaneously at the end of the day/week/month/year what you accomplished during that time period, you might just draw a complete blank. But filling out a self-assessment requires you to carefully review what you’ve been working on and what you’ve accomplished.

You may be pleasantly surprised at just how much you contributed to your team and your organization. Not only does this build confidence, it allows you to articulate your value and advocate for your future career path— at your current or future employer.

Creating a record: Not all supervisors are good about providing proper feedback and reviews. Proactively conducting a self-assessment will create a record of your performance, and a paper trail to back it up. If your boss is a fan of pushing off formal reviews or not doing them at all, a self-assessment can be a great way to bring up the subjects you want to discuss in another forum or with another manager or career mentor. Having this record will also help you update your resume if and when the time comes.

Providing perspective: Ideally, you and your manager will be on the same page about your job description, expectations, goals, and processes. But that’s not always the case. Taking the time to document your understanding of your role in the organization, what tasks and results are most critical, the key challenges you face, and how you see your position evolving can be enlightening not just for you, but for leadership as well.

Your experience and knowledge of the position puts you in a unique spot to offer constructive feedback and ideas. They key word here is constructive. If you decide to use your self-assessment as a vehicle to list off all of your complaints, it’s not going to serve you well. But if you use it to confirm, clarify, and develop your role, both you and your manager can benefit greatly.

What are you waiting for?

If you’re an employer, create an employee self-assessment system and start putting it to good use. If you’re an employee, stop dreading filling yours out! Instead, treat it like a helpful advocacy and communication tool it was meant to be.

 

Content provided by
Q4iNetwork and partners

Photo by WAYHOME studio