SME Strategic Plan Development is not Academic Excercise

They got to know about us through one of our strategy articles. They got impressed by our simple philosophy of creating actionable plans over impressive academic pieces. They called us for a meeting. Unlike many other people who call for our assistance they were not in a crisis. Their business was doing well by many SME standards. They were working hard to achieve their dream turnover of Kshs 100Million in 2013. Although they desired it so much they were still finding themselves being held back by forces they could not explain.

From what they told us we figured out that they were too tactical in their business decisions. We challenged them to have a strategic approach to how they did things. Since they did not have a strategy they asked us to guide them in developing one. A month later we went to Naivasha for a strategic development and planning workshop. The meeting brought together a team including the key sales people, general manager, business development manager, head of sales, sales team leaders and the managing director.

My role was to guide them through the process. I was to help create the right climate for the process to achieve its intended goals.

I assisted in exploring and evaluating growth opportunities; I questioned and challenged various business paradigms that the managers held; I guided in uncovering the factors that held back the organization; and I nudged them to push their imagination beyond what was comfortable. We had a lovely time.

We came up with financial goals that were 300% more than what they were killing themselves to achieve. We could not believe that we had just done that. But at the end of it everyone was dying to get back to work the following week to implement the strategy.

It is 10 months since we came up with the growth strategy and the turnover stands at over Kshs 290 Million. It is clear they will exceed the Kshs 300 million by close of the year. In December we will back in Naivasha to come up with a plan to hit a turnover of Kshs 1 billion in 2014.

This is one of the great stories I have had with organizations we have assisted in developing sales growth strategies.

When I shared this story recently I was asked I was asked various questions about this particular organization and why they were able to excel in a process that many other firms rarely do well in. Here are some of the reasons why they did so well during the development and subsequent execution of it. My role in all these is guidance and facilitation. They did it themselves.

A Bad Culture will devour the Best SME Strategic Plan

Whoever said that culture eats strategy for breakfast was very right. The culture of this firm is one of collaboration, openness and total honesty. One of the rules that I always use in strategy development sessions is , once you share an idea it ceases to be yours. It belongs to the team and the team is free to criticize it, refine it, improve it and discard it if necessary.

This rule is easier made than followed. There are hidden personal and in many cases competing interests behind ideas. People hold back great ideas while others share and push ideas that if taken in their form are destructive. There are interests that are threatened by certain idea . Some ideas are adopted with a hope they will fail while others are forced down people’s throats by those who have power to do so. In such an environment there is minimal trust and therefore dishonesty always prevails. Nothing is more harmful to collaboration and team work that lack of trust.

In this organization that was never the case. Ideas from the MD were discarded while some of the ideas helping the firm fly so high originated from the junior most staff in the group.

People were open enough to address deficiencies in each other’s functions and they were open to ask for criticism and correction that was necessary to get the whole organization develops strategies that will deliver results.

SME Strategic Plan is about Preparation, Preparation and More Preparation

Before the workshop we gave the team workshop preparation exercises that helped them think through what was happening in the organization. The exercise entailed a lot of issues both major and small, macro and micro. Some we the small ordinary day to day issues such as routine daily behaviors like how people dress, how they greet customers, how they answer phones and how they relate with each other in the office etc.

These exercises helped the participants develop a broader view of what the organization needed to do to achieve its full potential. There were questions to do with hidden opportunities and unleveraged assets. The participants’ eyes were opened to business that is lost daily because no one said the right word or did a minor thing to unlock that opportunity. We identified some critical roles that were never handled by anyone because they never killed the business yet they had the potential to open new revenue streams and other growth opportunities.

We questioned certain habits that had been formed since the organization started and how they serve to grow or to hinder in the growth of the business.

By the time we got to Naivasha everyone was raring to dive into the workshop. They had thoughts and ideas that would get the organization grow. Every person in the team participated in the process. This may have been the main reason why there was 100% buy-in to the plan we came up with.

In most situations people are unprepared for the sessiosn. For those who prepare they focus mainly on hard data, forecasts and projections. We looked at the data but, our preparation went far beyond it.

Any analysis of the data may be limited to the assumptions we have on how it needs to interpreted and in many cases it is based on what happened rather than what will happen. Preparation is critical for success.

SME Strategic Plan is not a document

The plan needs to be put on paper. But the document never made a strategy. The document only contains the strategy. Our focus was not whether the strategy made sense on paper but whether it made sense in action. We would rather have the latter than the former.

While we used various strategy models as taught in academic classes those models had to make sense to our business and situation. We asked whether the models matched common sense. If they did not we discarded them and went the business wisdom way.

Whether it was Porters Competitive Forces or the 4Ps of marketing if they don’t fit into  your  business situation don’t force them because they will mislead you.

SME Strategic Plan is Useless without Execution

Any strategic initiative calls for change from how things are being done now. Roles and responsibilities change. Performance metrics change. Reward systems change. Behaviors change. Resource allocations change. Leadership and management priorities change.

Unfortunately very few organizations are bold enough to make these changes. The results are great plans on paper that will either be badly executed or not executed at all.

My client made all these and many other changes. I have not seen a team more committed to make adjustments to implement the strategy.

Every time we met for implementation review what struck me are the essential changes and adjustments are made to execute the strategy.

SME Strategic Plan is not cast on Steel

Every strategy for the future makes certain assumptions which may vary with time. The execution should be adjusted to take care of those changes. Sometimes you need to review and even set aside a whole initiative to accommodate the new business climate.

However, such adjustments should not be out of laziness or to accommodate mediocrity as it often happens. For this organization before you make any adjustments to the actions you are responsible for you need to get clearance from the whole team- even if you are the managing director.

The plan is not a personal commitment it is an organizational one and if you make changes to one aspect it may affect many other aspects of the whole strategy.

If you are working for a plan for 2017 and beyond taking into consideration of what we have talked about, though it is not exhaustive, will improve your chances of getting the results you desire from the plan.

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