Being a small business owner seems equal parts exhilaration and frustration. If you’ve just hung out your shingle as a start-up, congratulations! You just assumed responsibility for absolutely everything. If, instead, your firm has matured a bit to hire employees, the prism turns but the responsibilities are just as daunting.
When asked about their strategy development processes, we often hear prospective clients of both worlds utter variations of one of two refrains:
- “Strategy?!? I don’t have time for strategy! I’m barely keeping my head above water getting this thing going.”
- “Strategy? I don’t need a strategy. Big companies might need a strategy, but I know what I’m selling and who I’m selling it to.”
Unfortunately, each notion misses not only what strategy is, but how strategy is essential to all the other aspects of a successful enterprise.
Simply stated, strategy is the long-term synchronization of ends (the essence of what an organization seeks to achieve), ways (the methods that an organization has at its disposal), and means (the resources to be committed) while identifying and mitigating risk. A strategy doesn’t need to be elaborate or excessively detailed. We have seen excellent strategies that are one-page documents. It is the thinking behind the strategy that is essential. Especially for small businesses, it’s taking this “thinking step” and codifying the results that will set you apart from your competitors. The key is not quantity, but quality and operationalizing the strategy.
Strategy and planning provide the prioritization and risk mitigation necessary to make other business efforts effective and efficient. Strategy returns to the small business owner the one irreplaceable resource – time. Moreover, good strategy provides far more probability that your big bets will be the right bets, and that you’ll fold a bad bet before it becomes an all-in loss.
First, the strategy development process demands developing a comprehensive view. Entrepreneurs and small organizations may be sitting on the next-gen equivalent of an Amazon or iTunes. However, if they haven’t taken the opportunity to survey the entire environment, these same savants risk missing decisive obstacles and opportunities. It’s a danger for small and large companies alike.
Hand in hand with a comprehensive view are the benefits of perspective and prioritization that come from good strategy development. Too often in today’s shiny-bauble world, the urgent is confused with the important. While some urgent factors are also important, it is unlikely that the urgent is always the important. Therefore, decision-makers require strategic perspective to prioritize factors’ relative importance. Leaders and managers need to be conscious of what will not be done and how risks will be mitigated. Without strategic planning’s comprehensive view and perspective, prioritization becomes more of a game of Whack-a-Mole than conscious decision-making.
It is important to reinforce why strategy is essential for all organizations. Unfortunately, it doesn’t answer the question of how to make time for strategy. For that answer, the following guidelines can turn the tide in favor of making and protecting time for your small business:
- If you lead, they will follow
- Time discipline begets time discipline
- Learn to fish
- Audits don’t only apply to finances
If You Lead, They Will Follow
The military aphorism, “Lead by example!” rings true. Regardless of the size of your organization, subordinates will derive their sense of strategy’s importance from their observations of strategy’s importance to you. Are you demanding the comprehensive view, or are you operating behind urgency’s blinders? Are you rigorously prioritizing? Have you incorporated planning processes that are implemented across the organization? Succumbing to urgency’s blinders, a lack of prioritizing, and a lack of planning are hallmarks of executives who are not leading effectively and are wasting their organizations’ time. Fortunately, leadership – and, by extension, time management – can be improved. If you have been thrust into the leader’s role, leadership development is a core competency of So Little Pains consultants, who have spent decades building and leading organizations. Even if you are new to leading, we can help you build the critical skills for success.
Time Discipline Begets Time Discipline
The Grim Reaper stalks men and organizations alike. Time is the one resource that can’t be recouped, thereby making it the most precious of all commodities. Money can be earned and lost, and human capital can be hired or trained. The timeline, however, travels in only one direction. By beginning now to rigorously protect and prioritize time, leaders set the conditions that make strategic education and strategy development possible. Planning and execution policies and processes are good initial steps for protecting and prioritizing time. More importantly, leaders need to make effective time management a cultural norm within their organizations. In fact, I argue that before an organization develops a modicum of time discipline, strategy development efforts will be wasted.
Learn to Fish
Strategy development is hard. It requires more than simply reading the most recent issue of Harvard Business Review or delving into Michael Porter’s wisdom. However, having a comprehensive strategy that consistently guides a company is likely the biggest time saving step most organizations can take. Just as I have no shame in hiring an expert to run my firm’s accounting, organizations should not be afraid to partner with outside experts for strategy development. The key is to partner with firms that will help you build your organization’s strategy development capabilities. If you are a leader, you should invest in the education necessary to make your organization successful over time. Learn to fish with So Little Pains Consulting, rather than relying on another consultancy to do your fishing (strategy) for you. You’ll be more invested in the outcome, and we will help you build the skills that will drive your firm to dominate in the future – especially since true strategy is never a one-and-done effort.
Audits Don’t Only Apply to Finances
An outside perspective can be invaluable. So Little Pains Consulting’s strategists can provide the missing pieces that take your strategy from good to exceptional. They can provide outside assessments as to whether: (a) the strategy is synchronizing ends, ways, and means while mitigating risk; (b) the strategy is being operationalized throughout the organization; and (c) progress is being made at the right tempo toward your strategic endstate. Such audits will not only benefit the firm’s strategy and planning, but they will provide valuable insights as to where and how time is being mismanaged or might be used more effectively.
If You Don’t Know Where You Want to Go…
Strategy is not only about the where and why, but also the when, what, who, and how. Therefore, prioritizing strategy is essential. Don’t believe it? Don’t take my word for it. Instead, take five minutes to search for Jeff Bezos’ 1997 letter to Amazon’s shareholders – and then see how those principles have endured in the subsequent letters of each and every year. That’s strategy.
Richard Wrona is the Founder and CEO of So Little Pains Consulting, a leadership and strategy development firm that relies on a unique combination of expertise, experience, and education built in the military, the public-sector, and the private-sector. More information is available at https://www.solittlepains.com, or you can contact Richard at email@example.com