Thursday, July 26, 2012

Business Planning: What horses know that cowboys don't.

I love working with entrepreneurs and start ups for one reason. It is a time of absolute freedom and possibility. Like a horse running free, we stretch our imagination on the open road of what's next. It is exhilarating, exciting, terrifying and rewarding.

When we start a business, we first tend to focus on the product or service that we think we should be delivering. Our focus is on how to make money.  So we put our energy into getting the product into the market and find customers who want to buy it or use the service we are offering.

At the end of the day, that exercise of developing the menu of products, services and prices does not a business make.

The business is made by the way it is constructed - with the vision of a defined future in mind.

I always say that a business should be built in its desired state from the beginning. For example, if you envision centre of well being and wellness, then the business plan must be about what would sustain that centre in its envisioned state as opposed the "here and now".

It needs to tell the story in a progressive and logical manner that begins at the end with the vision, expresses the day to day focus (the mission), the way the participants interact and act (values) and how it stands out in the market place (strategic positioning).

The plan must explain the environment in which the business functions so that risks and opportunities can be identified.  The plan must have goals that focus on the areas that will make the business successful - like its people and culture, focus on clients, business management and financial sustainability. Within each goal, measures are set, risks are identified, objectives are set and strategies formulated.

Plans are road maps that chart the future course and help you to control and manage your money and your message, and inspire your staff, your customers, your suppliers and maybe even your mother.

Some people say the plan is in their head. To that I say, that's great if you don't need anyone else to work it with you.

Others try to run their business cowboy style and hope for the best with no vision, strategy or structure.  That's a bad idea. Failure is imminent because customers, suppliers and employees will revolt, your time and money will begin to work against you, your quality and product will suffer, and then the bottom line crashes.

So before you get on that horse and ride, remember that starting at the end is the only way to begin in order to create a business that has a chance of being successful.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Time travelling on open roads and stubble.

I like open roads, blue skies, the smell of dirt, the feeling of my boots sinking in the dirt after a rain, the smell of a fresh green growth and the crunch of stubble in the fall. 

I have a penchant for white steeples against the blue sky and the sight of an open field takes my breath away every time.  

My inspiration for the endless sky comes from the rural playgrounds of Saskatchewan. From this place called West Bend, Saskatchewan where I spent my summers as a child with my grandparents, my parents and my brother and sister, I learned to think big.

I remember running through the fields of wheat at harvest, chasing chickens, gathering eggs and playing ship on an old hay wagon that sat in the middle of our farm yard. 

To this day, I can't pick up an egg without remembering my grandmother's directions: "slide your hand under the chicken, palm up, then gently turn your hand and take the egg".  

Sadly, some of us never get to see these places as more people have moved into the cities over the years. West Bend, once a bustling town is now very small in population. Nevertheless, these towns and villages are the patchwork of our history that was borne out of hardship, horizons and freedom.

This hankering for freedom has been with me as long as I can remember, which I why I was never very good at jobs that confined me to a desk or a single activity. My work has been about helping business owners, entrepreneurs, founders, corporations and non-profits reach out and touch the future, and write about it so that others could see it too. 

That's why I do strategy. It's all about not only seeing the horizon, but reaching out and touching it. It's about bringing people together to make things happen. It's about asking why, and how. It's about seeing the big picture and making connections and adding new dimensions.  

I would love to plan in an open field.

I do bring the open sky into my planning.  I take my planners into a journey of tomorrow, today.  We stand in the future, and speak about it in the present tense. But we are not dreaming. We are stretching and we are realistic. We talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. The things that work. The things that don't. The things that will be, and what we need to do to make that happen. 

Not only is it an exciting way to move forward, it is the only way to move forward.

My next adventure is to explore the world of community based planning and economic development to work with cities, towns and community based businesses  to find their new horizons.

Gone are the days of secret strategy sessions and closed door meetings.  These days, people are engaged in the decisions that our elected officials and business leaders make.  We want to understand how they got there, why, who was consulted, what they thought and why, what were the options, what was chosen and why.

This is apparent in the stadium announcement at Saturday's Saskatchewan Roughrider Game where we heard we will have a new stadium in Regina by 2017.  Of course we cheered. We love the Saskatchewan Roughriders and we love to watch them play. In fact, most of Canada loves them, so share the love. But getting there was tough slugging. I think our politicians and bureaucrats heard the message loud and clear.

But community based planning is not just for the stadiums and football teams. Community based planning is about creating viable futures that are socially, environmentally and economically responsible and sound.

Strategy is a conversation to be had with the people who have a stake in the future, so it's not meant to hide in a board room. Nor is the point to produce a document that never sees the light of day.

This is about inspiration. Engagement. Possibility. Performance. Alignment. Clarity.  Strategy is an exciting conversation for real people, who really care about the future, and who want to be part of making it happen.  

I am so lucky.  I get to help make those conversations happen. There is nothing like seeing the light of possibility shine when we open our eyes to it and dare to time travel over the open roads and stubble into tomorrow.