Most successful entrepreneurs and all of our clients use the last quarter of the year to polish their strategy. That way, they can start the new year at full speed.
We have decades of experience coaching leaders through this exercise. There’s one bit of pre-work that can help you ground this critical planning in reality. It can also help you come up with strategies that will drive your business well beyond “realistic” forecasts.
It relies on fundamentals, and because of that we should acknowledge an anxiety that a lot of leaders have expressed to us this year. The business environment is changing incredibly fast. Many worry that if their strategy doesn’t somehow involve the Internet of Things, Big Data, or some other futuristic technology, then they’re not being creative enough. Certainly, tracking those things is important.
You might choose your vendors based upon their capabilities in those areas. But for most businesses, strategies will not pivot on acquiring those capabilities in the immediate future.
What really matters is the fact that you’re strategizing at all. That puts you in the elite. And a clear, strong strategy will make it more likely that you’ll be the one who profits from technologies when they arrive in your industry. A good strategy gives you that kind of power — especially if you’re strong on the fundamentals.
HBR explains that strategic planning starts with “developing an integrated view of the workings of your business and how it creates and captures value.”
Understanding your value is critical to everyone on your staff. And the best way to really get to the heart of how you create value is to tell stories.
Value Starts With People
Creating value is the essence of capitalism, and the more clearly you and your team understand how you add value, the more successful you’ll be. So, before your strategic planning retreat, talk to the people in your organization who work with your customers. They’re the ones who witness the creation of value. They know more about it than you might expect – and probably a lot more than they think they do themselves.
Storytelling can encourage your team to give you strategic insights. But for that to happen, the storytelling has to follow a certain pattern. If you ask your team about about customers in general, or, worse, about “customer service,” you’ll get all the usual complaints and jokes.
Since you want to find out how your company delivers value, you’ve got to guide the conversation to a deeper level. That means you go first, and frame the discussion.
For example, let’s say you own a few restaurants. And, one day, you watched a mother come in with three small children. She headed straight for the patio. There was an open table. It was clean. But by the time she got her two year old out of the stroller and buckled into a child’s seat, her five year old had discovered that it was possible to climb behind the bamboo by the fence. By the time she coaxed him back to the table, her infant woke up and, not seeing her mom immediately, began crying. While she gets the infant out of her carrier, both of her other kids start competing for her attention. The five year old was loudest, and was now hungry. The two year old tries to be louder, or at least more energetic. Mom was trying to calm all three of them when the waitress walked up.
She gave the mother a big smile. She gave the five year old crayons and one of the company’s coloring sheets. She put a bowl of soup crackers on the table, and gave a couple to the two year old, who gazed up at her as though he had fallen in love. By then, the mother had quieted the infant.
When you tell a story like that, it reframes the employee’s understanding of work.
Now ask, "How did the company create value for that customer?"
It’s not just about wiping down the tables. It’s not just about how long it takes a waitress to get to a customer, or what she brings to them first. It’s about the way she treats them. Its about caring for children. Making moms feel safe. And, above all else, making guests feel welcome so they bring back friends and make recommendations.
Start with a story like that. It changes your team’s frame of reference. It puts their job in a much bigger context. The customer transforms from being a task to being a human being. This makes it easier to understand how the business creates value.
From there, go for the gold. Find out what’s really going on in your market. Ask your team:
- What does the customer really want?
- What do they not need?
- What satisfies them?
- What annoys them?
- How can we create more value for them?
With those answers in hand, you can make your year-end strategic retreat a thousand times more strategic. It’s the fundamentals that matter, and the leaders who win are the ones who listen.
RESULTS clients should register for their Fourth Quarterly Strategic Review Now:
December 4, 11:00 AM - 5:00 PM NZT – Register Now
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