Forget the annual plan, it’s a 90 day plan you’ll need to get through Brexit.
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If you’re running your own business I bet you’re already thinking about 2019 and how to navigate the uncertainty it holds. There is no doubt that economists are forecasting some pretty choppy seas.
You might find yourself thinking that it’s pointless to plan to do anything significant until the dust has settled. However, I’d argue the opposite.
With all the exciting developments in technology, now is a great time to plan for the growth or scale you’ve always dreamed of provided you adopt a more flexible approach to achieving your goals.
The textbooks will tell you to have a three to five year plan, within which you have annual plans that determine specific goals. It’s a methodology that has shaped my career and I’m a big advocate of it. As with anything in life, write down your goals and you are far more likely to achieve them.
However, in my experience, day to day trading can get in the way of delivering real change. There’s no escaping the fact that running a business gets in the way of progress.
As a leader it takes huge effort to step away from the nitty gritty and trust the business will run without you while you turn your attention to greater things.
But I guarantee that if you don’t step back you’ll end up like George who I met last month. He has a brilliant annual plan that articulates his ambition to grow his business. All the market indicators point to it being possible. Yet, despite every effort, growth has alluded him.
It didn’t take long to find the problem. His greatest enemies to success were time and focus.
That is, you can’t get on with delivering the significant changes or ‘rocks’ in a plan, like putting a different distribution model in place, because you are sidetracked by the ‘sand’ of running a business, such as invoices and employment contracts.
Mapping out the future is all about achieving greater things, making a difference and changing the world. That means you need to be bold and brave and tackle the big stuff head on. Failing to do that is an automatic pass to failure.
However, it’s very easy to feel paralysed by the enormity of a one, three or five year plan, which in turn makes it harder to work out what to do first.
So what’s the answer? I believe it’s to take a 90 day approach, following these five-steps:
1. Test the plan
I’m not suggesting you ditch the long-range plan altogether. Far from it. But I am suggesting you make sure it’s the right one to commit to because the next steps will depend on it. There are lots of ways to test it, from discussing it with a business coach or an accountant, to sharing it with trusted stakeholders. Be certain it is the way to go.
2. Define the goals of the first 12 months
If you are sure you have the right plan then you need to define how the business will be operating in 12 months time. How will it be different to today? What are the significant changes you’ll undergo to hit the longer term targets?
3. Determine the first 90 days and agree the ‘rocks’
Ask yourself what absolutely has to happen in the first 90 days for the plan to work. Do you need to appoint an operations manager, do you need to invest in new technology?
When you’ve established what has to happen by the end of the 90 day period, you can then assess what needs to be true for it to happen. Will you to need to restructure the company to accommodate an ops manager, or do you need to apply for a grant to buy or develop new technology? These are the rocks you can focus on.
4. Set a 30 day deadline
With the rocks in place you’re now in a great position to agree what happens immediately to move those rocks.
For instance you might need to appoint a headhunter to find a high calibre ops manager, or to research the best sources of funding and get the application completed and submitted. This helps you get very specific about the things that should be on the to do list day to day.
5. Tell someone
Psychologist Dr Gail Matthews has researched what makes us successful. Writing down goals goes a long way to help, but her research shows that you must also tell someone be that a family member, a business partner, or a coach about your intention.
You are far more likely to make it a reality, and you have someone who will hold you accountable.
There are three things I especially like about this 90 day approach. Firstly it brings focus to the day. The tasks are achievable and can sit alongside the sand of running a business.
Secondly it’s an iterative process so you’ll always be moving towards the next 90 days every 30 days. Overall that means you can’t do anything but meet the long-term goal.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all it provides flexibility. It offers entrepreneurs the ability to make subtle or bigger adjustments during periods of change.
The next few years will be especially difficult to predict as we face into Brexit and see new technologies like AI permeate the working world. This approach lets you react to the market forces before you travel too far down an irreversible path. You can adjust the plan and safeguard your investment.
With this approach anything is possible even in difficult times. It’s now a question of whether we as leaders have the resilience, vision and focus to take advantage of the changes we face.