Strategy is one of those words that either elicits excitement or dread for entrepreneurs. Either way, it’s also a word that is crucial to the success of any business or organization. Business owners need to clearly define where they want their business to be in the future or others will define that for them.
If strategic planning and direction setting is so important for companies, why is it that 80% of the entrepreneurs I coach do not have a strategic plan or budget in place? There is a simple answer, because it takes dedicated time. We often say, “entrepreneurs are too busy working IN the business instead of working ON the business.” Meaning, they often get so caught up in the day-to-day operations of running the business, they don’t make time to step back and review where they are and where they are going. These are often the times that business owners realize they are heading for a path they didn’t intend to go down, whether it’s losing track of their goals, getting into a market that’s not their niche, or a financial situation that’s not healthy.
I recently came across a 2018 Harvard Business Review article “If Strategy Is So Important, Why Don’t We Make Time for It?,” that piqued my interest as a topic that sounded oddly familiar to my conversations with entrepreneurs.
In the article, they reference several key takeaways that I found relevant for entrepreneurs, or any leader in an organization, to consider as they begin strategic planning.
“First, it’s important to remember that strategic thinking doesn’t necessarily require large amounts of time; it’s not about taking endless sabbaticals or going on leadership retreats.” I love this statement because it’s an absolute misconception that strategy has to take large blocks of time to be effective. It’s not always about the physical time you take to think through strategic goals, but also mentally being present when you are working through the strategy process. You have to be able to drop the running list of things going on in your head and think about where you currently stand and where you want to be. Once you have that clearly defined, it’s a lot easier to put together the steps needed to make that vision a reality.
The second reference they make in the article is about understanding how you spend your time so you can clear your plate to allow for the mental space needed to think “big picture”. Track your time and activities so you can see what you need to be doing vs. what you’re just doing out of habit or need for control. Yep, I said it. What do you NEED to be doing vs. what you are HOLDING on to? If a team member can do the task 80% as well as you can, let it go. Isn’t the point of being an entrepreneur being your own boss and creating the lifestyle you want? How can you take off for a long-weekend in the mountains with the family or that afternoon golf game you envisioned when you started this business, if you don’t build a solid team around you to make the business work without you? This argument is more than just finding the time needed for strategic planning, it’s making sure you are setting the business up for growth, scalability and success in the long-run.
To that point, I also enjoyed the statement in the article that “busy is what happens when you’re at the mercy of someone else’s schedule.” Again, who is running this company? Busyness shouldn’t be considered as a mark of success; it’s actually is the opposite. By creating space for you, as the leader, to work on the business and establish growth goals, you’re also setting the standard and boundaries for how you spend your time. Make sure you spend your time efficiently on the tasks that are moving the business forward and can be leveraged for growth.
As James Clear states in his book Atomic Habits, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.” Strategic planning and quarterly reviews give you the opportunity to make sure your trajectory is on the right path and ultimately heading towards the vision you have for your business. Take the time and create the mental space. You’ll thank yourself later.