Q1: How easy do you find it to make big decisions?
Q2: Do you get to spend enough time on the really important things?
Q3: How clear are you on the future?
In the last three months I have given the same advice on five different occasions. All of the people in question wanted to improve their financial performance. In every case, there were lots of ideas and opportunities, and lots of activity going on, but none of it was turning the dial.
My advice was very simple, even obvious, but as each followed it through, they found it quite powerful. Here's the advice: first decide where you want to be in the future, then focus on a few big things that will take you there.
Sticking to that advice is not as easy as it sounds, but it pays huge dividends. So here is a simple 7-point-plan that will help anyone to position themselves for success.
1. Have a destination. Where do you want to be in a few year's time? Don't just look at where you can make money, look at where you want to be, and then at how you will make money along the way. You can refine it, or change it as you go, that's fine, but right now, let's just get that one thing clear: where do you really, really want to be?
2. Get the right people around you. Who can help you get to your goal, and who will drag you back? Are there people who've been there before that can advise you, and if so, how do you tap into that? Do all the people around you understand and buy into what you want to achieve, and if not, how can you make that the case?
3. Set some goals. What are the measurable things that will be different? These may include financials, but may just as easily include customer recommendations, feedback from others, environmental or even personal goals. The most important thing is to choose just a handful of measures that are central to what you want to achieve.
4. Get focused. Pick just a small number of things (say 6 or less) that will make a big difference. Decide which steps will get you closest to your goals by the simplest and shortest route. Most businesses I see have no shortage of ideas, but many have a shortage of focus. As a result they spend time on things that add very little value, making less headway on the things that are most important to their success.
5. Stay focused. If another, better opportunity comes along, compare it with your list. Don't be afraid to re-prioritise, but first check: Is the new opportunity of greater value than the things on the list already? Does it make it your longer-term goals faster and easier to achieve? And most importantly of all, and here's where many businesses come unstuck, what comes off the list to make space for it?
6. Invest in the plan. Put proper time, resources and accountability behind each of the things on the list, and make sure there's a credible plan behind them. Can you easily see where you are against the plan, what the big challenges are, and what the next steps need to be? It's another reason why the list can't be too big.
7. Manage your progress. Keep your list front of mind and make it the agenda for conversations with the people around you. Make sure you review progress at least monthly so you can pick up on any blockages, put in more focused effort, or adapt the plans accordingly.
Bottom line: Can you articulate, on one piece of paper, what you want yourself or your business to be in two or three years time, and what the big steps are that will get you there? Can you explain, in a few sentences, who will make those changes, and how they will be brought about? Do you know, right now, how they are progressing, and what needs to be done to keep them on track?
If the answer to all three of those questions is "Yes", you've got a pretty good chance of succeeding. If not, you're just as likely to join the ranks of hundreds of good businesses that fail every year because they're not focused on doing the right things.
For more on engaging the strategy with the wider organisation click here.
For specific advice in a turnaround situation click here.