The wind in your sales
Recently the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) invited me to help lead them through a strategic planning session for its board of directors.
While running MSM I became very fond of strategic planning. Each year we’d take advantage of the U.S. Thanksgiving slowdown to get away for a few days and plot the future course of our company.
With all this experience I frankly fancied myself as a bit of an expert on the subject. That is until I started my research for the TTSAO project by Googling “strategic planning”.
In a half-second Google returned more than 85 million hits. I plugged the term into Amazon and was blown away to see 300,000 books listed on the subject.
It turns out there are a lot of experts on strategic planning and every one has his own idea about how to approach it, including a lot of really smart people who think the whole process is a total waste of time.
I don’t happen to share the latter sentiment.
I like to think of strategic planning as the keel on the company boat. A good plan helps keep the ship sailing in the right direction regardless of the powerful and ever-shifting winds that try to blow you off course.
During my years at MSM, I learned a lot about how not to conduct a strategic planning session. When it came time to help the committed, passionate folks of the TTSAO navigate these waters, I had valuable experience to draw from.
At MSM, my first lesson in strategic planning was the most painful. That’s when I realized that all our Thanksgiving sessions had nothing to do with planning.
I didn’t really solicit input from employees to find, rank, and prioritize new opportunities for the business. I never drew on their knowledge and experience to find better ways to do things.
Instead, I used my authority as company skipper to tell my shipmates in a roundabout way which route we would take. There was no collaboration and we certainly didn’t build consensus.
A good captain knows the view from the bridge isn’t always the best one. Come to your planning session with an open mind and be ready to listen to those around you.
When a session is over, people will high-five each other like they’ve just won the Americas Cup. They’re ecstatic because the company’s problems are now solved and the yearly bonus is within their grasp.
Think again. Strategic plans fail because of poor or no implementation. Sure, you might know where you want the boat to go, but unless your plan is one you can successfully execute, you’re guaranteed to run aground before you reach your destination.
Rules of Engagement
Set some common sense ground rules before your planning session begins. Let your staff know they can speak their mind with zero consequences the next day at the office. If people are uncomfortable or afraid to be honest they’ll sit around like bobble heads agreeing with everything you say.
Encourage constructive conflict. Debate should be respectful and not personal. When a disagreement happens (and it will) let everyone briefly state their opinion, then quickly vote on the matter. Once the votes are cast make sure the pouters ditch the attitude and keep contributing. Personal agendas will kill any progress you make.
Focus on the Horizon
One lesson I learned at MSM is that an average long-term strategy is better than a series of brilliant one-year plans.
It’s a mistake to start each year with a brand new plan. Instead, focus on what’s working, what isn’t, and why.
Add features to last year’s model that will make your company faster, sleeker, and easier to steer through the Transportation Ocean. Your current plan might be solid but there’s something holding you back. You might be surprised how much faster you can move once you realize you have an anchor in the sand.