Now? – Where? – How? – Strategically 3 is a magic number

All good things come in 3’s ….. and so it is with strategy.

 1. NOW? – 2. WHERE? – 3. HOW? - the basic 3 stages to any strategic approach

This is a really simple but effective strategic concept, but the real key to success is to discipline yourself to actually complete each step before starting the next. It’s amazing how many business owners don’t do this. More often, they identify a problem, generate a couple of quick ideas and then move straight into implementation – often almost literally without pausing for breath. Sometimes its better to stop and look back to allow us to move forward faster.

Our approach to business planning

Step 1. Start with drawing a picture of how your business looks today (‘Picture A’). In practice this is achieved by honestly going through a number of steps (or ‘building bricks’):

  • Strengths? – Weaknesses? – Opportunities? – Threats?
  • What do your key customer groups look like (needs and problems)?
  • What is our standard sales (value) message to those customer types?
  • Does the whole team use that standard sales (value) message consistently?
  • What is our most effective method of reaching new customers?
  • What are our standard solutions for typical customer needs?
  • Do we have a standard customer service framework to ensure consistency of delivery?
  • Are our customers consistently delighted – and will they refer us new customers?

The above are just a few of the key questions you should be asking yourself. It really doesn’t take too long – less than a day if you are disciplined and focused – to finish this exercise. You now have a clear picture (‘Picture A’) of what your business looks like today (warts and all).

Step 2. Simplistically, this is just the reverse of Step 1. Basically:

  • ‘Picture A’ is how the business looks now
  • ‘Picture B’ is how you would like the business to look in x years (typically 3 years ahead)

As soon as you have completed both ‘pictures’ you simply compare and contrast the key differences. Those differences are called ‘changes’, or more accurately ‘potential changes’.

That’s because some potential changes are more important than others….. and the truth is that most small businesses do not have the time or resources to tackle more than perhaps 2 or 3 potential changes at any one time.

So the key is to identify, say, 3 ‘strategic thrusts’ that will move us nearer to ‘Picture B’ in the quickest possible time.

Which takes us to Step 3.

The actual details of the particular How? will clearly vary from case to case. But we will usually need to narrow down that list of potential changes to act upon. To do that we can use an action planning matrix that looks like this:

Structure of an action plan

The action plan recognizes that there are 2 key variables to consider when prioritizing actions;

  • Value (strategic etc) of the action – on a scale from low to high
  • Effort involved – again on a scale from low to high

Lets look at each quadrant in turn. The bottom right is the one we really want to avoid (low value and high effort). This is like ‘working on the chain gang’. However the other 3 areas may all have some strategic merit.

Bottom left (low value and low effort) is ‘planting seeds’. While this area may be relatively strategically low, it is often great for team morale to get things moving (perceived action).

Top left (high value and low effort) is like ‘panning for gold’ – when you can achieve this that is great!

Top right (high value and high effort) is like ‘drilling for oil’. The problem is that most business owners don’t have the discipline to ‘drill for oil’, they are far too busy concentrating on the ‘short term stuff’.

There is nothing wrong with working in the short term (in fact it’s vital), but it really should not be 100% of your focus. If you always concentrate on the short term you will never think long term.

One page plan

The really difficult part about doing longer term stuff is that it is ‘never a good day to eat the elephant’ (metaphorically!). The only way to ‘eat the elephant’ is to slice it up and have ‘elephant sandwiches’ (still talking metaphorically!). But that’s a story for another day.

So – a key rule of strategy – think: 1. NOW? – 2. WHERE? – 3. HOW?

Because in strategic terms – 3 is a magic number!