Business Strategies: Reaching Your Summit
by Brian Nolan
You're satisfied if you get through the day without too many problems from your customers and employees. You're even happier if there's money left over for you. Then you get up and do it again. So, where's it all going? What do want from your business? Is it serving you or are you serving it? Do you want to grow it? Stabilize it? Grow additional leaders to ease your burden? Every busy owner has a "summit," a far-off peak that they dream of reaching — an idea about what they would really like their business to be doing for them and others. To some, it's but a dream. To others, who plan and communicate it relentlessly, it can become a reality.
As a business leader, your primary objective is to see through the fog and identify where you want your company to go. I like to use a vision point that is three years away. It's a time frame that's within reach. Your company vision should be specific enough that it guides you towards opportunities that suit it best. Consider including revenue and profit goals, the services you'll be providing, the geographic service area, your organizational structure, the training environment and facility planning.
One of your goals may be to get yourself out of the "hourglass," where all things run through you. I often ask contractors why they want to grow. As the discussion continues, they usually determine that it's because they want to be big enough where the business does not depend on them. They want enough revenue to be able to hire office staff to do the jobs they do now, so they can have more balance in their lives.
Plan annually and update quarterly. The planning process is more important than the plan. This is the perfect time of year to start your 2007 plan.
Develop your mission. Your mission is your company's polarizing force and reason for existence. It usually does not change from year to year. It speaks to what you value, how you want your employees to act and what you want to be recognized for by the community and your customers.
Explore your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (we call this a S.W.O.T analysis). This is both an internal and external assessment of your world. You'll want to work on your weaknesses, be aware of threats and capitalize on your strengths and opportunities.
Identify your annual objectives. Examples include revenue goals, customer satisfaction rates, leads and gross profit.
Develop your strategies — your areas of focus that will drive you to meet your objectives.
Develop your action plan: Your action plan is your "road map" towards the accomplishment of your vision. Review your weaknesses. What projects should you do to improve them? Consider your market profile. What marketing initiatives should you focus on? How will your objectives be realized?
You can only climb to the summit with help from your key employees. Without them on board, you can't accomplish your goals.
I recently read a book called "Leading Change," by John P. Kotter. In the book, Kotter talks about the importance of continually communicating the vision to employees, both in words and deeds and in as many interactions as possible. Change is usually impossible unless most employees are willing to help, often to the point of making short-term sacrifices. Without credible communication, and a lot of it, employees' hearts and minds are never captured. It's not enough to read it once at a company meeting (although that's a start!). The vision must be kept "top of mind" and constantly be incorporated into your communications and decisions.
In starting your ascent to your summit, look to achieve small victories. This will create a feeling of accomplishment in your company and show your employees that you are committed to walking the talk. Focus on one, or maybe only two, projects. Communicate the projects to the company. Explain how they tie into the vision. Plan it, do it and celebrate it. Short-term wins come about through planning, organizing and implementing the plan to make things happen. The point is to make sure that visible results lend credibility to the change effort, which includes creating a focused organization.
Brian Nolan and his brother, Kevin Nolan (Nolan Painting Inc.), are partners in Nolan Consulting Group Inc, a consulting company dedicated to helping contractors implement business systems and reach their summit.