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Kenneth W. Keller: Creating your business action plan

Posted: January 27, 2009 9:14 p.m.
Updated: January 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.
There is tremendous uncertainty among business owners these days. The confidence of many is shattered and for many others, it is wavering, on the verge of being broken.

Most businesses can set aside their strategic plans and hold off on strategic planning. Right now, making sure that things get done, and get done well on a daily basis, will make the difference between success and failure for the immediate future.

Before having a long-term plan meant ownership was confident enough about the future to be able to dream and thoughtfully consider the future. Now, for many survival is the plan.

It's the difference between creating a plan between seasons that says the goal of the team is to win the Super Bowl and being in a third down and 35 yards to go with time running out in the fourth quarter of the game. If the team doesn't get the first down it won't matter what the plan was. The team has to execute when it matters - forget about the Super Bowl.

Talking in the office about the latest economic news - whether it be layoffs, downsizings, store closings or businesses closing their doors - does nothing but get people off focus of what they need to be doing to make sure that the business that currently employs them stays in business.

The role of management during times like this is to acknowledge that people are losing their jobs, but stress the importance of every employee staying focused on doing their job to the satisfaction of the client (internal or external). Everyone can improve, and even slight improvements can make tremendous differences in results.

One way to keep people focused on the task at hand, is to make sure they are busy doing work that matters. It might work to the advantage of everyone in the organization to be too busy, that way they will stay focused on what needs to get done and not spend the time worrying about things they can't control.

People work well and stay focused when shorter time spans are used. Six months is better than a year, because a year seems to be a long time. Even better would be a zero day or three-month planning and execution cycle so that people can grasp what needs to be done, can do it and be held accountable in a relatively short period of time.

When tough times hit, people need to have the perception that progress is being made. Planning and executing in a 90-day cycle is the difference between a college on the quarter system, versus the semester system. In the quarter system, the course work is covered fast and furious, with the perception that the deadlines are always near. In a semester system, while more course work is assigned, there seems to be a more leisurely pace about things. The quarter system likely engages students much faster and keeps them focused.

As leaders, the following are excellent questions to consider when determining "how will we survive?" or "how can we turn things around?" or "what can we do in order to take advantage of these times?"

What is our definition of winning for the next 90 days?

What is our 90 day plan for client retention?

What is our 90 day plan for new client acquisition?

What is our 90 day plan for current client penetration (selling more products or services to existing clients)?

What are the five biggest challenges facing the company right now?

What are the five most important measurements of success for the company?

How have we as a company performed against these measurements for the past 3 years?

What are the most important external factors likely to affect our firm in the next three months? The next six months? The next year?

What have we done about addressing these external factors?

Do we know what our clients want from our products or services? When was the last time we surveyed our clients?
What are our greatest opportunities in the next 90 days?
What are our top ten advantages our firm has over our competition? What are we doing to promote these significant differences?

What advantages does the competition have over our firm? What can we do to neutralize them?

What advantages does the competition have that are most important to long term success?

What are our people worried about? What have we done about these things? What can we do about these things? What should we do about these things? What shouldn't we do about these things?

Now is the time to start creating an action plan that gets your organization focused on winning over the next 90 days. You will be amazed how quickly people will get motivated, focused and working on their goals.

Keller is President of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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