5 Tips for Strategic Planning
As we begin a new year and hopefully find our way out the two-year pandemic time warp, we need to...
You spent countless hours in thought, market research, analysis, and conversations to adopt a brand strategy to make your business or nonprofit a reality. You created a brand strategy that outlines the purpose and vision of who, what, where, and when you want to move your organization from point A to point B, from startup to growth to expansion to acquisition to divestiture. Congratulations! You did it!
Now, how do you make the strategy a reality?
Imagine you are the conductor of an orchestra, which has three sections: strings, wind, and percussion. When they are integrated well, playing in time and tune, the music pleases the soul of all those that play and all those that listen. However, if they are not integrated well, you may get disgruntled musicians that leave the orchestra, and you will be more likely to not sell enough tickets to even break even. The good news is that as a conductor, you are in direct control. You set the stage.
You have three sections of your business that you must conduct, people processes, and data. When all three are integrated well, the organization will move in the desired direction, but, even if only one isn't on the mark, the organization will struggle. Therefore, the success of implementing the strategy depends solely on your commitment to conducting the brand strategy and to the integration of all three segments, people, processes, and data.
Let's continue to use the analogy of an orchestra. An orchestra is a group or team of people that are singularly focused on an objective, creating music that people want to listen to. As a business, you are a group or team of people that are singularly focused on satisfying your customers and acquiring new ones. There are multiple dimensions to individuals, but a group or team of individuals propagates a unifying culture, which is hopefully to serve your customers. Without customers, there is no business. The good news is that you can define, manage, and build your culture, which is your brand. However, the bad news is that if you don't define, manage, and build your culture/brand, it will be defined by those who are typically the loudest, disgruntled employees and customers.
Is the culture of your business focused appropriately? Are there any issues that need to be addressed? Are your employees clear on what they can do to support your customers and are their interactions reflecting that? Are your employees engaged with and supportive of delivering quality to your customers? Are incentives set appropriately to encourage superior customer support?
At the end of the day, your employees are the principal interface to your customers and prospects. They are your front line. While it may sound trite, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and, today, maintaining that first impression takes consistent effort. Why? One negative review on the multiplicity of forums, social media channels, etc. can take down all the goodwill developed over time in a single set of keystrokes. Customers need to know that they come first and that service is the focus of your business.
Therefore, people, which includes employees, suppliers, and vendors, have implicit and explicit abilities to characterize your business. Customers will leverage all the information they can acquire to make decisions about your business. Make sure that the culture/brand you create reaffirms the real value of customers to your business.
These questions and a myriad of other questions will face you and your employees every day. Customers want to self-serve themselves with information on the interactions with your organization, and they do not want to be dependent on phone or email communications to get information. The reality is that your processes have to reflect your brand/culture/why of your organization because your brand/culture/why is your promise to your customer.
Within your organization, there are processes that have been defined, evolved, or are of the "tribal knowledge" variety that move information from the customer request back to the customer. Those processes enable your employees to provide service to customer requests. Those processes can be efficient and optimized, or they can inhibit quality service to customers.
As businesses grow, the expansion of staff to do what, in the beginning, was done part-time or by a single person presents challenges in knowledge transfer. Processes that were done by a single person do not necessarily scale or operate correctly, if at all when more than one person is now involved.
As most organizations grow, they don't pay attention to the back-office operations nor do they correlate these operations to the delivery of quality services to customers. Typically, the operations are not viewed to be revenue-producing and thus are pushed to the side when investments are being decided. However, these operations are costly, and in the scheme of things, a $1 savings in cost typically reduces the equivalent revenue need by $10.
It's fair to assume that we have all interacted with Amazon. Like it or not, Amazon has set an expectation for B2B and B2C interactions, not just products, between two parties. Order status, payments, credits, discounts, etc. are all readily available in My Account. Delivery status for products and services along with the images of the delivered goods are available, as well. (I think I just got notified by Alexa and email that my order from yesterday just arrived at my front door.)
To see the effect that Amazon has had on business interactions consider the following exemplars:
We have all taken advantage of these services, and when we turn to a business for a service to be provided to us, we all subconsciously expect similar information about our acquisition. (Thank you, Amazon!)
The key to these services being provided and providing as accurate a picture as possible to customers are the processes established within the organization, which utilize internal and external information. Customers may not articulate this desire, but they have come to expect it.
What are our employees working with when they are working with efficient processes? Data.
From demand to supply and in between, data provides the necessary information to calculate rates, performance, accomplishments, misses, shortfalls, etc. Best practices define key performance indicators (KPIs) and the dashboard type statistics that measure within a domain. The domains are:
In each domain, the KPIs are meant to be the equivalent of the dash panel in your car, which provides a quick look assessment of the operation of your car. Each of the KPIs is made up of measures (the actual data that are collected) and metrics (the formula to translate data into information). Without these measurements how would you know how the business is performing, especially in today's fast-paced environment?
Synergy is critical.
Again, let's envision the business as an orchestra with three segments, strings, wind, and percussion. Without balance and synergy between the three segments, the orchestra will not play the music that pleases the soul, in other words, the essence of the business.
People without processes mean inconsistent interactions with customers since each person will interact differently without the rule book.
People without data means there is no measure of performance, it will be totally subjective. Externally, that means the customers challenge everything since they have been provided nothing.
Process without data means that the processes cannot be measured and/or improved. Worse, processes cannot even be determined to be necessary.
So, to keep the orchestra playing beautiful music, the three segments of the orchestra need to be in balance and synergized. And this is not a one-time event. The measurement needs to be continuous. As the business grows, so do the people, processes, and data.