I hear it all the time: “When we were a start-up, everyone on the team went beyond their job and made sure we were successful as a business. It’s why we made it to where we are. But now that we’ve become a Second Stage company, most of our new hires aren’t that way – they’re just doing their job. It is so frustrating.”
There can be several reasons why this happens – you may not be managing your hiring process effectively, or you may need to manage your staff’s performance better. And your compensation program is probably broken.
But it’s your strategic planning that provides an important foundation for all of those other operational issues to be solved, and to have employees act like owners in your small business.
In Stage 1, the CEO has the unique responsibility and ability to provide the vision for the business, and is able to quickly make the strategic “judgment calls” that make a business successful during start-up.
In Stage 2, though, it’s the team – the company as a whole – that needs to create the vision for where the business is going, and it’s the Second Stage CEO’s job to lead the team in creating that vision. The CEO should ask great questions, and let the team come to the answers.
I worked last year with a company that had been struggling for several years to get employees to take ownership. They had created a vision for the future, and told the rest of the team, and the team had never “made it their own.”
I worked with the team to create a vision. The CEO played a strong leadership role in that process, providing perspective but not answers. The vision was 95% what the CEO had in his mind, but it was now the team’s vision, not his own, and the company was able to use that foundation to grow the business and reduce operational and inter-personal headaches.
So, if you want to have employees act like owners, ask strategic questions, and guide them in answering them. That’s why we’ve set up our Stage 2 Insight management training program and free Stage 2 Secrets teleseminars for the whole team to participate – for them to take ownership, they need to understand the issues.
In a recent post, Jay Goltz wrote on his New York Times small business blog, “If you are quick to say ‘everyone makes mistakes’ without analyzing whether a particular mistake could have been avoided, you are sure to have plenty of them. “
I talked about the form of strategic planning for your small business in my last post. Let’s take a look at one part of the content of that planning here.
When I get my clients into a planning rhythm, then most of those strategy meetings can start to have the same general agenda. And I like that agenda to start with a look back.
The look back accomplishes several things that are useful to setting the stage for looking ahead. It celebrates successes in areas that should get continued attention (the good parts of the business). It identifies areas that are getting attention because of problems (the bad parts of the business). And it captures learning so the whole leadership team can benefit from converting mistakes into wisdom.
As Goltz says, analyzing mistakes is important to future success, and your Stage 2 business should be including look back in your strategic planning meetings.
We look at the agenda for strategic planning meetings in more detail in our free Stage 2 Secrets educational teleseminar on planning.
Most Second Stage small businesses have a planning process, but there are often 2 problems with them: the planning cycle is incomplete, and the preparation is incomplete. Let’s look at that second problem some more.
Because leaders are so busy, there’s a natural desire to have strategic planning take as little time as possible. Unfortunately, though, you have to have preparation in order to be strategic. You will not get strategic-level thinking or discussions from your Stage 2 leadership team if you expect people to be working at their job until 9:29, step into the leadership meeting at 9:30 and be strategic, and then go back to fighting fires at 11:00.
So, how do you make your strategic planning process more strategic?
Don’t use a “spike” model for your meetings, where there’s little or no preparation structured to occur before the meeting, and little or no follow-through structured to occur after the meeting. Instead, use a “wave” model, where you build up to the meeting with preparation, and then wind down from the meeting with follow-up.
You’ll find that your conversations get considerably more productive, and there’s better follow-through, when you use the wave model for strategic planning in your Second Stage business.
We’ll talk more about planning in our free Stage 2 Secrets educational teleseminar.
I recently published a CEO briefing on strategic planning. In it, I offer seven questions that a CEO should ask to see if the company’s planning effort is meeting its potential. The question I’ll consider here is, which of those seven questions is most important today.
Before I give my answer, I’ll say that they’re all useful, and most are important. But, just as a good planning process needs to prioritize, and can’t deem every initiative highest importance, some aspects of “strategic planning design” are more important today than others.