A lot of entrepreneurs think about strategic planning around this time of year, which is great, because the exercise has never been more important than it is now. In the recent past, you could go for years without changing your business much, and still make payroll. In fact, the heroic entrepreneur was often the guy who kept doing the same thing, really well, for years on end.
That’s just simply not the case any more. Today, new innovations are causing massive disruption in practically every industry, and the nature of demand in just about every market is changing even faster. Either Uber will come along and eat your lunch, or the buyer will abruptly decide they no longer want what you’re selling.
There’s only one way to protect yourself, and that’s through strategic planning. But what a lot of entrepreneurs don’t realize, until it’s too late, is that they never really think about strategy at all. They think about goals and targets and marketing schemes, but not actual strategy. And in a world with less innovation and change, they could get away with it. No more.
Confusing strategic planning with goal setting causes two things to go wrong. First, you end up refining your existing processes rather than innovating the next ones. Without true strategic thinking, you inevitably assume that the world will remain the same. Even if you don’t realize that you’re making that assumption, you are. And so you refine your business as it is, rather than imagine what it could be. Second, without true strategic thinking, you set yourself up for a crisis in confidence that can have a devastating impact upon your corporate culture and your bottom line.
Real strategic planning protects you from both. And there’s only one way to get into a real strategic thought process that will produce a true strategic plan.
Heroism Becomes Hubris
Entrepreneurs build things out of nothing, and so it’s very difficult for most of them to accept the notion that they’re not prepared for the unknown. They solve crisis every day. There’s nothing they can’t handle.
That attitude stays with people at every level of monetary success, and it can be crippling. In 1999, to give you a famous example, internet search was dominated by Yahoo!, with fierce competition from the #2 player, Excite (now ask.com). Back then, the whole point behind offering search was to attract people to your website and to engage them with content and ads while they were there. They called it “stickiness,” and the more “sticky” your site was, the better. Search attracted people; the quality of your site kept them.
That was the year that an utterly unknown startup, Google, was looking for funding. They approached the same venture capitalists behind Excite, and in no time Excite had the opportunity to purchase Google for USD$750,000. Excite’s executives were curious, but not convinced. They held a “bake off,” the Silicon Valley term for comparing two software applications. There’s more than one story about what happened next, but for our purposes, the bake off produced unequivocal results. The first search they did was for the word “internet.” On Excite, the top results were in Chinese. Literally. Chinese characters, with the word “internet” in English here and there. The top results on Google were definitions of the word and current articles about the internet’s development, all in English.
Excite, believing that its strategic objective was to increase stickiness, had no use for Google. Google produced exactly the results that the customer wanted, which meant that as soon as they finished the search they would click on the link and be gone. That’s the opposite of sticky. People wouldn’t stay on the site but for an instant. Excite passed, and the rest is history.
Entrepreneurs across practically all industries are in the exact same position today. It’s really easy to think that the only answer you need is “sticky,” when in fact “sticky” should have nothing to do with your future.
It’s entirely possible to gaze into the future better than Excite did, and here’s why you have to: you can’t fake confidence in your strategic plan and expect to get away with it in today’s world. Bluster used to work. But Millennials and post-recession employees in general are exceedingly sensitive to that sort of thing, and if you’re trying to bluster something that’s not there, they’ll know. In fact, it will take them only one twentieth of a second to figure it out. They won’t quit in the next twentieth of a second. Instead, they’ll just disengage and look for another job a leisurely pace. They’ll keep cranking the “sticky” wheel for you, but all the time they’ll be looking out the door for a company with vision. It costs you a fortune, especially in opportunity.
Fortunately, the opposite is also true. If they believe that you’ve done your homework, that your strategy is realistic and that you’re fully aware of the threats your business faces, they’ll pick that up in 1/20 a second, too. Their confidence and buy-in will go through the roof, mirroring yours.
To get there, you have to have a real strategic plan. A real one requires real work, and by the time you’re done, you’ll be perfectly confident that you’ve set your company on the right path for short, mid, and long term success. Your employees will feel it. If they help you, they’ll own it. If they own it, your customers will feel it, too. To make that happen, you need to know what a real strategic plan looks like, and to help you, we provide the best software application on the planet. We give it away for free, in fact, because we know how fundamental it is, and we care about all entrepreneurs, not just our customers.
But software is not enough. Even the extensive videos and support material we provide for free aren’t enough. Ultimately, you need a person to draw you through the whole process. Every time you want to lay back and say “sticky,” you need someone who will ask you “then what?” You need to be challenged. It’s human nature. We include this with every RESULTS.com license, too, in the form of quarterly sessions, but you can experience just this part if you want to.
Now is the time. Confidence in your strategic direction has never been more important to your survival. Become a leader who has it — for real — and the future is yours.