Six Tips for Improving Your Strategic Action Planning Success

If you own or lead a successful company, here are six tips for improving your strategic action planning success. Most successful CEOs and business owners agree that having an effective strategic planning process is a major contributor to success, if not the driver of scale and sustainability barring acts of God.

It’s also true that great strategic plans happen with careful consideration. The strategic planning process serves as an essential stepping-stone for your company, allowing you to set priorities, make important decisions regarding investment, and chart long-term plans for growth. Unfortunately, the strategic planning process can quickly devolve into too many actions, too little follow-up, overcomplicated budgets or verbose analyses and presentations – they may have the right jargon, but they lack a plan of action that your company can set in motion. For many companies, strategic plans become little more than wall decorations for the corporate office, or, worse, documents that get lost in the company cloud.

If your company is preparing to delve into strategic planning this season, take a hard look at your current process and whether you’re guilty of the bad habits common in planning for the future. Then, take actionable steps to improve your strategic action planning by following these tips.

Tip #1: Focus on the Issues

This seems like an obvious tip, but the process of creating strategic plans has become so data-driven and formulaic that the root of strategic planning – anticipating the company’s biggest challenges and highlighting trends that will prove integral to the company’s success – has devolved from its original purpose. Financial forecasting and budgets have effectively replaced critical thinking. To bring quality back to the strategic planning process, complement the data and financial information (undoubtedly important aspects of the process) with a focus on the issues.

At the onset, take some time to identify the issue that will have an impact on your future business performance – a so-called SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Rather than throwing numbers on the table, frame your strategic planning sessions in a way that facilitates discussions about the key issues your company faces. Follow those issues with specific actions that align with the direction your company wants to take. By complementing your objective data with open-ended discussion points, your resulting plan will be much more comprehensive.

Tip #2: Define Your Strategic Plan from the Outside

One of the biggest mistakes that companies make when developing their strategic plans is by starting from the inside and working their way out. However, when you start addressing the problem internally, you may only see the closest “symptoms” that are indicative of a larger issue that you need to resolve. On the other hand, by looking at changes in the external environment, you can begin to create the foundation for a successful strategic planning session.

Tip #3: Test What You Know

A strategic plan will, by definition, involve making hypotheses that your company outcomes (increased revenue or a higher return on investment, for example) will rely on taking pre-determined actions. However, one of the biggest mistakes that companies make is supporting hypotheses with secondary research or assumptions.

When creating your overarching strategy, rely on the information you know – such as field tests – to drive your plan forward. When you have proprietary information from which to work from, the C-suite will be more willing to commit resources and time to the initiatives that drive business success. Some companies refer to these field tests as “scouting missions.” By including short, specific “experiments” as part of your strategic plan, your company will be better aligned to fulfill the objectives of the plan for meaningful business growth.

Tip #4: Opt for Clear, Meaningful Language

Anyone who has sat in a strategic planning session is familiar with the jargon and fluffy language that the process can entail. Too often, companies fall into the trap of providing a lot of words without meaningful impact. For example, phrases like “leverage,” “synergy,” “world-class,” and “harvesting efficiency” all communicate one thing: that the team does not have a clear idea what it takes to create a meaningful roadmap to change. Opt for clear language that communicates what it takes to succeed – without obfuscating phrases or jargon.

Tip #5: Avoid Using Templates

Another common appearance in the planning room is the template. When templates function at their best, they encourage strategic planning teams to consider topics such as external markets, performance gaps, and direct competition, while comparing data for each. On the other hand, the nature of using a template – with its rigid, formulaic structure – keeps teams from thinking about innovative ways for growing the business. When the strategic planning team completes the same template each year, it often leads to formulaic responses without addressing the real, dynamic issues that a growing business encounters.

Choosing an open-ended format can take the hum-drum out of your strategic planning and encourage teams to think critically while developing meaningful growth plans. For example, a narrative structure gives your team more room to develop innovative growth strategies that develop into action.

Tip #6: Ask Probing Questions

Another downside of the template is that it can discourage probing discussions or provocative questions; though this is a common mistake that businesses make even in the absence of one. For example, it makes sense that all strategic planning decisions should be data-driven; but certain aspects of the process can also constrain or stilt the conversation. For example, team members may falter when faced with a rigid structure or dense company data, necessitating a moderator who can ask the tough questions. Open-ended, probing discussion points will help enrich thinking and help participants break from the rote mentality. For example:

Tackling the most common mistakes inherent in strategic planning requires revisiting the fundamentals of the process. Take a step back from the formulaic negotiations that result in stolid, rote responses and uninspired roadmaps. Encourage meaningful discussion by asking provocative questions and breaking free of templates, but still use objective data and form a hypothesis based on actual business experience, not secondary sources.

Frame your discussion by taking a holistic view of the issues your company faces, both externally and internally. Use your insights to create a flexible charter that maps out your business goals and objectives. By following these steps, you can effectively improve your strategic planning sessions and create a document that leads to meaningful change, not just a C-suite wall decoration.

Got a question or constructive comment? Thanks for contributing to the community by adding your comment or question below.


Leaders Are Readers Micro-Training Recap: How Michael Gerber Can Help Your Business Prosper

Hello fellow entrepreneur, business owner, or leader. Thanks for visiting my blog and checking out my recent video where I address the following points for your reading convenience.

Video Highlights and Summary

  1. Leaders are readers. There are many benefits to being a reader. Watch my video and subscribe to my YouTube channel if this and my other videos can help you and your people.
  2. The most successful people I know read tons of books. I share the contrasting story of "Steve" and "Dan." These are two of my friends, and one is an exceptional client. Watch the video to see who's richer.
  3. Michael Gerber and his EMyth body of work is a must-read. One of the best ways to learn the power of working "on" your business is to know why working on your business is key to success.
  4. We learn in different ways. Reading is one of the most powerful ways to expand your mind, reach, empathy, compassion, and abilities as a successful leader. We can listen to books, podcasts, videos, and anything that helps us become better leaders and better humans. The journey begins with your commitment to excellence and discipline. That's fuel by your passion, purpose, and desires.
  5. There's no end to learning. Learning, reading, taking notes, and waking up every day to build something bigger than your ego is what great leadership is all about. Reading, learning, and serving is a life-long process.
  6. Everyone is a leader. And we're all in sales. Listen to what I have to say about this by watching my video.

In summary, I encourage everyone I know to read more books, especially business, community, and family leaders.

The writers I know read prolific numbers of books. Same with successful, happy, healthy, wealthy types I know.

I suggest you and your team read or reread Gerber. Do it this week. Share it with your team for sure and create a culture of learning and accountability for high performance.

Never stop learning. Be the best leader you can be.

The companies who foster training, coaching, learning, sharing of knowledge and resources all prosper for a reason - alignment, commitment, accountability.

Enjoy the journey.

I always appreciate your kind, constructive comments, and questions. Thanks to all of you who refer your friends to me.

The Power and Challenge of Change for Business Owners and Leaders

This article is about the changes we choose to make a business owner and leaders. For me, change is essential, but not for the sake of change by itself. A transition is not easy for many people, and if you employ people who challenge or question the changes you make, then it's essential you help your people understand the power of change for the better.

Change can be disruptive for all of us, but if we're not willing as leaders and owners to learn from the data, adapt and change, how long will we remain in business? Last year I took the lead as the managing partner and the leader of Harvey Mackay Academy.

Over the last 12 months, we have had to make some changes in our team, products, and pricing. (You can get a free membership if you visit now.)

  1. For example, we hosted live events we called "Street Smart Summits." We priced the event at $10,000 per person, and we did very well. What we learned is that even though our customers were happy, we needed to make the events more interactive. In other words, we need to change the format of our live "real-world" events to make them even better. We'll change.
  2. We also need to learn the best price points for our new online courses. The best way for you and me to learn as owners and leaders are from the data and feedback we get from customers. We have to measure the results of our ad campaigns, listen to what our customers tell us, and change to make everything better. We'll change.
  3. The last change we're learning to make is how to develop better online training products that give our customers what they want. We have to listen and "test, test, test! Change!

If you own a business, sell, or lead a team, let me ask you ...

Got a comment or question for me? Please leave a comment below because "I'm listening."

This Is How Presidents Obama and Trump Won Elections

Want to know how presidents Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump won their elections? It's simple; digital marketing leadership and transformation that dominated their markets, and achieved the marketing goal - become president of the United States of America.

This article is about how Brad Parscale helped Donald J. Trump win the last presidential election. When it comes to winning a presidential election, the stakes are enormous, and the money invested, incomprehensible. But the fundamentals for driving digital marketing leadership and transformation are the same for every business as it is for politicians, non profits, or any other organization that must compete for attention, engagement, conversions and a win.

What I'm about to reveal deals mostly with the recent Trump announcement about his 2020 intention to run for office again. However, it is fair to say that everything you're about to see is very similar in approach and discipline for the Obama election. You can read more about this The Atlantic article, see why president Obama was viewed as the first president to embrace social media, and use it effectively to win his election.

What triggered my desire to write this article and record the video is a Wired Magazine article written by Issie Lapowski. In case you don't have time or interest to click through and read the article, or watch my video, here are the highlights ...

What can we all learn from this, especially if we own or lead a business?

The only way to build a company effectively, and to win the biggest of elections, is to embrace a digital media transformation from the top down. There are no shortcuts when it comes to making digital marketing work well. We all know how challenging digital marketing can be, especially for emerging companies and professionals who struggle to be effective with digital.

Digital transformation begins with digital leadership. Who's driving your digital marketing bus, and how's that working? If you don't have the right digital marketing leadership in place, maybe it's time to do something about this.

Here's the bottom line, especially for small business America - Invest in disciplined technology and data-driven approach to transforming your digital marketing. This begins with leadership.

Imagine what your organization would look like five years from now if you did what the big dogs do? And if you believe it costs too much to hire a qualified digital marketing leader, how much do you think it's costing you not to have the best digital marketing leadership your money can buy, even if you're never want to be a president.

Got a question or comment about small business success, sales, digital marketing or my opinions in this article? I always appreciate it when you post your comments and questions here on the blog.

To your success.

Why Most Entrepreneurs Stink At Leadership

Sally is a brilliant entrepreneur. So why does she stink at leadership? Well, it's not unusual for many of the best entrepreneurs to stink at leadership. This is a story about one entrepreneur with a big vision and an intensity that scared many who worked with her away.

Have you ever met a brilliant person who couldn't seem to get along well with people? Imagine a super-high energy woman with tons of vision and drive, who seemingly never stops grinding forward to the next goal. Meet Sally, as I'll call her, the quintessential entrepreneur.

I got to work with Sally and her small team several years ago. I'll never forget her relentless, frenzied approach to making sales and marketing work. I share this with you as an example of how to align great entrepreneur talent with leadership skills. It's an honor to work with the Sally's of the world.

The reason Sally had issues producing results was most of the people Sally hired found her too intense and at times, overbearing. As a result, there were only two people on Sally's team who could keep up and keep Sally happy. There was a ton of work that needed to be done and nobody qualified to do it, like run the marketing automation as one example. The bottom line is when I showed up the team needed leadership help.

Leadership Defined

Sally is a great entrepreneur, but not the kind of leader many will follow. Let's look at the definition of a leader, then an entrepreneur, from a literal sense.

See the keywords for a leader?

"Directorship, governance, administration, guidance, direction, management, supervision."

Not Sally.

What happens when Sally hires and aligns with a business leader who can help her close the leadership gaps? Good things, as you're about to see. A move like this can be outsourced, as was the case with Sally, or it can mean hiring a full-time person to lead the team while you be you, the hard-charging, take-no-prisoners entrepreneur.

The Entrepreneur Defined

Now let's look at the definition of an entrepreneur. Please understand that it IS possible for entrepreneurs to possess amazing leadership qualities, but in my direct experience in the small business consulting world, it's not common to have both.

Organizes and operates (wears 9 hats!) the small business herself, "taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so."


Ever meet an entrepreneur who DID NOT who didn't get stuck in "technician" mode, meaning buried in doing all the work; baking the pies, washing the pots, making deliveries, doing the books and more? If there's little or no time, ability and willingness for the true entrepreneur to be an effective leader, they must delegate leadership to someone who will work well with them and the team.

L:eaders tend to work more "on the business" from a strategic and organizational view. Entrepreneurs may be capable of these exhibiting these qualities, but often are so mired in the operational struggles to manage the business there is little time, energy or desire remaining to pull away from the day-to-day grind and refine the vision and plan based on results.

How Do Small Companies Get Big?

Short of luck, company growth happens when great leadership combines with amazingly-entrepreneurial talent in a way that the team aligns, performs and produces a measured result over long periods of time.  The right team of people come together and work hard to follow the vision, mission and plan of their stable, qualified leader.

It's that simple. No way around it. Leaders need to be good at leading. The measure of a great leader is the people who follow him or her. Just look who's following.

Most true, entrepreneurs and small business owners struggle with stable leadership. They also struggle to keep the right people working for them; people who can get the detail work done that they are accustomed to controlling and doing themselves. Small businesses fail most of the time because of the owner's inability to plan and make effective decisions allocating a finite amount of capital, especially time. It's just too hard to succeed without the right combination of leadership, entrepreneurial and management skills.

What Happened To Sally

Let's wrap this up by revisiting what happened with Sally's new plan and team. When I worked with Sally there was no question in my mind that she was a true entrepreneur. There was no way she was going to fail, no matter the cost. But the cost of churning through people to grow her business was massive.

Sally needed help with leadership, a crystal-clear strategy, a plan of action for her team to follow, and three, key positions filled to get the results she told me she wanted.

Here are the three roles I helped Sally fill to BEGIN closing the "people performance gap." (Think normal timeline for a turnaround like this is 6-9 months if everyone does their job right the first time.)

  1. Chief Marketing Officer - This person needed to be extremely strategic, but able to manage the tactical execution of the digital marketing plan. Sally's marketing took place online.
  2. Web Design & Development - This needed to be one person, even though design and development are different, complimentary skill sets. But budget constraints and the ability to find a great, outsourced fit closed this gap.
  3. Sales Administrator - This person needed to run the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, the marketing automation software, as well as manage all the projects related to marketing, recruiting, payroll, etc.

The good news is the marketing lead in this case was me. Because my leadership experience and style helped Sally feel more confident and clear in the new plan of action, we quickly got on the same page to fill the roles crucial for our success.

The Plan Worked ... Until

Sally and the team started seeing better sales results within 30 days. The new, core marketing campaigns got finished and launched, and they produced new leads for the first time in a while. We built a real sales pipeline, optimized the CRM and automation, and the systems began working great.

Sally was happy because she was getting what she wanted; a sales pipeline that was growing. This happened because finally, people could work under her highly-entrepreneurial style, complimented by my leadership abilities to assemble and lead the marketing team. My leadership skills melded beautifully with Sally until Sally made a crucial mistake.

Ever meet an entrepreneur who changed her mind too much? This is not always a bad thing, but if too pervasive a habit of the owner or leader/entrepreneur, the more likely you'll lose people, flow and any newfound gain in performance.

In the end, Sally got impatient. She decided to completely shift strategic and tactical gears after about 3 months of the new plan and work. This sudden, drastic shift in focus threw the new team into a tailspin, and Sally found herself two steps back, once again.

The moral of this story, and countless others like it is this: Small businesses only become big companies when leader, entrepreneur and team align to the same goals and plan over long periods of time.

We need the Sally's of the world to start things and fire us up, always daring to be different.

We also need stable, high-EQ business leaders to compliment the entrepreneurs who all know and love.

Got a question, comment or concern?

I always appreciate your comments here on the blog. You can also reach out to connect with me by clicking here.