How do the best managed companies differentiate themselves in the marketplace? There's a variety of attributes that separate the good from the great – extraordinary products, unmatched service and ultra streamlined business processes to name a few. But how do they do it? Simply put, they stay focused and aren't easily distracted. To put it another way, it comes down to exceptional strategic planning and execution by staying in the moment.
Superior companies seem to have the capacity to stay in the moment and remain focused even when bombarded by immeasurable distractions incessantly hurled from an ever changing and dynamic business world. The best management teams have the uncanny ability to not become distracted by the next "big thing". Rather, they remain steadfast in their pursuit of their strategies and stay ever vigilant in the implementation of those things that will distinguish them within their chosen markets.
That's not to say that these firms don't make mid-course adjustments. To the contrary, the best run companies have a game plan that they are constantly monitoring and adjusting as new facts and details come to light during strategy execution. A difference to note, though, is that the best management teams don't readily abandon their plans in the reckless pursuit of the new, shiny object looming on the horizon. They stay focused on the big picture vision of the future and aim to get there by flawlessly implementing one initiative at a time.
Three Step Process
An ability to stay in the moment doesn't come without some effort. There's a simple three step process that I often share with my clients who find that they struggle to stay in the moment and stick to a plan. It is as follows:
- Develop and documenting a strategic plan
- Create a strategic environment assessment review process
- Establish a Strategic Plan Administration Process
It's very easy to get distracted if your strategic plan lacks clarity, detail or exists only in one's head. Too many clients tell me that they have a strategic plan, but, are unable to produce it when asked to provide me with a copy for review. What is often provided are expense estimates, revenue forecasts and margin targets. Well, that is not a strategic plan – that's an annual budget!
The first step towards creating an enterprise that can stay in the moment is to build a strategic plan that charts how the firm will get from their current state to the achievement of their strategic vision. It must be comprised of well documented projects and programs spread across a multi-year timeline complete with an understanding of interdependencies, completion criteria and detailed execution task lists for each initiative. Without this detail, you don't have a strategic plan – just a vague itinerary (one that can easily be abandoned if new thought comes around).
Awareness of changes in the current business environment is an essential component of staying in the moment as well. The creation of a strategic environment assessment review process is an important second step for firm's to take. The purpose of which is to instill a practice of regularly identifying and assessing changes and trends in the world around the organization likely to have a significant impact on it in the coming years.
By doing this well, firms can minimize the chances of overreacting to the inconsequential stimuli that lesser companies become distracted by and respond to (inevitably veering off-course as a result).
When helping my clients with this, I recommend implementing a function that is responsible for regularly monitoring political, economic, technological, social, lifestyle, demographic, competitive, and philanthropic trends. By having this information at its disposal, a executive management team can determine which trends present opportunities for the firm to grow, and, which could be threats to the enterprise (i.e., trends that can keep the company from being successful).
With this insight, we can identify additional projects and programs that can be added to the strategic plan that provide ways for the firm to best respond to the opportunities and threats identified.
The third step towards creating an environment that allows firms to stay in the moment is to establish a strategic plan administration process. This allows firms to make appropriate mid-course adjustments. Plan administration work involves the coordination, review and resetting/reconfirmation of the firm's projects and programs. In effect the Strategic Planning Process is responsible for ensuring:
- Executive management review and ownership of the Strategic Plan;
- The existence of an effective means for the business to articulate new strategic initiatives;
- The "spearheading" of appropriate changes to existing strategic project/programs plans; and,
- The proper prioritization of newly defined and sanctioned work efforts.
In essence the strategic plan administration process provides the strategic plan to be refined and updated as the firm evolves over time. Clearly, it is no small task to institutionalize plan administration within a Company. Though, it is the very institutionalization of the process that is necessary to ensure that companies stay the course in pursuit of their Strategic Visions.
With a strategic plan and processes aimed at assisting firms to recognize changes in the competitive landscape and modifying the strategic plan accordingly, businesses can confidently stay in the moment while focusing on the execution needed to differentiate them in the marketplace.
A Step at a Time
How does a sports franchise win a championship? You win a championship one game at a time. A victory in today's game is the most any team can accomplish at any point in time. In order to win, teams must prepare for each game and build a game plan that leads to triumph.
Businesses need to do the same. Too often today's enterprises get distracted. They abandon their game plans and begin to blindly chase the promise of those shiny objects in the corner – only to find that the distraction caused them to lose ground and squander precious assets while they were at it. Success in business is achieved by staying in the moment and following through in the implementation of the strategies that will differentiate the winners from the "also-ran's".