Tied to the mast

8 principles to help you execute your business plan

I knew what to expect. I’d lived through this meeting every Monday for several years now. It wasn’t scheduled, it just happened. It didn’t matter whether I avoided eye contact, arranged other meetings or hid under the desk, about 9:30 every Monday morning the boss would be in my office, setting out in meticulous detail where we were going wrong and the shiny new thing that would make it all right. Or, more specifically, what I, as the Operations Director, was going to need to prioritise and get sorted by the end of the week.

I played a passive role in these sessions. I learned to listen selectively. I became an accomplished daydreamer, able to maintain eye contact, while blasting down my favourite mountainside, blue sky above and waste-deep snow below. This impromptu meeting always ended the same way; the monologue fizzled out and was followed by “Got it? Good. Let’s get it done.”

Bizarrely, each Monday’s discussion was rarely revisited. I’d stopped acting on the instructions imparted in these ‘development’ meetings after a few months, as there were never any consequences to failure. I maintained a steadfast focus on business as usual. There were always fires to put out and so I focussed on my role as fireman and pointed out how heroic I’d been whenever anyone asked what I’d been up to.

It wasn’t always like that. I started out fighting my corner, responding to every criticism or brilliant new idea with the same suggestion “we should do some structured business planning”. We never did. We were stuck in a very difficult stage of the firm’s development and to be honest, none of us knew it. We just fumbled around in the dark, trying stuff and then trying other stuff. Eventually an experienced manager was hired to help. The dreaded Monday morning meetings were replaced with some business planning sessions and I was full of hope for the future. However, once the plan was done, it wasn’t communicated to the team. Snippets sure, but very little detail. It was a great plan and it could have worked, but it didn’t make it off the page. I left shortly afterwards. A wasted opportunity.

I set up Kingmakers and one of the main services was business planning. I wrote my own business plan with the help of a rather excellent book – The Definitive Business Plan by Richard Stutely. The last chapter in the book is ‘13 – now make it happen’. I read this chapter and realised where we had gone wrong in my previous role. We developed a great plan and totally skipped the implementation phase. It’s quite natural to work through the planning process, become enthusiastic about it and then race off to execute on your bit. Problem is, business is a team sport and communication is rather important.

The implementation phase is where the theoretical becomes real. It’s where the firm’s plan is communicated, before being broken down into ever finer detail. Those ‘big hairy audacious goals’ need to be broken down into practical milestones, projects, activities, tasks and processes, with timeframes, rewards and the consequences of failure spelt out. Without this critical work, your team will have no context and change is unlikely to happen. There are a lot of ways to approach the implementation of a new business plan, but here are eight key pointers to consider: –

1. Explain the planning process to the team.

We’ve found that the best outcomes happen when there is good communication around the planning process, as well as the presentation of the final plan itself.

2. Present the final plan.

Keep the presentation at the right level and focus on what it means to the people staring back at you. We all act in our perceived self-interest, so don’t expect me to get excited about your grand vision, when all I want is a stapler of my own. Give me what I need and let me know where I can find out more if I want. Make sure I know change is coming.

3. Undertake the next level of detailed planning.

You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve finished planning, but alas, there’s a bit more to do and it’s important. New strategies get set in motion with projects and those projects need to be properly planned, if they are to be effectively executed. A program is a collection of related projects, each project has stages with milestones, each stage consists of activities which are groups of tasks undertaken by multiple individuals and processes underpin the tasks that needs to be done. Plan it out with those individuals who will be involved and do it before you start.

4. Set targets and budgets.

You built financial forecasts for the business plan and now you get to take year one and turn it into targets and a budget. This should just be a question of extracting year one and communicating the detail to everyone. If you don’t like the word target, use quota, or whatever else makes you feel better, but don’t avoid it. There is no such thing as collective accountability.

5. Establish the baseline.

Job descriptions are of marginal use to new joiners. They don’t even know everyone’s names, let alone how the role works and what their responsibilities are. By all means hand them out when people join, but make sure they are reviewed and acknowledged periodically. There should also be some measure of baseline performance, so each individual knows what their performance needs to be, in return for their base pay. If you are the judge and jury of individual performance, you are retaining a lot of unnecessary stress.

6. Create individual performance plans.

Do your people understand their roles, the business plan, what they need to do to help on specific projects? How will they approach their work? Are they set up for failure or success? Creating individual plans to clarify these questions, helps people manage their responsibilities and turns followers into leaders by promoting personal responsibility.

7. Link contribution to reward.

If your people do what they’ve committed to do, which helps the business achieve its overall goals, what do they get? It doesn’t matter whether it’s extra salary in the form of bonus, a structured incentive scheme, more time off, whatever, just define it and make sure everyone understands.

8. Schedule reviews and manage your resources.

The days of a pint and a chat about salary should hopefully be gone now. You may think quarterly reviews are too much, especially when you talk about client work every day. Managing performance is not the same as managing workflow. Your people need assessment, input and guidance if they are going to perform to the best of their abilities. Just imagine if you paid your team in cash at the end of each day. Paying your paraplanner £40k pa means paying them £200 a day (based on 200 working days in a year). Go draw out twenty tenners and count them into their hand every day for a week and then see how you feel about your hands-off approach to management. Help them to help you.

Of course you might be reading this and thinking, ‘I don’t need all this, because I use (‘insert name of management framework here’) and that’s fine. You use what works for you, but just make sure to check the above principles actually read across to the clever sounding names™ and processes whose boxes you tick each month. The stakes are high right now. The storm is brewing and the goals you set out in your business plan are what you need and want. Take a serious approach to implementation and you might just get where you’re heading.

Lastly, you could be forgiven for reading this and thinking that it only applies to a big business. Not true. There are five stages in the development of a small business and while a different approach is needed at each stage, adoption of the above principles, will help you move through the stages in less time and with less cost. You can read more about this in our upcoming paper on the subject.

By Rob Stevenson


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