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One of the key leadership skills is to develop, articulate and communicate a vision and strategy for the business and to inspire others around the vision and strategy.
However, it is very challenging as a business owner, director, manager or professional to step back from the business, consider the future and be more strategic, as you find yourself always working on the day to day of the business. If you are always working in your business you will probably have a limited perspective on your business, your area of responsibility and what is happening in the world around you. You will also find that you are very reactive to circumstances, are doing the same things over and over again and you are struggling to move the business to where you want it to be.
So how can you be more strategic? Here are some things that you can try in your business to help you become more strategic:
Set aside regular time to step back and focus on strategy. This will give you the space to think about the business strategically and take the actions mentioned below. It is amazing how different your business will look when you are on the outside looking in. This is not only about time, it is also about adopting a strategic mindset, which means looking at the business from a strategic perspective.
Free up your time to be more strategic. Understand how you are spending your current time and identify your work that can be delegated or outsourced to free up the time to be more strategic. This may be things not in your area of expertise, routine tasks, things you are not good at, things you don't need to do and authority for minor decisions. Look at the resourcing in the business so you can delegate or outsource your work and then take action to actually complete the delegation and outsourcing. Ensure you manage your time going forward to focus on the business strategy.
Expand your horizons and get a fresh perspective. Look at what your competitors are doing, talk to and listen to your customers, understand what successful businesses are doing, talk and listen to other business owners, think about what your suppliers are saying and consider what is happening in your market sector and the wider business world. Ask lots of questions about your business.
Be more creative. Creativity is essential for problem solving, generating ideas, looking at potential options, finding solutions, identifying opportunities, for staying ahead of the competition and for maximising business return. You may not be naturally creative, but you can become more creative by stopping making assumptions, thinking differently to you normally do, asking what if questions, looking at things from different perspectives, coming up with ideas without assessing or evaluating them and taking time to allow your mind to generate ideas.
Think strategically. Strategic thinking includes looking at your business from a strategic perspective, considering large amounts of information, reflecting on the past, present and future, imagining different futures for the business, considering the wider implications rather than taking a narrow view, scenario planning, being aware of new opportunities and considering and capitalising on the latest trends, changes and developments. This is quite different to working in the day to day of your business.
Understand where your business is now. This involves looking at your business both internally and externally as it stands now. Identify the key internal data and drivers of your business, such as financial performance, customer satisfaction, staff turnover, sales and marketing trends, conversion rates, productivity etc. Look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with your business. Understand your unique selling point and who your ideal customers are. Externally understand the business environment, your competitors and the market you are operating in. What is your market share, how do you expect the market to grow, what changes are happening in the market etc? Look at the political, economic, social and technological trends that impact your business. It is important to be realistic, critical and objective in doing this analysis.
Where do you want your business to be in the short, medium and longer term? Strategic planning is about setting longer term goals for your business and developing a plan to achieve them. Think about where you want your business to be in say 3 to 6 months time, in a year's time and in 3 to 5 years time. This will be different for every business. You may want to increase your profit before tax by x%, you may want to generate a set income per year or you may want to create value in your business so you can sell it in the future. If you are looking for growth it may be by increasing market share of current products and services, developing or introducing new products and services, focusing on a niche, introducing new sales channels or markets, opening in a different location, investing in technology, entering into a joint venture or partnership, merging with or buying another business, franchising your business, investing in your business or taking on outside investment, improving business productivity and efficiency and/or enhancing customer service.
Understand what you need to do to achieve your strategy. Look at the difference between where your business is now and where you want it to be in the future. Think about what you need to do differently and what actions you will need to take to bridge the gap. Look at each area of your business and decide what changes need to be made to enable you to achieve your longer term vision and objectives. Then decide the best way of implementing these changes. Create an action plan of what needs doing, when and by whom. Break these actions down, prioritise them and map out when you need to take them. Start implementing your action plan, and review progress regularly and update and amend accordingly.
Proactively manage your business. Be proactive and actively manage your business or areas of responsibility. Proactive management includes keeping focused on your business strategy, planning what you need to do to achieve the strategy, ensuring action is being taken, reviewing how you are getting on against your plans, prioritising and re-prioritising as things change and reviewing and updating your business strategy on a regular basis. Know what is happening in all areas of your business by monitoring key performance indicators, regular communication, feedback and meetings with staff and key stakeholders and listening to customer feedback. Build good relationships with all your key stakeholders including staff, shareholders, suppliers, customers etc. Have agreements (including insurance) in place for all business relationships. Keep on top of the changes affecting your business and be at the forefront of future changes.
Ask for help and support. There are many different types of support available to help you become more strategic and to support you in running your business including business mentors, business coaches, business consultants and experts in particular areas (e.g. accountants, bank managers, marketing experts etc.).You can save time and money by accessing help and support at the right time rather than struggling on by yourself. This may be to help you to become more strategic, in developing and regularly reviewing your strategy or to support you with implementing your strategy.
Hopefully this article has got you thinking about how you can become more strategic for the benefit of your business.
Author: Liz Makin
Published: October 2018
Makin It Happen has a range of personal development online courses to purchase, created by Liz Makin, including communication, resilience, time management, stress management and coaching. Liz Makin also provides personalised business coaching, business mentoring and stress management services to business owners, directors, managers and professionals.
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