It’s a new year, and that means plotting and executing on new strategies in order to reach new goals and get your business to the next level. The reality, though, is that just like all those wonderful, well-meaning, and lofty New Year’s resolutions you made at the start of January, your new strategies will likely begin with a bang and fizzle out like a wet firework on a rainy Fourth of July. But you can overcome this by planning and sizing your strategic initiatives into manageable chunks.
The two primary reasons new initiatives fall apart are lack of focus followed by failure to execute. I hear the same story from too many business owners: You are stuck in the mud of daily tactics like marketing schemes that suck more time and energy than you have and sales projections that will never come true, you have service delivery issues you can’t get past, and on and on. And then when you do take time to look at your strategy, you feel too drained to make the heroic efforts required to focus and execute.
And the next thing you know it’s February and you’re doing exactly the same thing you were last year at this time—running to keep up with the business as if your feet were on fire and your ass was catching. You’re also starting to think, “What made me think this was a good idea, anyway? To come up with a lofty goal and even plan on its success, thinking it would be a game changer?” I’m being rhetorical, of course. You and I know that if you did design and execute on a plan, it very well could make a significant impact on your business.
So, how do you set your focus so that you can properly execute? I have no choice but to bring up that old question: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It’s all in the dissection of the work at hand into the right-size pieces. But there’s just a bit more to it: You also need to consider the larger- approach plan;. i.e., which end to start at. In elephant-eating terms, this would be “meal planning.”
To begin, break down your strategy into initiatives that an individual or team can actually execute on within a reasonable amount of time. I always recommend a business quarter or less. Then create your laundry list of “issues” that you need to address across all the aspects of your business: sales, marketing, accounting and finance, service delivery, etc. Finally, identify and sort the issues that will have the greatest impact on any of the four most important aspects of your business: customers, finances, internal processes, and learning/growth of the team.
With four distinct groups of issues, you further break each group into initiatives that are small enough that those assigned to each initiative can reasonably be expected to focus on and complete it in one business quarter or less. This is where the majority of initiatives fail! Like a project with only one phase (labeled: Get it done) you cannot have one initiative that contains your entire laundry list of issues. The initiative, like a single helping of elephant dinner, must not be overwhelming, unmanageable, or unrealistically large.
What’s the right size for an initiative? Simple. How much time will you be allotting your team (or the one person) toward execution of the strategic initiative this business quarter? Let’s say 100 hours. Great! The total estimated time of all the issues in the initiative cannot exceed 80% of that allotted time. Period. If a single issue by itself is larger than this, you’ve not broken the problem down far enough. If you have too many issues in one initiative, you need to break the initiative into phases, each with its own time frame for completion.
How do you ensure you execute without giving up—in other words, how do you keep your focus? If you’ve properly right-sized your initiatives and correctly estimated the time and other resources, it shouldn’t be anywhere near as hard as previous attempts.
Here’s one important caveat, however: The people at the top of the organization (you and your managers) absolutely must fully support the initiative, otherwise it’s a pointless waste of time, energy, and effort. You must commit the resources and allow your team to set aside the time to execute.
The ultimate secret is that if you fail to complete an initiative, you learn from it. Was it too big? Did you have the wrong people executing on it? Did you fail to feed it the necessary resources? If so, you adjust this initiative and go at it again. You can gain a core competency in initiative planning pretty quickly.
And if you continue to have trouble, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from your favorite business coach. Nothing less than your business is at stake!
MANUEL PALACHUK is the coach who will take you to the gym, not just send you there. He is the author of the book Getting To The Next Level: A Blueprint For Taking You And Your Business To The Top and the upcoming book Agile Service Delivery: The Ultimate Secret To Making Work Flow. He has over 30 years of business, management, and training experience in the computer and electronics industries. He has owned several successful businesses, managed several successful IT and MSP service companies, and coached or mentored many more around the world.