Plan Your Best Year Yet
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” - Benjamin Franklin
We have been discussing the elements of business planning or what is referred to as the “Strategic Planning Process.” Although a strategic or business plan is most often used as an annual “kick-off” tool, a strategic plan is an organizational tool that can be employed at any time or in any situation to keep a company on track to meet financial, structural and growth objectives. Although the title sounds a bit intimidating, the process of building a bullet-proof strategic plan is actually fairly simple—understand the direction in which the company is headed by reviewing past progress and making plans to change, improve and grow. Then, set goals and objectives that focus on, at a minimum, the four key areas of your business model which we will discuss with examples below.
In the article entitled: Plan Your Best Year Yet, we have addressed the first step necessary in building a rock-solid strategic plan. We introduced and reviewed the SWOT analysis as a tool which provides us a critical look at our current business model and position by understanding our core strengths such as staffing, our customer base, core offerings, reputation etc., weaknesses that could be related to any of the similar internal dynamics in the current business operations and model, opportunities that would be in consideration for what is possible or new from outside of our current business model such as new technologies, an emerging market, facilities or market expansion, and finally threats that would also reflect dangers from the outside that if unrecognized, acknowledged and addressed would do harm to our ability to operate and remain viable.
In the follow-up article entitled: Part 2: Plan Your Best Year Yet, we gave you the WIN Number Drill. This is of course a fantastic planning tool because it allows you to start by determining what a successful financial end result looks like that supports your costs and meets your profit goals, then works backward through the business model to understand all of the operational elements, such as needed top-line revenue, gross profit model, car count and staffing needs that will be required to support your desired financial goals or “WIN” number.
In this final article discussing: Plan your Best Year Yet, we want to combine the tools and information we have gathered with the SWOT exercise and WIN drill to build a forward looking bullet-proof strategic business plan. The SWOT analysis has given us areas to focus on based on Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The WIN Number drill has given us the basic blueprint for a structural and financial model required to support our goals and needs. Now it is simply a matter of pulling it all into a cohesive strategic plan. The plan should define and lay out goals for, at a minimum, the four key areas of your business model including: Financial, Customer Service & Marketing, Employee Management & Development and Operations. Below are examples within each of these areas. Keep in mind that a strategic business plan is to specifically address WHAT you will do, not necessarily HOW you will address it. The HOW is addressed in an action plan which is in the implementation phase once you have a clear set of goals and targets in the strategic business plan.
4 key areas of the business model with sample target areas:
Financial or Business Growth Goals:
- Topline Revenue
- Improved Margins or Gross Profit Dollars
- Decreased Costs or Increased Earnings (NOP or EBIT)
- Debt Service
- Cash Flow
- Financial Planning
Customer Service & Marketing Goals (Targets or Expansion):
- Customer/Vehicle Count
- CRM Frequency Goals
- New Customer Acquisition Goals
- Marketing Sources- (example- Referring Businesses, Fleets, New Technologies (ie. hybrid or diesel), New Website etc.)
- Reputation and Reviews Targets (by source, rating or count)
- Value-Added Services (example- loaner/rental cars, DVI, Text to Pay etc.)
- New Product/Service Offerings (example- ADAS, Diesel, Fleet program)
Employee Management & Development Goals:
- Staffing Level Goals and/or Additions to the Team
- Positions/Promotions/Skill Sets
- Team Training and/or Specific Skill Set Development
- Soft Skills Training (Communications, Phone skills etc.)
- Team meetings
- Team Building/Culture
- Employee Reviews, One on One’s, Individual Training Plans
- Production % or Target Hours
- Quality Control
Operations & Facilities Goals:
- General Operational Guidelines (Days, Hours etc.)
- Equipment (Shop, office or other)
- Building/Facilities (Additions, Renovations, Parking)
- Quality Control Process
- Software Systems & Support
Why do most businesses fail to achieve their goals once set and consistently grow? They likely fail to successfully connect the strategic business plan to the daily operations of the business with an Action Plan. Every strategic plan needs an action plan to bring it to life. It is the roadmap that will guide you and your team to achieving your goals. As defined, an action plan details the steps necessary to attain your goals, a timetable for each task, names the parties responsible and follow-up or measurable process.
If a Strategic Plan is about “painting the picture”, then the Action Plan is the key to making it come to life. Below are the five steps I suggest to successfully design and execute the Action Plan:
First and foremost, communicate the plan: Unless you are a one-person show, you and your business are dependent on employees to do the work and that includes executing your vision and your plans. The No. 1 cause for failure in business is poor communications and a lack of leadership to inspire those around you to join you in your cause and mission. Be open and honest. Share your vision and inspire them to be part of the success. Make your success their success by learning to communicate to their “what's in it for me?” motivation.
Don’t go it alone: The best plans have the buy in and commitment of those that will be responsible for working the plan. Involve as many of your key staff as you can that would have knowledge or stake in the implementation and success of an action item tied to your strategic plan. First make sure they understand the “WHAT & WHY.” Share your goal and vision. Of course, you can guide the planning conversations, but allow them a part in determining what steps will be necessary. Often, those that work the area know the area the best and if you can get them to understand the what and why, they may just be better equipped to determine the best course of action to achieve your vision. They are more likely to “own” what they had a vested interest in creating.
Make a List of action steps: The core of each action plan will be the list of tasks that will need to be accomplished. Each item should be clearly defined and explained. As example, if an action item from the strategic plan was to add a service by purchasing an alignment machine and lift, then the tasks might be: Contact equipment reps for demo of new machines and equipment, perform a market survey to determine demand and competitive pricing, contact banks for finance options, identify techs training, Shop survey for most efficient placement, contact electrician for hookup after install, advertise new service offering: website services page, counter/showroom display, pamphlets, sales training. As outlined below, make sure each item has a timeline and completion time attached to it.
Name the responsible party: There may be more than one person involved in executing an action item, but ultimately someone must be in charge of the item. There is an adage that says: “if more than one person is in charge (of an area) then NO ONE is”.
Set a timetable: “A plan without a timeline is really just a dream.” Just as someone must be in charge, there must be targets and times set for completion or it will always be a “when I get a spare minute.” Deadlines will be what keeps things moving. Be realistic and thoughtful with timelines, but set them so they are known and then agreed upon by all those involved.
Have a follow up plan and measure it: Spell out how you will follow up on progress on each item in the strategic plan as executed in the action plan. I had a boss that drilled into me “if you can measure it, you can manage it.” I have always lived by this. Translate goals into measurables and bring them down to the level of execution. For example, you may have a goal to raise Labor Hours per Ticket (LHT) to 2.5 billed hours. The follow up and reporting plan might include weekly calculation and posting of shops results to goal for the sales team and an individual breakdown per advisor. You might add the LHT stat to the production board for each tech on a daily or weekly basis. There is an old business axiom that states: “anything that is measured and watched is improved.” Figure out how you will communicate your measurables. A tracker, key performance indicators, a scorecard or whiteboard are all tools to keep your agreed upon measurables known and visible.
Keep the plan alive: Be the model of total accountability, do what you said you were going to do as you said you would do it when you said you would do it. It is much easier to hold accountability in others when you model the behavior yourself. Discuss the plan on a regular basis, keep it as an important and regular agenda in follow up meetings. As you would celebrate successes, make sure that you address deviations to plan or measurable results quickly so that they can be put back on track.
As a final bit of advice, stay flexible. Heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson once said "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” A strategic plan must be adaptable. If you get hit with a left hook (or COVID-19) you must be flexible and pragmatic. Did you just hit a speedbump and you need a brief reset to get back to normal OR have you been blindsided with a game-changing paradigm shift? Things will happen and your plans and goals will be tested and threatened. Realize that it isn’t a failure and some things will be out of your control despite the best laid plans. Instead, see it as the only thing you can which is an opportunity to use your tools, reevaluate and reset your plan. Life and business aren’t about if you are going to face adversity. It’s about how you handle it and does it define you or will you define it? Plan well and EXECUTE better.