Start at the beginning

Collective wisdom has it that SMEs don’t plan. If they do it’s likely to be more back-of-the-napkin stuff; or perhaps it’s all kept in the grey matter. Even then it’s unlikely that the boss will actually have told anybody and ‘created a vision’.

But large companies often don’t either. Some have large teams dedicated to planning and you’ve got to ask how accurate they’ve been at forecasting their future (think RBS losses for example). Studying for my MBA in 2004 we looked at the over-50s business, Saga, whose pre-tax profits where £48 million at the time. I was certainly surprised that they claimed not to possess a ten, five, three or even a one year plan.

Although a 15,000-word document may have not existed, a vision for their future and a strong company ethos certainly did. Backed by private equity firm Charterhouse, a MBO buyout from the founding de Haan family valued at £1.35 billion went through soon afterward.

Of course, there’s a contradiction to this. It would be easy for start-ups to fall into planning paralysis, stuck in the drawing of a plan and never actually launching into work. Some banks – even seed investors – may initiate the problem and there will be plenty of ‘experts’ who’ll ask for the Business Plan in a low and officious voice. Something is needed then, but what?

As ever, [His Highness] Seth Godin says it more succinctly than anyone:

…do your best to pick a direction (hopefully an unusual one, hopefully one you have resources to complete, hopefully one you can do authentically and hopefully one you enjoy) and then do it. Loudly. With patience and passion. (Loud doesn’t mean boorish. Loud means proud and joyful and with confidence.)
No flitting, no waiting for proof. Just consistent, overwhelming performance in pursuit of a vision you believe in. That’s far more important than which direction you chose in the first place…

Heading off aimlessly on your own (even with your 800 employees) is like building a skyscraper without the architect’s drawings – destined to fail. Pick that direction and tell your stakeholders, every one of them. Tune your message as clear as words allow. Repeat your ‘clear’ message often. Tell them again in a month, and again in another. Clear and often. And so on.

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