7 Resolutions to win at Business this New Year

As you make personal New Year’s resolutions this year, include adding a strategy process to your business. Resolving to implement a process leads to more success than goal setting alone. Process creates the habits that lead to goal attainment. Resolve to make these 7 habits part of your business processes for increased success this coming year:

1. Commit to a Strategy OS
2. Maintain a Business Model Cheat Sheet
3. Quarterly Strategy Reviews
4. Weekly Leadership Team Meetings
5. Manage Issues
6. Keep a Score Card
7. Schedule Regular Adapt and Sustain Time

1. Commit to a Strategy OS:

Healthy organizations view strategy as an ongoing process that allows them to define and execute their mission in a way that grows steadily toward their vision. A strategic operating system links planning with execution and feedback. The system that you choose must be made explicit to create buy-in, a common language, and shared accountability to making the system work.

The diagram below lays out the Strategy Operating System (Strategy OS) I use. It shows how to make strategy creation link to execution and feedback to make progress on a daily basis. It is detailed here.

This Strategy OS is borrowed and blended from tested ideas that fit most companies who have at least a few employees and and some customers. I typically modify it depending on company maturity and size as you might do for your company. Or, you might pick another author’s “pre-packaged” system. Most small to medium sized companies will find the EOSTM from Gino Wickman’s Traction is a light weight way to quickly add a common system with minimal overhead. Matt Mochary’s The Great CEO Within documents another approach worth adopting, especially for startups that are starting to get product market fit. Early stage companies may look to Erik Reis’ The Lean Startup or Kim & Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy for ideas. More mature companies might like structure from Kaplan & Norton’s Balanced Score Card.

The most important factor to success is to pick and commit to following one that works for your company and people.

2. Maintain a Business Model Cheat Sheet

The best Business Models can be communicated in a few words, documented in a couple pages, and managed with a few meetings. Your Business Model should fit on one or two pages. Create a Cheat Sheet (n: a written or graphic aid that can be referred to for help in understanding or remembering something complex) for your Business Model. You can find my editable Business Model Cheat Sheet here.

The first page documents your Positioning and Strategy. Positioning includes the busines model elements that should be rock solid: Mission, Values, and Vision. These guide key choices and help to give direction when uncertainty rises. When you get them right, you can carve them in stone to endure beyond anyone’s tenure in the company. Strategy in this context refers to the long-term plan of action or policy designed to achieve the Positioning. Its sets the Themes and Objectives for the next three to five years. Themes are broader than plans or programs in that they offer guidance about what is needed without limiting possible plans of action. They are destination statements describing with details what the business looks like in about three years from a variety of perspectives. The Go-to-Market area documents in more detail the key Theme around how you win business and sell your products and services.

The second page documents Plans to work toward your Vision and deliver Themes. Annual planning, as the name suggests, involves envisioning the company one year out and setting Targets and Initiatives for the next 12 months. Stay light weight. Planning can be as simple as creating Targets and Initiatives for each Theme. Let these feed into your budgeting process for the year. Quarterly plans narrow the timeframe to three months with more focus and detail. Each quarter, create Goals that support the annual Targets, and Rocks that support annual Initiatives. These Plans define key results for the near-term that ensure progress on a daily and quarterly basis is contributing to deliver longer-term Objectives and ultimately your Vision.

3. Conduct Quarterly Strategy Reviews

These reviews are your chance to work on the business model as a leadership team. People are programmed in a way that makes it difficult for them to stay on plan much past 3 months without a need to refocus on priorities. Quarterly Strategy Reviews create the checkup, resetting and refresh that ensures efforts stay aligned and making progress toward your annual plan and overall business model.

At your first meeting and annually, create your cheat sheet and keep it up to date. Reserve one or two full days to work on the Business Model elements with your team.

Other quarterly strategy review meetings should be more focused half day or day long sessions where the timeframe is narrowed to 3 months to create quarterly Goals and Rocks that support annual Initiatives and your Positioning/Strategy. Define key results for the near-term that ensure progress on a daily and quarterly basis is contributing to deliver longer-term Objectives. It should have a standing agenda similar to:

  1. Review last quarter’s Goals and Rocks (uncover any issues or barriers)
  2. Review Positioning and Strategy to renew focus
  3. Establish Goals and Rocks for next quarter
  4. Review quarter’s focus area to approve related Initiatives and uncover Issues
  5. Uncover, prioritize and solve important Issues for next quarter
  6. Wrap-up: Summarize, Review todos, Rate meeting

Agenda item 4 suggests giving a specific focus area for each quarterly meeting that ensures attention on an important theme or other destinations outside of more routine operations by the team. Your annual planning meeting is one of these key focus areas where you renew strategy and adjust for changes in environmental context. Evaluating People and ensuring you have “the right people in the right seats” (Wickman, pg 4) should be another focus area. You can choose to use other quarterly meetings to focus on sales, product, and other major portions of your business model on a quarterly rhythm.

4. Hold Weekly Leadership Team Meetings

A weekly standing meeting with you leadership team keeps focus, accountability, and removes barriers to implementing you Strategy OS on a frequent basis. This meeting can be held at any leadership level, but the executive team should be the first to adopt it. The main focus is delivering the Goals and Rocks each leader committed to at the most recent quarterly planning. Most executive teams will meet once weekly for 1.5 hours using an agenda similar to that suggested by Wickman (pg 190 – he calls these Level 10 meetings) or by Mochary (pg 144.) Ensure the score card is up to date and distributed prior to the meeting. Written updates for the Rocks Standup portion and to-dos also help expedite team productivity. Here is the agenda I use:

  1. 5 min – Transition: Each member shares something good from the week to help transition to a productive meeting. Be brief.
  2. 5 min – Score Card Review: This reminds team of Goals and Rocks for the quarter and is a chance to note the good and bad to identify if team is on track for achieving Rocks. Any issues identified go on the list and may be assigned an owner. It is not the time to solve issues (a rule for all agenda items before 5.)
  3. 5 min – Company Highlights: This is an opportunity to share the good and bad news around key customers, employees, and partners. Anyone can share wins and concerns. Document any issues identified.
  4. 15 min – Rocks Stand-up Meeting: Each member reviews: Accomplishments, To-Dos for the coming week, and any Blocking Issues for all Rocks they own.
  5. 50 min – Issues Resolution: Work on the highest priority issues to create solutions and action items
  6. 10 min – Wrap-up: Summarize, Review todos, Rate meeting

The first part of this meeting is designed to coordinate progress and surface issues. Score card review and company highlights start this activity. It then borrows from a standup meeting for coordinating more closely around quarterly Rocks. Finally, it reserves time to work on priority Issues to resolve them with the key brain trust of the business.

5. Manage Issues (and a resolution process)

Issues can impact success at any level of your Business Model. As such, it is important for teams to rigorously manage and solve Issues at all levels. It starts with uncovering and tracking a prioritized list of Issues. This includes any important decisions or problems that can impact success.

Teams must then have a shared approach for solving Issues that identifies their root cause and first principles that make the them go away in a verifiable way. The Leadership Team meetings reserve time for the leadership team to work together to solve priority Issues and remove barriers. Priority issues can get special attention through focused action items. Adopt an issues solving method from Wickman’s IDS (pg 136,) or Bain’s RAPID, or Deming’s PDCA approach. Or, find another problem solving method your team agrees to follow. Keep it as light weight as possible and only add more structure for the hardest to solve Issues that cannot be modified once an initial decision is made.

Ultimately, one accountable individual must have final say on decision making. If you are the executive leader in your organization and have not specifically delegated an Issue, that individual is you. Once a decision is made, document it and take specific action items to implement and communicate it.

6. Keep a Score Card

Score cards track results to create fast cycles of feedback that help steer daily activities. It ties together all the strategy elements in a way to verify progress and achievement. They should be simple with a matrix of past scores to show trends and a color code of green, yellow, or red relative to goals to help point out needed attention.

Themes are a good organizing item to group Result measures. I like to also add Rocks related to the Theme to the score card and show them color coded to indicate whether or not they are on track. Often reaching the Goal requires having a Rock complete. Be sure to include leading measures to give early indication of success and key diagnostic measures to help determine if potential trouble areas need more or less focus. Keep a variety of measures on your Score Card to ensure you are covering work that may be needed around non-operational improvements like developing your people, new competencies and the right customers.

Update your Score Card weekly and review it as part of the pre-work for your Leadership Meeting. This ensures you know whether you are getting results from your daily and weekly actions that work toward Goals and Targets. If not, raise Issues that it highlights. Give it extra scrutiny at quarterly meetings to help ensure you are ultimately progressing to deliver the strategy Themes and your longer-term Vision.

7. Schedule Regular Adapt and Sustain Time

These actives focus on creating the feedback loop that all complex systems need to be successful. It starts by monitoring the environment in which your business competes to ensure your Business Model remains relevant. Consider how internal resources and capabilities are impacted by external trends. Your business model must continue to update and refine how you will compete to win within an evolving business environment through your product market fit, go to market activities, and other Themes.

The most important thing leaders can do to support this activity is listening to customers and employees. Support reps on sales calls. Conduct customer surveys. Check you support desk and other customer facing processes that define your business to the world. Understand their needs and ensure customers see you how you want to be seen. Similarly, find ways to get feedback from your employees. Open office hours, suggestion boxes, and management by walking around are tactics.

The next most impactful things leaders should do is to schedule time to work “on” the business away from the day-to-day “in” the business work. Many leaders I know schedule at least one hour per week for this “thinking time.” The best leaders schedule longer blocks of time weekly and schedule full day or longer blocks each quarter. Wickman (pg 214) calls these Clarity Breaks. This is not time to catchup on work tasks. Instead be alone, away from work, with a note pad, and no distractions. Focus on important questions like Positioning, context, priorities, people, processes, products, nagging issues, emerging trends, and how you structure your own time and work. You can start with written questions from the week, or focus on what comes to you. The outcome should be ideas that can lead to expanded opportunities, accelerated success and more relevance.

Many of the ideas from customers, employees, and clarity breaks can be added as Issues for your Leadership Team meetings and implemented quickly. Or, they can be larger Issues to work on at the next Quarterly. The most important insights create a learning loop that feeds back into you Business Model. In early stage companies, it can create a pivot causing major changes in Positioning. Or, more typically in established companies, it impacts the understanding of Positioning and feeds annually into your strategy review to create new Themes and clarify priorities.

That’s it.

If you’re in a hurry to learn more, start with Use a Strategy OS Every Day and What is Strategy. Or, the HorizonLineGroup.com site’s top level navigation is organized by the Strategy OS activities, or you can search on the site for a topic that is of interest to you.

If you feel like having an experienced guide for your Strategy OS journey makes you more comfortable, please reach out. Let’s talk about how I might help you get stated or gain more success. You can contact me through the About page.

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