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Creating a Structured Growth Plan

This is an interview excerpt from “Trust-Fueled Growth & Delegation: Unlocking Your Business Potential” when Steve Fisher was a podcast guest on Mike ONeill. It was a great opportunity to talk about how business owners and C-suite executives get “unstuck” with strategic thinking, a written structured growth plan and accountability.

Mike O’Neill: So I appreciate your offering that as an example, and that as you see, oftentimes clients get stuck in the tactical and don’t necessarily know how to transition to the strategic.

You mentioned when the CEO or owner grasps this, then they can be very, very influential within the organization to keep that focus on those strategic initiatives. You used a term a few minutes ago that I would like to follow up on, and that is when you are looking at developing strategy, strategy for itself is not what you’re trying to do.

You’re trying to hit certain targets. You referred to the ideal being a structured growth plan. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?

Steve Fisher: Sure. When we begin talking to a client or a business owner, at some point in the conversation, we’re trying to gauge where they want to be, five or ten years down the road, right? But I only ask that question to get to the next question, which is, “What do you need to do now to get where you want to be in the future?”.

Then we get really serious. I ask about the concrete things your business or you personally need to be doing in the next six months to get where you want to be in five or ten years. Most business owners, unfortunately, cannot answer that question with a degree of specificity.

That is because they do not actually have what I would consider a structured growth plan. A structured growth plan is a written plan with a step-by-step process. This is the engineer in me coming out. I help create a step-by-step process with measurable targets and established metrics that lead the client to where they said they wanted to be.

Developing the plan is only part of the process. Once you develop the plan, you must implement the plan, which means you must now get your buy-in from all the various stakeholders in the company. This is also a required process.

Then, you may have to make the entire organization aware of the plan, why the plan is important, and why it will achieve the strategic long-term goals of the owners and benefit everybody. During the implementation, you must help them develop their own muscle memory in executing the plan to remember why they are working on the steps. Helping them remember can include things like a certain meeting cadence.

I hate meetings which is probably a good thing because that means that any meeting you have with me is typically very, very short and very pointed. A quick side note. I’ve actually been in charge of meetings where I’ve taken all the chairs out of the room to keep the meeting on point and short. Since everybody had to stand during this conversation, they were not sticking around having a chit-chat.

Let me get back to explaining more about the structured growth plan. A structured growth plan is a written plan. You write things down because we all know that when you physically write something down, it embeds deeper into your conscious and into your subconscious. That way you begin to live that model and live that plan. But at a certain time, you must export that plan from your mind and share it throughout the entire organization.

Once you have this step-by-step plan, you will likely miss targets as you go. Such is life. These things happen due to unforeseen things like a pandemic. At least if you have a structured plan in place, you can then adjust it as needed as you go.

You’re not starting from nothing nor are you ripping the whole thing up and starting from ground zero. You are not changing the plan and you are not going to change your long-term goals. You are changing the timing. You might change what assets need to be obtained to get to that goal, and that’s part of what we do, especially on the operational finance side.

I can’t stress enough the value of having a written plan. Here’s a quick anecdotal story to emphasize just how important a structured growth plan is to achieve desired outcomes. I was talking to a gentleman who was a small business owner about what he wanted for his company and his employees. He knew just what he wanted. And then I asked him this question, “Do you have a written plan?”

To his credit, he opens his wallet, and pulls out this piece of paper that had been folded about a thousand times and was about five years old and falling apart. He had a written outline that he kept on him of how he was going to get from where he was to where he wanted to go.

The business owner had thought enough about it and made the time to write it down, carry it around with him, and adjust it as needed. I have never seen anything like it before or since, but it is a physical representation of what I’m talking about.

Mike O’Neill: And we’ll unpack that little bit. Let me see if I heard you correctly, Steve.

That is a structured growth plan must be written. It needs to be spelled out with step-by-step details. It needs to have clear metrics. And what I understood you to say is having a plan is not only a strategic plan. It is executing the plan to make the desired outcomes achievable. And what I heard you say is to execute that plan, you must keep a time horizon.

Where do you find, Steve, that organizations go to the effort of developing a written plan with metrics built in and there’s an effort to try to communicate that plan, but it kind of goes off track?

When a Structured Growth Plan Gets Off Track

Steve Fisher: It could be a number of things, but there is one big one. The lack of accountability. One of the things I didn’t mention earlier is while you’re writing your step-by-step process, establishing the metrics, goals, intermediate targets, and specifics, you need to determine who is going to be responsible for each step. And then, how am I, as the business owner, going to measure their progress towards those goals? And, further, how am I, as the business owner or organization, going to hold them accountable to achieve those goals?

So, depending on the maturity or size of the organization, holding people accountable can be a problem. In my experience, for example, when you are dealing with smaller business owners and possibly serial entrepreneurs, these people are incredibly talented and forward-thinking. Typically, they are certainly willing to roll up their own sleeves and get things done. Which is a whole separate issue of how you get stuck. But it is the traits and drive to get their company launched and get it to be viable that oftentimes, unfortunately, reinforces a muscle memory of doing everything yourself.

It goes right against the concept of holding somebody else accountable to get things done. Because your initial gut reaction to any kind of a hiccup is “I’ll do it myself. I have always done it myself. I can get it done.” I had a conversation with a client earlier this week on this very topic. I say this over and over to clients, so I told her just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do something.

She nodded and said, “Yeah, I know you’re right”. It is that ability to know what to delegate and then how to measure the progress on those items that you have delegated. Then you must decide how to hold people accountable. Being able to hold someone accountable is the next skill you must develop as a business owner or C-suite manager.

Remember, most of these small business owners came up through the ranks of the doers. These are the people who got things done. But then they had a great idea, and they had the energy, vision, and passion to do more, so they developed a business plan, but not necessarily a structured growth plan. Let’s just say, it’s very easy for them to slip back into what they know best, which is for them to do whatever it is themselves.

Mike O’Neill: You know, Steve, when you clarified that, when you have a plan, it needs to be specific. It needs to spell out what needs to be done, by when, and by whom. And there needs to be an accountability component.

And you raised an interesting point, and that is oftentimes business owners have the capacity to do it themselves. And if an organization is going to grow, It means growing the folks within the organization. This owner needs to be able to effectively delegate. Do you find that business owners oftentimes struggle with that letting go and when they do, what tips do you have for business owners listening right now?

Here’s another blog article with Steve’s answer to how to build mutual trust and hold people accountable.

Click now to listen to the podcast in its entirety.