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Going Where The Wind Takes You? The Ills of Having an Unclear Strategy

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Without a clear strategy in Life & Business Transitions you're letting opportunities, money, attention, and effort blow away in the wind that could otherwise be saved or put to better, profitable use.  This post is about identifying the signs that point to an unclear, ill-defined, or poorly communicated strategy and some resources that will benefit your Life & Business immensely.

Defining your Strategy, like a vision, mission, philosophy, or principles, for many people and businesses, is in that category of "squishy, nebulous, unhelpful, or complete wastes of time".  The funny thing that I always say is "you have all these whether you design them purposefully or not, they're there and not having them clearly defined is likely costing you a lot of wasted time and money." A strategy is the framework within which you make decisions whereas a vision is the destination and guiding light, the mission is your purpose and your way of being, your philosophy is, well, for another post, and principles are those essential rules and mechanisms by which you operate. A good strategy sets boundaries, constraints, and entails focus.  It describes more about what you're NOT going to do than what you are by stating boldly "this is the position we're taking, the approach we're focused on, and who we're going to be in the marketplace, ecosystem, or "context" in which you provide our services."  This post is about identifying some of the symptoms that can likely be cured with a well designed strategy.  This goes for your life, business, non-profit, or sub-team in a larger organization.

Symptoms of a Poorly Defined Strategy

  • You look no different than your competitors or others providing similar services.
  • You don't stand out among your peers to potential buyers, partners, or donors.
  • Your prime stakeholders and shareholders are unclear about what your business or organization is doing in 5 to 10 years and are unclear about why you will or should still exist at that point.
  • Your employees and leadership don't know how to describe your clients or customers clearly and concisely.
  • You don't seem to have a high value (from the customers point of view) or cost/price advantage compared to your rivals or peers offering similar products or services.
  • When team members, managers, or key stakeholders are asked what your top 3 priorities are for the year, they have different answers or no answers at all.
  • When someone asks your clients or customers what sets you apart, they don't know how to describe it.
  • You feel as though your success is based on luck and hard work alone.
  • You can't seem to get ahead of the "busy-ness" of your business and life.
  • You don't have a clear reason or description of why you're doing business the way you are, with the resources you are, with the partners you are, and for the customers you are.
  • If you've been spending a lot of money, time, and attention on solution after solution (random improvement initiatives, various IT based solutions, flavor of the month motivational methods, glitzy marketing programs, etc.) but don't seem to be moving the dial on revenue increases, cost reductions, customer or employee satisfaction, or other important measures.
  • If it seems like anyone can get into your business and be a valid competitor.
  • If customers can just as easily (and are more than willing) to go down the road or to the next website and get a product or service just as good.
  • If you have high annual employee turnover (30% or more).
  • If your priorities in your life or business transition are unclear or constantly changing.

Signs of a Good Strategy

  • Where, how, and why you operate in the marketplace are clear to you, your customers, peers, or competitors.
  • There is a clear roadmap for your organization, it's transitions, and it's priorities for the relative long term are obvious.
  • You, your employees, family, or organization weather storms in your life, business, or marketplace relatively easily because all the participants are clear on priorities, what you are/aren't doing, and you're focused on what brings you success.

Recommendations for Crafting a Great Strategy

  • Best Recommendation: Get training and education yourself and practice often
  • Next Best: hire a skilled facilitator to guide you and/or your leadership( Contact Me here!)
  • Learn Yourself: utilize one of the following resources to learn more
  • Simplest but Mostly Just Introductory: do a web search for "strategic planning template" and find a see of them available.  These will introduce you to some of the concepts, methods, models, and tools available.  This is a good starting place.
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At Next Callings, I work hard to make sure my customers all have a solid foundation in their Life and Business transitions and having a clear, useful, and valuable Strategy is an essential element for that.  Contact Me for help in developing a clear, communicable, and valuable strategy for you and your organization.

Scaling in Life & Business: The Big Levers to Save Time, Money, and Effort

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Do you want to know the biggest levers to save and gain time/money/resources/effort in your business and life?  These are the levers or controls in any system in which you’re making an effort towards ANY goal be it a garden project, moving your home to a new location, downsizing, or scaling your widget making manufacturing operation, in your streams of activities, processes, and value creation, these levers are the keys to unlock greater potential and minimizing your headaches and hardships.  These levers might seem abstract but they are the foundational elements to consider.  As you grow your business and life to do more with less, maintain your sanity, and get the most out of your time, these concepts and levers are what you need to pay attention to and focus on for greatest benefit.  If you get to know them intimately, see them in your life and business, and learn how to control them strategically, you can produce significant positive results.  That equals more time, more energy, more money, and more results!

Stick to What's Essential

I’ve talked to it before and Peter Drucker speaks quite well to it in The Essential Executive, but making sure you’re doing the “right thing, at the right time” is most critical first and foremost.  After that “in the right way” i.e. efficiently, becomes key. Most work that isn’t repetitive but rather creative work with much more unknown about the “how” at the start than other repetitive types of tasks, require forethought, research, and planning to identify “what’s really essential” about it.  We’ve all had that time in a home project where you went down a particular path only to realize “dangit! I didn’t have to do all that!” Or when someone outside your situation with a little perspective or someone that’s a little more adept or informed comes along and says “have you thought about doing it like this? You could sure save a lot of time and headache because I don’t think you’ll get to where you want you go from here” In other words, you’re wasting your time because you’re not doing what’s “right” or “essential” to begin with!  This happens all too often in business as well. This is one of the toughest parts of self-lead, creative work where you or your employees have to craft what the right things to do from the start are.  Start here and you'll be much better off!  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is also a great read in this area as well.

Simplify and Standardize Everything You Do On A Regular Basis

Start with any repetitive activities you do in your life or work.  Anything that you do on a regular basis, that is fairly transactional and can be broken down into simple steps in sequence.  The next step here is to standardize these repetitive tasks and simplify them so that they’re are take as little time and effort required to complete them.  These can be something as simple as a process for taking in mail in your home (not all that uncommon) or  a new client intake process for your home carpeting outfit.  The object is to get these processes and tasks down to the minimum required steps so you have maximum time to be spent on value, income, or enjoyment generating activities.  You can get a lot of savings in time and money out of merely standardizing and simplifying these repetitive tasks.  The idea is to do these steps in the same way, in the same amount of time, with the same resources (equipment, machines, tools, aids, etc.) each and every time.  A good book to help on processes or tasks that are fairly complicated, that you want to train others in (including your kids!), and need to be done in order and correctly each time, is Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

Work in Process

Everyone by and large knows what multi-tasking is.  That’s more synonymous with a single individuals attention and effort, at any given time, being divided amongst several “in work” tasks.  I’m speaking in the larger sense of having several projects (a sequence/set of tasks/events required to produce a desired outcome) or units of production like your widgets we talked about earlier.  Having SOME WIP is essential to be doing anything and producing or accomplishing anything.  But the reality, and the math works out as such, that the more of this WIP you have that isn’t “essential” to getting things done, the more time is wasted, errors occur, and ultimately a non-optimal amount of results are being produced, i.e. lost money, time, effort, and attention.  At home, this means having a lot of projects getting all done at the same time. We all know what we’re talking about here, that door frame that’s required repair for so long and you’re halfway through but keep running into issues or need other materials, that new bunk bed you’re building for your kids, and that raised bed gardens that just needs the dirt and finishing touches.  There’s a serious cost here, especially on mental burden, when there is so much in work and not being accomplished.  In life, I feel like this is another one of those “unintended consequences” of an abundant life where we have lots of resources, time, and attention that can be allocated and if we’re not careful, we can overwhelm ourselves and have some level of mental anguish occur as a result.  Some people can have serious mental consequences result from feeling overwhelmed by all they have going on at the same time.  The mental space is the first place that benefits from minimizing the work in process I’m talking about but your pocket book is the next most significant place.  It takes preparation, forethought, coordination, and planning to be able to get to a minimum WIP and get work done from start to finish in as short a time as possible.  However, the math involved in situations like these always plays out such that having a small number of projects and units in production to keep the maximum output required, will greatly benefit your home life and business.

Strategic Buffers

There are really 3 fundamental components to a system to accomplishing anything and creating something out of “stuff” that otherwise wouldn’t become your “stuff” on it’s own.  Those are time, inventory or your “stuff” in production, and resources (resources can be further broken down but I won’t get into that here).  Everyone’s pretty familiar with the concept of leaving a “little extra time” for traveling a long distance so you’re sure you’ll get to that appointment on time or a little earlier, and leaving that extra room in your time allows for absorbing those unforeseen events as happening (traffic, an accident, having to stop for a kid potty break, etc.).  Well, Strategic buffers are essentially that but bigger and applied across these 3 inputs to any project or production.  These buffers go hand in hand with WIP as well. Thinking ahead on a project you’re trying to get done and thinking about where you might need some extra time, or perhaps double up on possible contractors for that remodel in case one doesn’t pan out or get to the job when needed, or having a backup machine to handle excess production volumes that are needed.  All of these need to be placed “strategically” and by that I mean with a sense for the high level, systems view of what you’re trying to get done and placing these buffers where the maximum payoff can occur or where the riskiest and most critical steps are occurring that MUST be accomplished on time and as expected.  A really fantastic book for anyone running a product or service business is Factory Physics for Managers .  While it contains some technical review and information, it is quite approachable and will drastically improve your handling of the fundamental "physics" operating in your business.

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Once your life or business gets going and you have several streams of processes, transactions, information, and other units of "stuff" moving through a project or system, all of the 4 characteristics of scaling up become CRITICAL.  They're all already happening but what I've tried to illustrate here is the fact that either you can be throwing away time, money, effort, and attention by NOT controlling them or you can master them and thus stop the bleeding and maximize the positive benefits to your life and business.  Contact Me for a consultation if you need more help.

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