Had a lot of uncertainty this past year, but we made it through okay. Looking forward, things seem to be looking up. Am I being too optimistic? How can one really plan ahead longer term when we don’t know how things are going to play out?
THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: Looking ahead, change is a given. Look for the upside. Be clear about the overall mission. Learn how to take manageable risks.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in short-term concerns. With constant bombardment of day-to-day decision-making, business owners can find it hard to make time to think more than 10 years down the road. And yet, looking back, 10 years can seem to have gone by in a blink. Take time out to get away, bring along key managers and advisors. Create an environment conducive to considering the long-term possibilities.
Think of the business as a multi-generational survivor, rather than a multi-decade survivor.
Shift focus to considering how the business continues to succeed even as markets, employees and owners come and go.
By thinking longer term, it’s easier to overlook possible short-term bumps in the road. Once longer-term strategy is set, then consider the impact of various positive and negative short-term influences. Focus on what has to happen to make the business more agile, more able to turn on a dime if needed.
Get perspective. Gather as much outside information as possible. Cultivate expert sources with differing points of view. Discuss and debate the possibilities. Rather than jumping into the discussion, sit back and watch the debate unfold. Create an environment that fosters innovation by encouraging out-of-the-box thinking.
Ask critical questions about how the business sees itself now and in the future.
What markets are served now, and will those markets continue with similar needs in the future, or will a significant change in customer focus be needed? How will technology change and how will that help or hinder the company’s financial position? What investments will be needed to keep up with a changing world and how likely is it that the company can afford that? What kinds of risks are shareholders and investors willing to take and how does that compare with the kinds of risks the business will be facing?
Be clear about the overall mission. Make sure that everyone is reminded about the need for long-term profitability, doing good work, serving customers who are growing and thriving, taking care of employees and building the future foundation of the business by fostering an environment of learning and healthy competition.
Be open to the unknown, rather than fearful. Make a long list of possible issues that the company could face. For each issue, make a list of things the company could do to keep up or stay ahead.
Consider the ROI of each possible initiative.
Evaluate the investment needed to implement major changes and estimate the possible payoff. Factor in the risk of things going wrong — the less the company knows equates with greater risk and longer time to achieve ROI. Compare the cost of buying outside expertise with the potential to lower risk and increase payoff.
No matter how urgent the issues pressing on the business may seem, resist the temptation to make unsubstantiated leaps of faith. Meet regularly with advisors, key decision makers and influencers to discuss and debate alternatives. Make time to inform employees about ideas and directions and solicit their input.
Allow enough time to consider the challenges, brainstorm the opportunities, gather sufficient facts and think through how best to attack the future needs of the business. Learn to think of the future as opportunity — to profit from lessons learned and to embrace unrealized potential.