With the start of the New Year, every businessperson’s thoughts have naturally turned to the year ahead. As business owners, this first week of 2015 is an outstanding time for reflection and planning. Yet, like the New Year’s resolutions we make in our personal life, too often the plans and commitments we make fall by the wayside, even before Puxatony Phil makes his annual public debut to check for his shadow.
So how do we build a plan that we'll actually stick to and achieve new levels of business growth in 2015? Start by avoiding these 6 common mistakes...
ONE: Fail to Plan At All
We’ve all been there…You think to yourself, why waste the time? I have planned in years past and never got the results I wanted. Maybe people didn’t buy in. Maybe your goals were put on hold the first time a client called with an emergency or you got a big project. [Insert reason you tell yourself it isn't worth the time and energy here].
The fact is that without a clear and actionable plan, nothing ever changes. At least, it rarely ever changes for the better. Imagine if military commanders just woke up every morning and reacted to whoever was shooting at them that day? Doesn’t that sound like a recipe for stalemate at best and defeat at worst?
When your initial efforts don't work, it doesn’t mean you abandon them entirely. You have to change the WAY you execute your plan so that it will be successful.
TWO: Bite Off More Than You Can Possibly Chew
When regular strategic planning isn’t a part of your company’s DNA, you tend to want to cram all the things that need to be addressed into one huge laundry list of goals and priorities. After all, this is your one big chance to get it all on the table, right?
There is nothing wrong with making the page-long list of priorities, but you can’t possibly implement them all at once. The old axiom that change is hard is well proven. Psychologist Ray Baumeister’s famous Chocolate and Radish study in 1998 established that the Willpower and Self-Regulation required to sustain change is a finite resource.
When the phones are ringing off the hook, and all of the other daily challenges are beating on your door, how much change can your organization really sustain at once? How much energy is there available to sustain that new procedure or to market that new service?
When I walk through GrowMyMSP.com’s full-day initial Kickstart Engagement with clients, we leave with dozens of possible winning moves. If they tried to address them all at once, they would certainly fail. The key is to rank them by impact and difficulty. I then help them pick the 2-4 moves with the highest impact for the lowest relative difficulty. Afterward, we set a 90 day mission to address those. With these moves then ingrained into the organization, we can pick the next 2-4 moves. Rinse and repeat over succeeding quarters, and you'll see massive improvement. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are Breakthrough MSPs.
THREE: Cruise Above The Tree Tops
Taking on too much is not the only pitfall to avoid. Have you ever set lofty goals without preparation for how you'll meet them? Epic fail. Too often, like the Underpants Gnomes in the classic South Park episode, we have step one down and know where we ultimately want to go. Unfortunately, we neglect to figure out how we're going to get from point A to point B.
This is where I love to use the iterative questioning technique of the Five Whys to get to the root cause of the problem, and make sure our plan addresses what is really standing between you and your desired outcome.
Also, as part of this process, don’t forget to establish hard target numbers to MEASURE results. We tend to rationalize our results to let ourselves off the hook when things get hard. Setting an unacceptable number as Red and the target as Green leaves anything in the middle as Yellow. Make sure you can measure your results on, at least, a weekly basis and report them publicly to drive accountability.
FOUR: Set Your Sights Too Low
Let’s try a thought experiment.
“We’re going to create a fourth generation launch vehicle that gets astronauts to orbit 20% cheaper”
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
Which one is going to motivate you and your team to press on when things get hard - when you have to eat the proverbial radishes to reach your goal?
Burned by too many unmet goals, it can be tempting to set the bar low enough that we think we can clear it. We tell ourselves that it is better to get something accomplished than nothing. This is false thinking though. If we do not think the end result is worthy of the effort, it is unlikely we will invest what is necessary to achieve even modest results. Not only that, if we do achieve the goal, it will provide precious little fuel and sense of accomplishment to tackle the next challenge.
Don’t make the mistake of playing small when success demands dreaming big. You don’t have to climb Everest in a single day, but knowing that the trek up the small hill is the first step in reaching the summit, is enough to give you the sense of urgency and accomplishment needed to do it.
FIVE: Ignore History
The quote about the definition of insanity has been used ad-nauseum to illustrate my next point. However, I challenge you to look at it slightly differently. It is not that chasing the same goal over and over again is the definition of insanity. It is ignoring that the ACTION you have repeatedly tried doesn’t work that is the true definition.
You might not need a new goal as much as you need a new approach, or incentive, or strategy. When I work with clients around the Service Delivery and Provisioning facets of the Breakthrough MSP model, one technique I stress is conducting what Jim Collins referred to in Good to Great as “an Autopsy Without Blame.” Using this same technique when looking at what went wrong the last time you set a goal or target, is equally critical.
Accept that it is not the people that failed, but the process that failed. Only then can you get past the blame, personalities, and negative energy that will sabotage your new goal. Figure out what didn’t work last time and address it in the new plan. If the goal was to increase ticket discipline and it didn’t work then, WHY didn’t it work? Make a new solution or approach to that “Why,” a part of this year's plan to meet the goal.
Related: How to Write an MSP Business Plan
Make the new definition of insanity doing the same thing IN THE SAME WAY over and over and expecting a different result.
SIX: Start Without The Destination In Mind
The last way to fail is to have no ultimate destination in mind for your business. The heart of this failure is nicely encompassed by this quote:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where –"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
One of the biggest failures in doing any strategic planning (and year end planning in particular), is to treat it as a one time exercise with no context. Growing a breakthrough MSP practice is like getting the proverbial giant flywheel spinning. It can’t be done with a single push, and it certainly can’t be done by a series of pushes in random directions over time. It has to be done with a consistent series of small pushes in the same direction that build momentum.
In the same way, you need to have a 5-10 year goal (or goals) for your practice. These need to be connected to some 2-3 year milestones on the way to that goal. These must be supported by your goals for 2015 that will get you part of the way there, and finally, by 90 day missions that support the annual goal.
Our team members expect consistency. Imagine one year or quarter, the message is all about Customer Satisfaction and the next time concerns utilization or ticket discipline. Not only will your team be confused by the change of focus, but they may well decide this is just the “fad of the month.” If they just keep their head down, it will blow over.
If you want to create real breakthrough change this year, end planning is just one piece of a much larger planning and accountability process. There are many great resources out there to help you with this. Believe me, investing in and getting this right will pay huge dividends for your practice - not just in 2015, but for many years to come!