In last week’s post, we discussed the need to pull away and plan for your business. Let me remind you that the most sure way to get the same results that you’ve always gotten is to do what you’ve always done. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll become irrelevant and the market will move around you.
Last week, I introduced what I call the STOP planning pattern (Separate, Think, Organize, and Plan). I told you last week that you needed to Separate yourself from your normal routine and schedule for a day or so. If you want the details, you’ll have to go back and read last week’s post. No spoilers here. Let’s move on to the T in STOP.
Thinking is quickly becoming a lost skill. We are flooded by input all day every day.
- Our smartphones tell us about the world around us.
- We look at news stories and images from around the world.
- Our work is fast-paced and never slows down.
- We look at social media more often than we look at the people around us.
Not only are we slaves to the constant flow of input, but we also pay a premium for production. Think about it. Insurance agencies are paid based on the policies sold. The producers get commissions based on their production. It’s built in their titles. We make checklists so that we can feel accomplished. It lets us know that we did something. We want productivity. The last half of the 20th century was spent trying to figure out ways to squeeze more out of every hour. How do you get people to produce more?
Even today we look for ways to be more productive. We went to lunch at a local fast casual place. They have a mobile app that will let you order (and pay for your order) before you even get there. When you get there, if the line is too long for you, you can order from an automated kiosk. If you’re in a real hurry, you can even log into the kiosk and pick a favorite meal. While this makes for a show of customer-centric design, it is really more about improved productivity. It’s about getting you in, fed, and out as quickly as possible.
I want you to be more productive, too. But I want you to do it thoughtfully. That’s why the next step when you STOP is to think. Sure, getting out of the office and disconnecting from the day to day is great but if you don’t use that time wisely, you’re bound to repeat what you did last year, and the last ten years. It’s time to think. Since you’re already away from the office and you’re avoiding your smartphone (please, avoid your smartphone), I recommend that you bring with you several pads of sticky notes so that you can write things down. If you’re really creative, go ahead and buy different color sticky notes.
The first color of sticky notes are about where you want to go. Let’s just call these the destinations. Where do you want your business to be in five years, or next year, or even next quarter. You’ve heard this a million times by now, but it’s true. If you don’t look ahead and have a destination, you’ll never get as far as you could get. Your business might grow, but it’ll be by accident rather than intentionally. How many people have you known that just drifted through their lives and their careers?
This is really a dreaming stage. You get to think about what great things could happen if… Have you ever taken the time to think about what would happen if…? You probably did it as a kid. (Cue the Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older…”) That’s what you get to do here. Don’t take this step so seriously that you don’t come up with any crazy out of reach ideas. Dream and dream big. I would have called this the dream step, but SDOP didn’t sing like STOP did.
The next color of sticky notes are about where you’ve been. There are a lot of people that will tell you to ditch the past, but the past is important. It’s where you store all of the lessons that you’ve learned. That’s where you keep all of the mistakes that helped to shape your current direction. That’s where you failed, but got up. That’s where you have the great moments that have prepared you for today and tomorrow. The past is what works to shape today. When you’re thinking about the past, ask yourself if your business is still the business that it was. It’s fine if it isn’t, but you should know about it. Do you have any past failures that will help you in the future? Do you have some incomplete plans from the past that you can resurrect?
The next color of sticky notes are about where you are. This is the real down to earth part of this step. This deals with the straight forward data about your business. This is where you decide what data are important to know, to track, and to improve. It might be as simple as knowing what ratio of business you’re retaining, what your new business looks like, what your total revenues are and what your profit is.
Do not skip on this step. It doesn’t matter how badly this hurts. You needed to open your eyes anyway. You need to take an honest look at things as they are. Not as you wished they were. Not as your team keeps telling you they are. This is a reality check moment. A chance to take in the whole truth about your business. You’ll thank me this later, eventually. When you get over the trauma.
The last sticky note color (that’s four for those of you who are keeping score at home) is about how you’re going to get to the destinations from where you are. Every trip requires knowing three things: where you are, where you want to be, and ways to get there from here. Call it a roadmap. Call it a flowchart. Call it a recipe. This is another place for dreaming; and dream big. Take this time to dream up ways that you can get to the destinations that you want to get to.
This is not just about doubling efforts that you’re already working on. Of course, there are things that you should keep doing. But what if you are looking to break into a new niche? What will that require? Is it possible that you might need to add to the team? What about moving people around in the team? What about forming a new team? Do you need to look at investing in technology changes? Do you need to do something new with the office space? This is the place where you try and create ways to accomplish getting to all of the fun places you said you wanted to get to.
Another long one, but I hope you got some value from it. I also hope that you create a pile of sticky notes when you finally STOP and spend some time on your business. Yes, next week will be long, too (and worth the read).
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