Over the last two weeks, I’ve outlined my thoughts about why you should STOP and look ahead in your business. STOP is the pattern that we recommend for taking some time to plan for the next year or more of your business’s life.
STOP stands for:
OK. This is probably the hardest part for me. I’m not an organizer by nature. I’m more of a “Hey, why don’t we do this?!!?” and walk away kind of person. I’m also the kind that jumps into a project without really thinking it through all the way. Listen, I don’t judge you for your shortfalls. I’m working on some of this stuff. It just takes time.
I have to put systems in place to make sure that I’m organized. That’s why the third part of STOP is to Organize everything. It grew out of my need to be able to put everything together in a way that I understand because, like I said, I’m not a real organized person by nature.
Do not (yet) throw any of the ideas away. Even if they seem impossible, impractical, unlikely, or too hard, leave them in the mix. In fact, by now, you should have more ideas than you could possibly implement in a quarter, a year, or in five years. That was the big goal of the Thinking step, to get you to think about as many possibilities as you can.
Hopefully, you have your sticky notes. Here’s what should be on them:
- The destinations
- The starting places
- The history
- The ways you think you can get your destinations
Here’s why using a co-work space would be great if you can. Start sticking your sticky notes to the wall. If you don’t have that kind of room, don’t worry, just use the table that you’re using. If you don’t have a table, you might have to find a creative way to spread these ideas out and start to organize them. I hope your lap is big enough…
I always start on the left and go from left to right, but that’s just me. You could go from right to left, up to down, down to up, pile them up, build a pyramid, or a bunch of emojis if that makes you happy. It really doesn’t matter how you do it, but putting these sticky notes out where you can see them is important. Those visual cues will help you to decide what makes the most sense when you get to the next step.
Start with your starting places (or if you want, start at the very beginning, which we all know is a very good place to start). Lay them out so that they are in the same plane, pile, or circle. Follow that with organizing your destinations in a similar lay out where you can draw some kind of line from start to destination. Now you know why I like going from left to right. It just visually makes sense to me.
With your starting points and destinations laid out, use your crazy, fun, wild, and (even) your sensible ideas to connect them. There are ideas that might help you reach multiple destinations. Make sure that you capture those. That might become a critical decision making point for you. Get all those sticky notes out there and make sure that every idea that you have finds a home. It’s even possible that your ideas take you from a starting point and don’t point to a destination that you’ve thought of. That’s ok. Just get all the ideas out there where you can see them.
What about those sticky notes about your past? Put them in a place of prominence outside of the rest. I would put mine above the others. This is to remind you of the critical lessons you’ve already learned and some of the failures that you’ve had they will help to focus you on where you’re going and that’s what’s most important in the next step.
Here we go. The prior steps have been really fun. OK, at least I think that they are because they are based in dreaming and being creative. They are about what is possible. Now, we have to get down to figuring out which of your possibilities you’ll work on. It’s time to start paring down options because if you did this right, there are more possibilities available to you than you could possibly effectively handle in one year or even in five years.
Start looking at those destinations and figure out which are the most critical to getting your business to where you want it to be. What are your real goals for your business? Where do you want to be in five years? As you look at your possible destinations, pull the possibilities that don’t match where you want to go down and keep them in a pile. Decide which of these destinations you will be able to reach in a year, and which you need to push out to the five year plan. These destinations don’t have to be the most practical, the easiest, or even the most cost effective. We haven’t even looked at those factors yet. That’s for you to handle later. What we want to answer now is which destinations are the most critical for you to get to where you want to go?
Now that you have only those destinations that best help you get to where you want to be, you need to look at the ideas that you posted and decide which of them gets you to those destinations. Take those that don’t help you get there and set them aside for later.
This is it. It’s the home stretch and hopefully you can take the time to get here. Create the plan. You don’t need all of the implementation ideas, just the bulk of the plan. You’ll still need to communicate the plan and work out the implementation after that. You can’t communicate the plan until you have a solid idea of what it really is. That’s another point for another day.
What you should have left on your wall, table, or in stacks are the most important destinations and that paths that will take you there. Take your destinations and order them from longest term to shortest term. Here’s a hint. Those shorter-term destinations are mile markers and celebration points along the way to the next destination. Then you decide what actions you need to start taking immediately to get to the shortest-term places and what actions you can push off to later.
The key with later actions is that you have to decide what has to happen to start on them. For example, if you have a goal of expanding your team into two offices, you need to know what revenues you need to generate before you can do that. It’s all about setting secondary milestones that tell you to do something else.
By the time you’re done planning, you have the next five years all laid out, right? Right, at least it’s the right plan for now. That’s why this is a quarterly process. You don’t have to address anything beyond the current year’s plan quarterly, but you do have to be aware of where you’re going long term. When you STOP again next quarter, it’ll be easier to get started because you’ll have solid information to start with and you’ll be better at it. By the time you do this for a year or two, you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll be at creating plans that really move things forward. Hopefully, it won’t take you long to really plan some audacious goals. By the way, keep those sticky notes that you didn’t use today. They might become important enough for another STOP day.
Now, STOP and see what’s ahead.
PS – I had to get this in in three pieces because next week is Holiday policy language, Christmas edition. YAY.
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