By Gerry Valentine
As conscious business leaders, we are committed to running companies that not only make money, but also have a positive impact on the planet and the people we touch.
I see too many well-conceived and well-intentioned conscious businesses flounder or fail because of a very solvable problem - they lack effective business planning. Good business planning provides a roadmap so employees can stay aligned towards common goals; it provides foresight that protects against disruptions; and when done correctly, it unlocks creativity and innovation.
One problem is that most conventional planning tools don’t meet the needs of conscious companies. Many leaders also expect planning to be an arduous, time-consuming process that just produces lots of paper, but it doesn’t have to be. Below is a seven-step business planning process that’s designed for conscious companies. It’s flexible and lightweight, and the only documentation needed is to take good notes during the planning meeting - those notes become your plan!
Seven Step Business Planning for Conscious Companies
No. 1 - REVIEW YOUR PURPOSE
The statement of purpose (or mission statement) is the foundation of any conscious business, and it needs to be the foundation of business planning. Though companies use many different formats, the essence of a great purpose statement is often just one to three sentences, and it answers this key question: What problem does your company solve for your customers/ stakeholders/ the world, and why are they better off because of you?
Here are some great examples:
- Google: “...to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
- Nordstrom: “...to give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible [and] offer the best possible service, selection, quality, and value.”
- JetBlue: “In the air and on the ground, we’re committed to bettering the lives of our customers, crew members, and communities - and inspiring others to do the same.”
A poorly conceived purpose statement (or lacking a purpose statement altogether) is often the root of serious business problems. Make sure your purpose statement is a compelling representation of your company.
No. 2 - MAP YOUR STAKEHOLDER ECOSYSTEM
In addition to making a profit, conscious businesses consider the impact they have on their stakeholder ecosystem to be a fundamental part of their success - this is a key way in which planning for conscious businesses differs from planning for conventional businesses. Stakeholders include customers, employees, suppliers, communities you work in, and more. Most conscious companies also list the planet or the environment as a stakeholder as well. Map out the stakeholders your business interacts with.
No. 3 - ASSESS ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND CHALLENGES TO DATE
Look back over the last year and brainstorm a list of the company’s key accomplishments. This includes larger quantitative results, like revenue or launching new products, but also smaller or less tangible things, like improving employee moral. Do the same thing for challenges that have emerged.
No. 4 - ASSESS STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, OPPORTUNITIES, & THREATS
Brainstorm your company’s consistent strengths. These are the things that set you apart from your competitors. Perhaps you have superior customer service or extremely dedicated employees. Brainstorm the company’s weaknesses - places where you consistently underperform. Maybe you are plagued by product quality problems or repeatedly missed deadlines. Now brainstorm potential opportunities and threats that may come up in the future. Opportunities might include new markets that could open up, and a threat might be a new competitor on the horizon.
No. 5 - DO A STAKEHOLDER IMPACT ASSESSMENT
Think about how your company’s activities have impacted your stakeholder ecosystem. For example, if you increased profit by unfairly cutting costs, that might have negatively impacted your vendors and employees. If you reduced greenhouse gas emissions, that had a positive impact on the environment stakeholder. Add any positive impacts on shareholders to your list of accomplishments. Add any negative impacts to the list of challenges.
No. 6 - SET GOALS, MEASUREMENTS, & STRATEGIES
Now you’re ready to establish your plan. To identify your goals, look at your list of accomplishments and challenges, along with your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and ask the following questions:
- What are the most important things we need to accomplish in order to achieve our purpose?
- What past accomplishments can we further leverage?
- What challenges do we most need to address and how can we do that?
- How might we leverage our strengths and offset our weaknesses?
- What opportunities can we take advantage of, and what threats do we need to guard against?
List the most important goals that emerge. I typically recommend no more than five to seven goals. They should be big picture items like, “Increase sales by 20 percent,” “Decrease our operating costs by ten percent,” or “Deliver our products in 24 hours or less.” Also, for conscious companies, remember stakeholder goals like “Decrease our power consumption by ten percent” or “Improve our relationship with the local community” should also be listed.
Make sure each goal has a specific measurement and timing, meaning that you’ve identified exactly how you will know the goal has been achieved and when. That’s generally easy for quantitative things, like a sales goal, but it can be more challenging with qualitative goals like “Improve customer service.” Clearly articulated measurements are also an important leadership tool, because they allow your team to know exactly how you define success, what you expect to see, and when you expect to see it. If you’re having trouble defining a specific measurement then that often means your goal isn’t specific enough.
Next, define the strategies for each goal. Strategies define how you’ll achieve each goal, and they give your team a sense of direction. For example, a goal to increase sales by 20 percent might have strategies like “Identify new customer segments and increase repeat purchases.” A good test to see if you have the goal/ strategy alignment right is that you can articulate them in an “achieve [goal] by [strategy]” construct. For example, “Increase sales by 20 percent by identifying new customer segments and increasing repeat purchases.”
No. 7 - END WITH AN IMMEDIATE NEXT-STEP ACTION PLAN
The final step is to create an immediate next-step action plan. This is not a detailed tactical plan, but rather the immediate next steps you need to move the plan forward, although sometimes developing a tactical plan is one of the immediate next steps. Developing financial projections based on the identified goals is also typically one of the immediate next steps.
Make sure that each goal has at least one immediate next step to ensure it moves forward. Examples might include, “Review sales goal with sales force,” or “Develop a list of options for reducing power consumption.” Each immediate next step should include four things:
- The specific next step
- Who is responsible?
- What will be delivered?
- When it will be delivered - Follow up to ensure progress
The most important next step is to set a time to reconvene and follow up on progress against the business plan. I generally recommend that companies reconvene once every three to four months to assess progress against the plan. This allows them to make sure the business stays on track, to make any needed adjustments, and to make sure they get the maximum value out of the planning process.
Gerry Valentine is founder of Vision Executive Coaching. He works with socially responsible leaders to build companies that can change the world - focusing on business strategy, innovation, and leadership. Gerry has 30 years of leadership experience with multiple Fortune 100 companies, an MBA from NYU, and a BS from Cornell University.