Planning in your business could be part of an ongoing planning cycle.
In a small business, many parts of this planning cycle overlap – just because your business is probably not as complex as large businesses.
However, in any planning cycle, eventually, the rubber has to hit the road and people have to do the detailed, tactical work to implement strategies and achieve audacious goals.
The way we translate big visions, ambitious goals and inspiring strategies to getting the work done is to cascade the plans into Action Plans.
What are Action Plans, and how do we create them?
You can download a free copy of our Action Plan template here.
But first, let’s take a step back.
In your Business Plan, you would have articulated a clear and measurable vision of your successful business.
In doing so, you would have analysed the difference between that vision and your current situation, so you would have set up goals and strategies to get there from where you are.
These strategies in your Business Plan should be big-picture strategies like “increase marketing to grow sales by 20%” or “implement a procedural system to reduce errors by 20%” or “open a new market in the next city by 2025” and so on.
So far, you have cascaded the description of your vision into focused goals, and from those goals into strategies to achieve those goals – a clear line of direction.
Having set meaningful goals and strategies, the next step is to ensure those strategies are actually carried out on a day-to-day, step-by-step, series of actions.
So now, you need to further cascade those strategies into detailed Action Plans.
Each strategy needs to be projected into an Action Plan.
An Action Plan is just a list of the steps you need to take in the right order, so as to implement the strategy.
But when I say “just a list”, it’s so much more!
Your Action Plans need to commit to action, and to achieving or completing the objectives of those actions – in other words, not just action for action’s sake.
So, any Action Plan needs to list the steps you need to take, in the right order, and define the required result of each step.
For example, one of the steps you may need to take in order to increase marketing is to prepare a marketing plan for next year.
If you just listed the step – you may complete it, but the marketing plan may be unrealistic or not achieve the result of a 20% increase in sales. So the result of the action should be noted, for example, “the resulting marketing plan should show a return on investment of 10 times cost of marketing and show how it will result in a 20% increase in sales”.
You also need to make sure that people commit to taking these actions so your Action Plan should include the name (or title) of the person mainly responsible for taking each action as well as when that action should be completed.
You can download a free copy of our Action Plan template that includes all these items here.
Here is how you cascade your strategy into your Action Plan.
Print a copy of the Action Plan template and to make sure that you stay focused on implementing the right strategy to achieve the right goal, write the Goal and the Strategy at the top.
Before you write in the template, it may be best to use a whiteboard or post-it notes to write down all the steps you think you need to take to implement the strategy.
Whether you write very detailed steps like “Print X copies of the Y Report” then “Distribute one copy each to A, B, and C” then “Check they have read it”, or more chunked steps like “Y Report should be read by everyone” is up to you. Some teams require very detailed, direct instructions, while other teams are capable of more independent work.
Once you think you have listed all the necessary steps, review the steps to make sure they can be listed in the right order. On a whiteboard, you can just rub off and rewrite while using post-it notes you can move them around to the right order.
Then, write them into the template in the right order and provide a step number in front of each.
Once you have listed all the necessary action steps in the right order, consider what is the required result when the steps are each completed. As far as possible identify the measurement or clear result that is required – cost in dollars, time saved, a document is signed off, approval is given, and so on. This ensures that when an action is said to be completed, you can check that it is indeed fully completed.
Then nominate a “Leader” for each step.
In most cases, a set of actions in one Action Plan may only have one Leader, but there may be different actions that need someone else with the right capabilities to take leadership.
When completing the action step, a number of people may be involved. However, the name here should be the Leader of the action – the person co-ordinating and who is ultimately responsible that the action is completed and the right result achieved.
Of course, when you do this you cannot just name someone (especially if they are not present!). In order to obtain commitment, you need to obtain buy-in so you need to discuss and negotiate the leadership task. You should also negotiate what time and resources they need to complete the action step as well as the necessary level of authority they can have.
As part of this discussion, you should also have arrived at a deadline when that task can be completed and you should note that into your template.
Once completed, review the Action Plan for completeness, that the steps are in the right order, and that the deadlines flow from each other (step 10 should not have to be completed before step 1!).
Following this process, you should be able to transfer broad strategic goals into day-to-day action lists.
In order to manage and monitor progress, you may find it useful to transfer all the deadlines into a business-wide calendar so that everyone can see what is coming up. You should also organise monitoring and evaluation meetings that ensure everyone is up to date, and where changes have to be made, they can be made.
Remember, Business Planning is part of a cycle, so as time goes by you need to return to the start of the cycle and review your business plan. If you haven’t even started planning here’s what you can do:
- Learn more about Business Planning and get a checklist so you can start your own plan
- Watch a short video training session on how to prepare your own Business Plan
- Get online guidance and workshop your own Business Plan
It’s coming to Christmas soon and we’re going to have some downtime to recharge, so why not spend some of that time planning how you’re going to grow your business?
See you soon!