By Robert Craven, MD Of The Directors' Centre
Three months ago I sat in on a so-called management meeting for a rather lovely business (10 staff in the creative industry) who were heading towards bankruptcy with remarkable speed.
They asked if I could bring a magic wand with me. (The bank manager's heavy-handed letter had prompted the meeting).
They showed me their wonderful work, they showed me their wonderful business plan and then they started to bitch amongst themselves about why other things were stopping them from being successful. The problem was not defined but a few questions clarified what was going on. In a nutshell, the key comments I heard were following a well-worn model:
- ‘We're losing clients’
- ‘Clients have got tighter and tighter budgets and are less and less profitable’
- ‘Profitability is declining’
- ‘Cash is shrinking at an increasing rate’
Getting them to pause for breath, I asked them to explain how they get things done. The gregarious boss, Tony, explained: "We have this drop-dead vision and mission and out of that has emerged our strategy, milestones and performance indicators. Robert, we copied it straight out of your book so we know that it will work." The pregnant pause was huge. My nervousness was massive.
This team of creatives had skipped through the process without actually taking ownership of it. After twenty minutes I had put them back in the driving seat.
Business planning is simply making your mistakes on paper. It is only worth the paper that it is written on if something happens.
Here is what they had missed:
SUCCESS = DECISIONS + ACTIONS + ACCOUNTABILITY = RESULTS and OUTCOMES/BENEFITS
Success, at its simplest, is about following through (according to its Greek origins).
As well as doing all the good business planning stuff there is a need for your team to:
1. Make the tough decisions - what you are going to do.
2. Take action based on the decisions - doing it.
3. Be accountable - who are you going to report to? (to make sure you do it) - what are the penalties and rewards for success/failure?
4. Deliver the results and associated outcomes and benefits.
They had written the business plan and then they waited! They had reverted to staring at the phones and their inboxes and waiting for something to happen. They had to break this loop of despair and negativity and get out there and make something happen.
They quoted some mid-Atlantic author who talks about passion and the will of the spirit and the karma of knowing your goal and meditating on it. Time for a wake-up call.
After they realised the vacuous nature of the philosophy (why should wanting something to happen make it happen?) they sat down and discussed how and why they got results. What was it that made them different from the competition? What was it that their clients loved about them? What was it that couldn't be copied? What was it that added 'awesome value' (their words) to their clients?
A new one-page plan was created with clear, measurable actions distributed. Everyone was to report in to the MD on Friday afternoon. All successes were to be celebrated. A new "quick 'n' dirty" marketing and sales plan was put into action within seven days. Every single existing and past client was contacted with a compelling proposition or white paper document that demonstrated how working with the agency would deliver clear results for the client.
Results are the proof of the pudding for the agency. Eight weeks since our meeting, the numbers tell the story. The pipeline is bigger, the proposal hit rate is better, the order book is fuller than it has been for nearly a year.
One swallow doesn't make a summer, but the agency has taken control of its destiny and stopped hiding from the decisions and actions that it needed to take to get the results it wanted.
Tony sent me a brief email this morning: "The penny has dropped. It is all about making the tough decisions then taking massive action and being accountable and getting the results. Thank you." Job done!
Join us on