When and How to Review Your Growth Strategy
This is a guest post by John Courtney, Founder and CEO of BoardroomAdvisors.co
Planning your growth strategy isn’t finished once you’ve left the meeting. If you want your business to succeed, you need to review your strategy and make sure it’s all staying on track.
Exactly how often you should be doing these reviews gets a similar answer to so many questions in business: it depends. There are many factors that go into your growth strategy review process, and you have to find what works for your business.
This article will explain some of the factors that can help you choose, as well as offer advice on building a strategy with reviews in mind.
What’s in a review?
Reviewing your growth strategy is important, but it needs to be done properly to be effective. Your review marks progress and warns when things need to change. You want to make sure you can actually take these messages from your process.
A review should be a comparison of progress to a set of fairly hard conditions. If you hadn’t thought about the conditions when you wrote your strategy, it might be a good idea to review it sooner rather than later and write some targets into your plan.
What makes a good objective will be covered later on, but these are the aims you’re trying to meet with your growth strategy. A review should tell you if you’re on track to meet them.
When reviewing your strategy, you want to be checking progress on two fronts:
- Tactics – strategies are made up of individual tactics to be completed. If your business isn’t on track, why has this happened?
- Current growth – if a strategy is far from completion, this helps set a baseline for how much growth is normal. If parts have been completed, it helps you see how much it’s already helping.
If you’re falling behind, is it because there’s a bottleneck that you need to free up first, or is it because you were too ambitious? You can change your priorities to make yourself more scalable first, or modify your objectives to be more realistic.
If you’re making good progress but not achieving much growth, was this expected? If what you had done should have already triggered some growth, ask yourself if the strategy needs to be replaced. If you never expected much until you were done, then you know not to worry.
What’s your growth strategy?
The first step to understanding how soon you should be reviewing your strategy is to look at your strategy. When you wrote your growth strategy, you were setting out a plan for your business’s future.
This plan included targets that you wanted to achieve. These targets are metrics of how often you should be reviewing them. If you said you wanted something achieved after a certain time, then that time is a hard maximum on your review.
However, it’s rarely a good idea to wait until the time limit is up before checking to see if it worked. If there were any problems along the way, then you won’t know until it’s too late. How regularly within that time frame you want to catch up will depend on the nature of the strategy. One with a lot of parts will need to be monitored more carefully than one which requires fewer but slower steps. The halfway point is also a good rule of thumb for checking in on something. This gives plenty of time for something to get underway but gives you time to fix things if necessary.
Consider what you’re actually looking for, and pick a schedule that fits the task naturally. The reviews don’t necessarily need to be evenly spaced, and can more organically fit the workflow of your growth strategy.
Matching your growth objectives
Objectives are your targets when writing a growth strategy. There are many tools available to help write a strategic plan, but a great one is MOST Analysis. This splits your planning process into 4 parts:
- Mission – specific, achievable goal, such as 10 percent growth in 1 year
- Objectives – what needs to be done to achieve your mission
- Strategies – options of what can be done to complete objectives
- Tactics – actionable tasks that make up a strategy
As you can see, this is very easy to review, which is part of what makes it so powerful. Using the above example, a year is too long to wait to have a review. You also have something easy to check against.
If after 6 months, you’ve already achieved 8 percent growth, then it’s working well. If you’ve only achieved 3 percent, maybe you need to rethink your strategy.
An important part of the planning process is deciding on your objectives. These need to match both your mission and your means. If your mission is an ambitious one, these objectives will need to be big too. If your mission has a short timeframe, your objectives need to be possible in that time.
Planning a set of measurable and realistic objectives is a key to a successful review process. This will show you the shape of your workflow and give you real values to compare against.
Choosing the right objectives
Without lots of experience running a business, it can be hard to know what the right objectives are. There are ways to assess how suitable an objective is. One of the most important factors for an objective is whether it’s realistic. Do you have the means to do it? How long would that objective actually take?
An objective that can be completed in-house may be easier to achieve quickly, but you have to be careful not to distract staff from their current work. If you need to hire more staff, how long will that take for the skill level you need? An objective that requires an external player, will almost certainly take longer. You’ll want to research who’s best to work with, you’ll need to pitch to them, and they’ll take some onboarding time. If you need more funding, how long will getting investment take?
Finally, some objectives just aren’t realistic for your mission. If you’d need to build a new factory, you probably can’t use that for a year-long mission. If you want to launch a big new product, it could have market research, seeking investment, R&D, going through regulations checks, initial manufacturing, and distribution timelines before it starts making any money.
If you’ve done something similar before, you’ll have an idea of how long it should take. You can also make use of market research and competitors. Observing typical timings and understanding each of the parts will help you figure out how long to give yourself.
If your objective would take longer to complete than you have time for, it won’t help you achieve your mission. This could mean you need to rethink your mission or focus on a different objective.
Addressing growth strategy gaps
It’s easy for gaps to form in your growth strategy, and it’s not a sign of poor planning. It’s hard to cover every base and predict every change. A strategic review can help you discover and plug gaps in your growth strategy.
If you have never encountered something before, you can’t know that it needs planning. Once you’ve seen it, you can review your strategy and modify your plan to fit.
Some things take everyone, from the smallest of startups to the largest of corporations, by surprise. Having crisis management built into your strategy can help mitigate these surprises, but in the end, everyone needs to adapt to them in some way.
Failure to address the gaps in your strategy can lead to you being left behind or leave you open to critical failures. Encountering one of these big, unexpected moments may be a good time to review your strategy again. Even if you had already done so recently, you want your business to be ready in its new landscape.
Scale of operations
The size of your business matters to the review process too. The complexity of your objectives will affect the regularity with which you review your growth strategy, and a larger business will inherently be more complicated.
If you all work in the same office, it’s easier to keep on top of things as you go. In this case, you may only need to formally review your growth strategy once a year. Less frequently than that may be leaving too large a gap.
A much larger business with multiple separate departments will almost certainly need more regular monitoring. Quarterly or even monthly reviews may be required to stay on top at times. It’s worth remembering, though, that you need to give things time to actually happen for a meeting to be meaningful.
How often you should review your growth strategy depends on your business. Make a schedule that works for your size and the objectives you want to achieve, and don’t hesitate to add more in order to deal with significant changes.
How you write your strategic plan can help inform your regularity, as well as make the reviews more useful. In the end, experience is the only way to ever truly know what’s best. This means using your intuition as the business’s leader and seeking support where you need it.
Having a Board member that has successfully scaled a business before can drastically improve your strategic process. Many choose to return to smaller businesses on a part-time basis after success so they can bring their experience to someone who would benefit from it. For example, a Strategy Director could help your business develop its growth strategy and keep it on track.
John Courtney is the Founder and Chief Executive of BoardroomAdvisors.co which provides part-time Executive Directors (Commercial/Operations/Managing Directors), Non-Executive Directors and paid Mentors to SMEs without either a recruitment fee or a long-term contract.
John is a serial entrepreneur, having founded 7 different businesses over a 40-year period, including a digital marketing agency, corporate finance, and management consultancy. He has trained and worked as a strategy consultant, raised funding through Angels, VCs, and crowdfunding, and exited businesses via MBO, MBI, and trade sales. He has been ranked #30 on CityAM’s list of UK Entrepreneurs.
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