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Strategic Planning, One Quarter at a Time

Contributed by Marc Koehler

“Our competition stuck it to us in the second quarter and really put us in a hole. We analyzed what went wrong and made adjustments in the third quarter and you closed the gap. Let’s keep going in the fourth and get back to our strengths,” the leader was holding up his single page plan talking to his team, “and you all know your role. Now go out and finish strong.”

This beneficial between-quarters discussion between a leader and his team has happened millions of times since the 1880’s on football fields across the United States so what can business leaders learn from football coaches about managing through four quarters.

First, successful football coaches identify and nurture a story that is meaningful and inspiring to players. What is the end of season long term goal? What are the values the organization holds near and dear and how will they treat each other and their fans?

The best players will be attracted to those teams with the most inspirational story and culture. Winning state, national, or world championships while working in a culture of striving for excellence are what will attract the best players.

Business leaders need to do the same.  What is the reason the business exists and the difference it makes in the world? What are the values of the company? The inspiring story will attract the best employees who will be excited about helping you ‘move your mountain.’

Second, the most successful coaches enter a game with a detailed strategy, but to make it easy on the staff and the players, they put it on a single page which is carried by all the coaches on the sideline.

Business leaders need to do the same. Typical strategic plans are either not done or they consist of 32 pages in a binder that sits on a shelf and is confusing to read and understand. Put your inspiring story on the top of a page and the annual and quarterly goals on the bottom of the same page.  Everyone can see the long term big picture vision along with the small-bore quarterly focus.

Third, football coaches manage the game quarter by quarter. The end goal is to win the game, but they may not be able to stay with their initial strategy because there are so many things that can change.

You plan on running the ball, but unexpectedly find yourself 21 points down after the first quarter so you have to start throwing the ball more to catch up.

In another game, you plan on throwing the ball, but the winds are 40 mph across the field so you have to rely on running the ball instead.

While coaches make changes as the game progresses, they use the quarters to evaluate what went well and what needs to change. If they are on track, they keep doing what has made them successful. If their plan is not working or unforeseen circumstances come up, they make changes.

Business Leaders need to do the same. Whereas five years ago, it was sufficient to review your plan annually, nowadays the business environment is changing so rapidly that you need to manage your plan on a quarterly basis. Run the four quarters of your year like a football coach manages the four quarters of a football game. Have annual end goals, but create quarterly goals and focus all of your efforts on them.

Use the transitions from quarter to quarter to review your inspiring story and your progress during the previous 90 days. Mark items complete, move unfinished ones to the next quarter, or add others to keep moving you forward and keep a close eye on market conditions so you can make adjustments.

In summary, leaders need to manage their company like a football coach manages a game; from a single page and quarter-by-quarter. Employees will stay focused on what matters most knowing they are making a difference. You will also become agile and more easily adjust to any changes.

Marc is a turnaround specialist with over 25 years of experience helping companies identify, simplify, and amplify those things that are most important and make the greatest difference. His work involves helping people lead more purposeful and inspiring lives.

To contact Marc send your message to [email protected].

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