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Strategic Business Planning With Kathy Bowman Atkins

Kathy Bowman Atkins

Kathy Bowman AtkinsDocumenting and establishing a direction for your business is called strategic planning. This is a process of identifying where your business is going. Strategic planning will give you a place to record your mission, vision and long-term goals. The most important part of the process is when your action plans are beginning to be effective to reach your desired result, and this can play a vital role in your business’ growth because it will tell you how to best respond to the opportunities and challenges that might come your way. Strategic planning can take some time, but it’s definitely beneficial for everyone involved in the organisation. The process can foster an increase in efficiency and productivity, contributing to the success of your business. In this episode, Kathy Bowman Atkins shares her ideas about strategic planning. 

Josh: G’day everyone out there in podcast land, we’ve got Kathy Bowman Atkins from Lattitude Group who’s going to be talking today about how to recession-proof your business via strategic planning. A lot of people have felt a bit of pressure of recent with some of the different evolutions that have been happening around the globe and pandemics and whatnot. And this is by far one of the most relevant podcasts episodes that you should all be listening to.

So, Kathy, tell me, what is the step one, what is step one when it comes to strategic planning, especially in a time when there are 100 other things that are you juggling?

Kathy: Well, step one for strategic planning, whether it’s in crisis time or good times, is to get the leadership on board. A lot of people think you know, it’s hired this consultant, use this process, you know, XYZ, you know, elements, cover these things. If you don’t have the leadership on board, the owners and so forth, and they’re not behind it. I don’t care who you hire, how good they are, how good the process is, you have to have the leadership on board. That’s step one. And we talk to business owners and leaders about that very thing, Josh when they talk to us about helping them. We have to get their commitment or it’s a no go.

Josh: That makes a lot of sense. So you want to obviously make sure that you have the planning and you have the right model there. So when you are bringing that into place for full leadership. If you’ve got a business where you’ve been running it for many years, and you think that you’re a leader, but you may not notice the signs of micromanagement, and you think you’ve got a healthy team and a lot of people don’t change things because they’re not aware that they need to change things. How can you see the telltale signs that maybe you’re running, running a business, wearing suspenders and using the fax machine or you’re living in the 1980s, early 1990s? And maybe you need to change the way your mindset is, how can you sort of start to pivot that without destroying the relationships you have in the business? Or the way you’re working?

Kathy: It’s a really great question. And we’ve done that more than once. And we feel like that’s one of the things that people hire us for. It’s not just to pump out a strategic plan is to tell them the hard truth, tell them the things that they need to do to make the progress they need to. So the way we do that is that there are a few ways that we do that.

When we begin, we talked to key players in the business, not just the owners, not just what we call the sponsors, the people who have hired us, who’ve signed on the dotted line, okay? We want to talk to people across the business, okay, at every level in the business. So we conduct interviews with those folks. And we conduct interviews with all of the leaders individually, all the people that are going to be directly involved with the strategic planning process, because the truth of the matter is, no matter how open an environment, how to open a culture that a company may have, or may think they have, there are things that the owners and the leaders don’t know that people in the organisation can tell them.

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We’re pretty honest brokers. And it’s very important to be authentic. So we can develop trust and rapport with folks pretty quickly. And by the time we get ready to even put together the process for that strategic plan, that we have the tools, but there’s certain customization depending on the company, we have a pretty good idea of where the big warts are, quite frankly, where the big problems are in the company. And so we go and sit down and talk to people and even leaders and say, Hey, here are some things that we’ve heard, here are some things that we’re going to need to work on or you’re going to need to work on to make this work. We’re willing to work with you, we can help you, but you have to be willing to do it. So we have to have those honest conversations upfront to make that happen.

build a strong relationship with your peopleNow, what we have found over time, which is really interesting, Josh, in the early days of doing this, when we would come across that situation, my business partner and I, one of us in Canada that first would look at the other and say well we need to do this, but we’re probably going to get fired today, you know, they’re probably going to let us go. And it’s not happened yet. Because people, for the most part, really appreciate that now you don’t walk in there and tell them how lousy they are, etc. Because that’s not the case. You know, these people have done a lot right to, you know, to form companies or to become leaders of companies. And so we’re telling them in in a way that keeps the whole what they need to do. I mean, we’ve literally had conversations with business owners who started a business and ran them 20 years and said, if you don’t step aside, and let us help your new leadership, you’re not going to achieve the things that you say you want to achieve for this company and for your future, etc. And it’s happened. So, you know, that’s the way we do it.

So, most of the time, it happens just from that upfront due diligence that we do and talking to people, Josh, and honestly, but as we get into the process, you know, by that we work with companies, we absolutely develop strong relationships with these folks, and I think that’s really important. We really get ingrained in those companies. So we know what’s going on. And we have that kind of trust. So that as those things come up, we can apart, you know, deal with them, and talk to them about them. So that’s what’s really key, in my opinion.

Josh: So you brought up a lot of good points there. For you and any of your listeners out there. A lot of what we do is around trying to find inefficiencies in the business. So we do that for allowing them to automate tasks or create procedural documentation that allows them to have systematized tasks that betters their processes. We do it definitely more with a technology twist on it rather than anything else. And we find people that are deadwood in the business, and a lot of businesses big businesses or businesses that have been around for a while people get lazy if they haven’t had KPIs to it to adhere to. And you end up having this issue with deadwood. How can you pivot that deadwood or does it come down to sort of a bit of a hard truth?

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Kathy: Well, there’s not a one size fits all answer to that question, Josh. But there are multiple answers and all of which can work. I’m gonna start with the end in mind. And the end in mind is if someone is deadwood, you have to resolve that issue and you have to resolve that issue and keep people home. Okay? There’s no benefit to doing that in a way that demeans people, degrades people, etc., etc. So, we take a look at, okay, is it a capability issue? Is it an attitude issue? Is it a fit issue? In other words, that they don’t fit where they are? Could they fit somewhere else? And whatever that issue is, we look at what are the answers? Is there a way to help them to change that attitude to find that path? What’s in it for them to do that, to make an attitude change? And if none of those things is possible, then it’s about sitting down and having the honest conversation And, you know, I find nine times out of ten that people want to have the honest conversation that says, You know what, this is not working out. We don’t see a good place for you here, we don’t see you being happy here. Okay? Being your you know, your best and highest use, you know, reaching your potential here. And so you know, we think it’s you know the right time for us to part ways. We’ll help you in any way we can, you know, to transition out of this, but that’s the best thing for everybody. And if you do that way, keep people home and treat them as human beings and as people not objects of the business, nine times out of ten, they end up saying you’re right. Occasionally they don’t but after the fact they do, I mean I say this all the time through the years I have walked plenty of people out the door, unfortunately. And I still get Christmas cards from many of them. I still go to lunch with several of them because it was the best thing for everyone. And that’s the end that you want to get to, what’s the best solution for everybody.

Josh: I completely agree, you should be treating your team like family instead of assets or liabilities. I’m happy enough to say that I have a team of unicorns and it didn’t happen easily. But in the latest situation that we’ve had with the pandemic, we’ve managed to have had some of those hard conversations around what direction do you see this business going? How do you feel should be going with you? And with the intention of other reducing hours or standing people down? And it was a very, very difficult conversation to have with people that we’ve been working with for years. And their results in the answers they gave to us brought a tear to my eye, I’m actually getting a bit teary even thinking about it anyway. But they said we want to do anything possible to better the business and to put the business entity advantage even if it means we’re working full time, but we’re not working for full pay. And one of the employees even said that they’re in a position where they don’t need the money, particularly, they’re happy to work for free until we can get out of this hole. And I thought that’s a fantastic team where we were all running in the same direction. We’re all pulling in in the same direction, everyone’s blowing wind in the sails to get us to the same spot. It made me feel good. And it really came down to the attitude of the team. And I think what you’re saying there about that, it’s all about shifting attitude and making sure that everyone’s goals align with the business goals. So I’d imagine there’s a few different bits and pieces that you guys use to sort of test and allow for people’s emotions and their characters to come out. So do you use the same sort of tools when trying to align the staff and leaders and everyone’s mindset with the same common goals?

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Kathy: We do. We’ve used Myers Briggs, we have used this and a couple of others. And it just depends on what the situation is in the company, you know, and what the culture and the nature of the organization is. Finding the right tool. There are two things finding a valid tool, all assessments out there aren’t valid, and finding the one that fits the culture, that organisation. And the third one is, you know, being a facilitator or consultant that knows how to debrief that and to help them to use that appropriately. Because that’s important too. You just can’t do a Myers Briggs and hand the report out to everybody and say, okay, there it is.

build a better communicationJosh: What do I do with this? Everyone needs to be sharing their results, they understand the emotions of how to talk to people. There’s a book that I read called the five love languages unless you’re really close to the stuff probably not relevant. It still lets you understand how two different parties are talking and communicating together. And I think that’s really important, to make sure that if you’re dealing with someone that’s talking in a, for instance, I’m not detail-oriented. If someone says the job is finished, and this is and you’ve been out to achieve the objectives of what the original goal was set out, that’s awesome. If they spent 10 hours doing the spreadsheet and I’ve got the number out that I wanted at the end, awesome, but I don’t need to know every single formula, the pivot tables, and everything else to it to achieve that. But some of the staff love telling me all about it. And so of course, of course, I’m going to sit there and make sure that we’re all lining in that regard because you don’t want to sort of just offset all their hard work and say, I don’t care. Okay, good, I got the number, cool. And then you walk off, it sort of completely deflates them. So it’s, I guess, about understanding how to communicate with people. And I guess, again, coming down to attitude.

Kathy: It is, and, you know, this really ties into something that you and I talked about. I know that our staffs talked about in booking this, you and I talked about a little bit before this, how that strategic planning ties into this topic. You know, we all should be as business owners and leaders looking to put together teams that have aligned goals and values, correct. I mean, that’s what really makes it work. We can think differently, we can process differently. But if we have aligned goals and values, having that kind of diversity of thinking and approaches is really powerful for us. And for a business, it’s the same thing. Having a strategic business plan gives us that roadmap for everyone to align around. Okay? And know what they are applying in you know, their own goals, how that ties to the company’s goals, the direction we’re heading. And how that helps everybody in the mix. Helps you, helps me, helps the company, the owner, whoever it is, and I. And so that’s part of where, you know, strategic planning for business is just as important as having individual goals for all the individuals in the business. And, you know, having the KPIs, the key performance indicators or the metrics to manage too, you know, to see how we’re doing. So it’s kind of the same concept on a business level.

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Josh: Okay. So when you say the strategic business plan, a lot of people I know will say I’ve got a business plan or a freak out of it. I know myself, I’m great at making a very simple thing over complicated. When I was younger, many, many years ago, maybe 20 years ago, I was developing something in my bedroom, which allowed me to open and close the bedroom door with remote control. So I clicked the remote controller unlocks the door, opens the door, let someone in, click another button that closes the door and shuts it and my brother said that would take you 120 to 150 hours to build that. He’s an electronic engineer. I said yeah. And he goes how many times could you have got up and open and close the door. Yeah, okay, that’s right. I’ve automated something that doesn’t need automating. And that’s sort of what my first sort of aha moments with automation.

So how do you make sure that you’re focusing on the right things, you don’t overcomplicate it, I know some people say a business plan to start off with doesn’t need to be longer than half a page. But obviously, to really dive into some details, and ours is 16 pages long for the basic business plan and 70 for the longer business plan. But again, as I said, I go to too much detail.

Kathy: But that’s an excellent question. And this is where a lot of people fall off in a table with regard to strategic planning. You know, the key to strategic planning, we have tools and processes that we use, they’re tried and true, and they’re good, but they are a framework. What’s really important is understanding upfront what the owners want, okay? They put in the sweat, equity, etc. They’re here now, they want to get here and based on their business, their culture, okay, their values, what they’re trying to accomplish their goals, right? Putting together the plan that’s right for them.

A lot of times people say, oh, you know, we’re going to talk about processes, right? And you’re going to bring in a list of processes, you know, 20 processes and try to cram down our throats? No, that’s not the right thing to do. We’re going to sit down and look at it with you, and you know the business better than we do. But we have a tool to be able to say, what processes should you have? Now, what are the key processes you should have in the business? And do you have them? If you have them, are they working or what needs to improve about them? That’s pretty simple. At the end of the day, Josh.

Now they’re having the right tools to get people to do that. So we’re starting with that. So we’re looking at things that way. And we have a process that starts up here and says, these are all the things we know, this big funnel, these are all the things we need to work on. There are processes and their systems, right. And there are some people issues, and there are equipment issues and you know, all kinds of things. And then we start whittling that down through our process that says, what’s the most important thing? You know, what are the biggest obstacles? And we look at that through, you know, internal assessments and external assessors.

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So that all sounds very complicated, you know, but we do that with tools. People do a lot of work upfront, so that by the time we walk in, in two days, we come up with a comprehensive strategic plan. And I don’t care what size the company is, for a 12-month plan, which is what most of the detailed plans are. Now we look out five years just say Where do you want to be five years for most businesses, so we know what the long haul is, so to speak. But we do a detailed plan for most of the time for 12 months out. And we look at that company and say, you know what, we really don’t want there to be more than eight goals for the company for that 12 months, because then we get a flight we have to flush those goals out into who does what by when what role the steps to achieve that. So that gets big enough, correct?

create a concrete processJosh: Absolutely.

Katy: And the other thing that we do, rather than handing people some big book to put on the shelf to collect dust, because that’s what generally happens, we do two things. We give them their plan on one page, okay, and all of the relevant information about that plan that everybody in the company should have and be looking at, and understand it and understand how what they do ties into that.

They have one page that they can look at, and it can be their barometer, the rudder, whatever you want to call it, any day, anytime making a decision. And then behind that, we use project management software, we set up a portal for their company, where they manage those goals and action plans. And we meet with them every month. So we insist that if they want to work with us that they have to agree to our change management accountability aspect of this. In other words, we’re not going to go through this whole process and put it on the shelf.

We’re going to have a scheduled meeting every month and we’re going to look at this plan. We’re going to use a signal light approach, what’s working, what’s not, we’re going to make adjustments because I can tell you the minute that he drives on that proverbial plan, something’s going to change. And we’re going to make adjustments, we’re going to look at the financials, and see how that’s going and where we need to make adjustments. So we’re continually doing that change management. So that’s how you whittle it down. That’s how you manage it.

But that’s why you need leadership. As I said, right at the top of the program, if people, if the leaders inside the business aren’t making sure that everybody knows the strategic plan and monitoring it and executing on it appropriately adjusting it, is not part of their job, guess what? It doesn’t happen.

Josh: So, from what we’ve been speaking about so far, if I was, to sum up in one sentence, a strategic plan is about accountability, timelines, infrastructure and goals, tying them together with small tested improvements, monitoring it over time. What else would you add to that to make that more true? Or how did that sound?

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Kathy: That’s really good. Would you like to come to work for us?

Josh: Hahaha. We are just a small flight away. Yes, we’ll jump on and get that happening. That’s the elevator pitch, I guess, on the strategic plan. So, that’s cool. Okay, so that that makes it very easy to break down. And you did speak quite a bit about tools, and a lot of people that are going to be listening to this, they’re gonna be wondering, okay, what tools can we use? So, if you were to pick the top two tools that anyone can jump into right now, to gain more visibility into their business, or to start heading in the right direction, even if that’s making up a back of handkerchief example, of a strategic plan, what tools would you say they could jump into and check out?

Kathy: Well, you know, the very first thing is to figure out, this isn’t a tool. This is, you know, where’s it that you want to take your company? Now, what’s your purpose, what is it you want, what’s your vision? Where do you want to take it? You have to know where you want to get to, in order to figure out how to get there. So if you are doing the back of the envelope thing, as you mentioned, you don’t want to hire someone, you don’t want to go through some big process. We have a lot of great processes, but there’s one that you can’t go wrong with. And that’s a SWOT analysis, the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, okay. It’s probably the thing that covers most elements of business if you do it well in a single process. Now, we have a lot of other processes that focus on things, but that one is tried and true. And it can cover a lot of ground.

Josh: Most people should be pretty familiar with them if you’re not. What are you doing? Get into it! I think this is kind of like a should be a clear cut answer. But what size of businesses should be looking to strategic planning? Should this be something that they’re obviously looking at the start before they’ve even turned over $1 when they’re looking to throw it to the boss and say, now I’m going out on my own or is this something that they should be waiting until they’ve got some structure in place?

Kathy: Well, every business even as they’re looking to start up, they need a business plan. They need a plan that says, okay, what do I need to start this business in terms of resources? Okay? And to start it up with the resources and get me through the first couple of years. The kind of strategic planning that we do, which is with established companies, we’re not really working with startups so much at all, quite frankly, Josh, that’s a little more comprehensive. And that can range from having one strategic planning team that has some folks across the business and is pretty comprehensive. Okay. We will get strategies too. Larger companies where we do something with an executive team and then we cascade down through different organisations and they do their own strategic plans to support the company, goals and direction. So it depends. So everybody should be doing some planning.

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You know, we started this talking about recession-proof strategic planning. The thing that is to make you recession-proof is to do your planning upfront. It is strategic to have a plan. So that’s one thing. Now how strategic you want to be in that planning process is a different matter. And that depends on where you are. So, you know, a good way to think about that and wrapping this up right now we’re breaking things down into six months. Okay, module so to speak. Most people don’t know what’s going to happen. So we got to survive for six months, we have to get through this. Okay? And that’s really pretty much a cash and opportunity exercise. It’s not very much strategic from the standpoint of what our strategy is, you know, and all this kind of stuff. And so we call that emergent strategic planning.

Then there are the next six months, which is a resurgence. Okay. So we’ve survived, we’ve gotten through this. How do we now start, you know, going back up? What do we bring back? When do we bring it back? And what does it look like? What lessons did we learn from all of this, right? And so we’re putting that in a six-month chart. And then we’re talking about a six-month chunk of convergence planning. take one step at a time What that means is, people are going to start figuring out what the new reality looks like. Or they’re going to make their assumptions about what it looks like and we can get more strategic and start looking a little bit further out. And taking advantage of these lessons learned and what the new realities are.

Josh: Emergent strategic planning, I guess it’s all about when things change. To make sure your emergent emerge from crisis and out to be stronger, would that be fair to say?

Kathy: Yes, our mantra to everybody right now. Thank you for reminding me. We’re saying to my business, and to every business, you had better come out stronger as people and as a business on the other side of this than you did going in?

Josh: Cool. Well, I definitely think this is more relevant now than ever before. And for anyone out there that is listening and thinking, man, this sounds like too much. I’ve already got too much on my plate. There are so many government incentives that I’m looking at or new stimulus packages, and I just want to keep myself with a head above water. And there’s a place you can go to. And Kathy Bowman Atkins from Lattitude Group has a fantastic offer here for one-hour consultations. Would you like to tell us a bit more about how that can help small businesses?

Kathy: Well, it’s interesting, you know, people call us up and they say, Okay, this is where things are now. And I might say, what are the biggest obstacles? You know, top of mind, if we could only cover one thing in this hour? What’s the biggest thing that is bothering you that we could help you resolve? So we start there. Now generally, what happens is we can cover two or three things at an hour, you’d be amazed at how much ground you can cover. If they don’t know, they’ll say, you know, I’m just really paralyzed. I don’t know what to do. Right, then we start asking them some questions. Yeah, have you availed yourself to all the resources that are out there? Have you looked into them? Do you know what’s out there? Okay. Let’s make some assumptions about the worst possible case, okay, for the next six months, and that’s what we have to look at, what is the absolute metric or two that you have to manage to over the next six months? For some people, it’s pretty simple. Cash flow. I have to be able to maintain positive cash flow.

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Josh: That’s mine.

Kathy: And so whatever we have to do, that we can help them to say, okay, in order to accomplish that, what are the steps we have to take? And what metrics do we have to be looking at all the time, because in this case, the volume is going to be your leading indicator? In normal times, it isn’t always your leading indicator. We’re going to wait for the volume to materialize before we make moves like, you know, bringing people back because that we’ve had to lay off for certain vendors are no different things that we’ve put on hold. And that’s the way we’re doing it. So it depends, but those are the kinds of things that you do. So there are all kinds of things that can happen. We know … we need to know how to tap into these resources. Okay, we need to know how to furlough people, or what’s the best approach to take. And we can, you know, we can help them with all of that.

Josh: Well, anyone that’s interested to have a consultation with Kathy, we’re going to be putting a link in the description here for the podcast, as well as on the blog. Keep an eye out for that. And I think you’re going to find that in one hour, you’re going to completely revolutionise the direction of your business. Totally worth your time. And one thing I want to sort of say, in closing to ask you in closing is if there was to be one book they would say is your Bible, so to speak, is going to be the first step towards better leadership and strategic planning. What would be that one book that people should read or one resource that people should be listening to? Whether that be a news outlet or something like that? What should people be tuning into?

Kathy: Gosh, there are many Josh, but I will tell you my go-to book and it’s not a new one. But I think in terms of leadership and self-development, which is the key to all of this, it really is the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And that book goes way back, but I’m going to tell you, it’s tried and true. And if people will adopt those and make those habits as leaders, it’s really significant.

Josh: For anyone out there that obviously is listening you can’t see next to my bed, but it’s sitting next to my bed right now. And, I’ve picked it up for a second time and rereading through it. So it’s definitely worth its weight in gold. And it’s a reasonably sized book. So that’s saying a lot, it worth its weight in gold. It is. That’s right.

Well, Kathy, it’s been lovely having you on the show. And is there anything else that you would like to cover off on before we pathways?

Kathy: The only thing that I would say is, you know, even as a company that prides itself, and myself on being, you know, a strategic planning guru and all that kind of thing and you know, a purist when it comes to strategic planning. And I think all the businesses have to think about this no matter what business they’re in that may be passionate for you. Right now you have to think about what’s realistic and what can really help people. So you know, we’re doing these six months module strategic planning things in a day or you know, prep for a week and then go in for a day at the end day and making them very reasonably priced. And we’ve never been a company that our value proposition was priced. We’re not, you know the low-cost option. But you know, you’ve got to remember where people are right now. And I think that’s key for business leaders and owners right now.

Josh: I completely agree. We’ve released a new product range that we’re calling the dollar IT club which is focusing heavily on helping businesses out in the time of crisis, not putting more pressure on a saw that they’ve already got there. And I think that building and nurturing that relationship at the start will build bigger and better things and show your worth.

Kathy: Exactly!

Josh: If anyone has enjoyed this episode. Make sure to jump across to iTunes, leave us some love. Give us some feedback. We’ll put all Kathy’s details here in the episode so you can get in contact with her, and stay healthy and stay good.

Kathy: Thank you so much, Josh.


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