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Effective business strategy starts with reflection

corporate entrepreneur strategy tools Dec 21, 2022
Joanne is seated on a couch, writing notes in her journal

Here in the northern hemisphere, today is the winter solstice. It’s the day following the longest night, when the light begins to reclaim its space. For many, this is an important day of personal and professional rebirth – the perfect day to reflect on the year that has passed and sow the seeds of intention for the next. Whether you work for yourself or someone else, it’s a great day to begin working on your annual plan. So I want to offer some prompts that can help you get started – because good strategy starts with reflection. By the way, if you’re reading this and it’s not the winter solstice, today is as good a day as any to start building your plan.

If you’ve known me a long time, you’ll know that I am a strategist at heart. Where others see problems, I see pathways and opportunities. Where others are lost at sea in the middle of a dark night, I’m at ease in ambiguity – comforted by the knowledge that I’ll always find a way to the shore. As a strategist, I love helping people find their way in the dark, so they can shine in the light.

Strategic planning is more art and less science. In recent years, it has become trendy to rely on data as dogma. The rise of big data and the power afforded by AI and data analytics is impressive – and it is useful in informing decisionmaking. But those technologies fail to capture the mystical element that makes a strategic plan effective. [Stay with me here. I promise, I won’t get too “woo”.] That’s because data only shows you what’s actually there, what’s actually been measured. As far as I know, there is no technology that can read between the lines. See what’s missing. Hear what’s not being said. And it’s those insights that help you create a plan that actually moves you forward.

A great strategic plan is one that looks simple, but at the same time, conveys purpose, orientation, and boundaries. It seems simple because it has been elegantly constructed to guide you via a set of carefully selected words, which offer direction, philosophy, and permission. While data can help inform and validate your plan, I prefer to start with personal reflection.

Effective Strategy Provides Direction

Where are you going? If you’re successful, where does this lead? What impact will you experience or have on the world? If your plan doesn’t answer these questions, then it fails to provide you with direction. And without direction, how can you make bold moves or take leaps of faith? How can you possibly leave the comfort of the status quo?

Now there’s nothing wrong with deciding you’re comfortable with the status quo. Maybe you’re happy working a 40 or 50 hour week until you retire or sell your business. Maybe you’re not interested in change or growth or evolution. That’s ok.

Even if you’re not interested in growth and expansion, I would challenge you to consider whether you might be interested in finding more ease in your work. Are there opportunities to simplify your processes? Streamline your work? Maintain your income, but reduce your hours?

Guess what? That’s direction.

The truth is, without direction, we just spin our wheels and stay in the exact same spot. Meanwhile, the world moves on. Maybe you face the risk of rising costs. Maybe you risk irrelevance. Or maybe the thing you do is at risk of disruption – and if you don’t adapt, you won’t survive.

Journal Prompt #1: How do you envision your life 5 years from now?

Start with the facts. How old will you be? How old will your spouse and children be? What do you know will be true about your lives? Then move on to what you expect will be true. Will your kids be less dependant? Your parents in a nursing home? And finally, consider what you hope will be true. What kind of life will you live? Where will you live? How will you spend your free time? And how will you spend your work time? These ideas are the basis for your personal vision.

Effective Strategy Clarifies Your Philosophy

What do you stand for? Where are your limits? How and where do you want to work? These are some of the questions that help you align to your values every day. And when you’re in alignment with your values, you experience more joy and satisfaction in every part of your life.

Unfortunately, most of us rarely stop to articulate our personal philosophies. Instead, we push through life, keeping pace with the hustle and driving forward toward some unknown finish line. Every now and then, something violates our values and we notice. It doesn’t feel good. We spend hours replaying conversations in our mind – wishing we had said something else or responded differently.

There is power in being able to articulate your values and philosophies clearly. It means that when your intuition flares up and screams at you that something is wrong, you can quickly understand the problem and where you stand. But it also means that you can apply your values proactively, making choices in your life and work that are in alignment with your personal philosophies.

Journal Prompt #2: What did you learn about yourself in 2022?

Consider the good, bad, and ugly. What did the high and low points of the year teach you, about you? What truths did you newly discover? What limiting beliefs did you shatter? What knowledge did you confirm or clarify? These reflections can help you to get at your personal values.

Effective Strategy Gives You Permission

How do I decide to say yes or no to an opportunity? How do I know if I should make that bold move?

An effective strategy offers you permission to be decisive about what you want. It gives you the structure you need to say yes and no with conviction, and to set and reinforce boundaries. It’s a tool to help you assess whether opportunities lay on the path to your goal, or if they are distractions.

As an entrepreneur, I know how hard it is to make decisions. When life is a menu of opportunities and they all look tasty, it’s hard to pick. Every day, we all face choices about how we allocate our time, energy, and resources. But without a plan, we risk spreading ourselves too thin. Staying at the surface. Never really investing in progress.

You might keep yourself busy, but busy is a poor substitute for strategic action. Busy keeps you still, stuck, spinning your wheels, and overwhelmed. You might feel accomplished after a day of busy. But in the back of your mind, you know you haven’t moved anything forward.

Journal Prompt #3: What are you calling in, in 2023?

What are you bringing forward with you? Which doors are closing? And what thresholds do you want to step across (literally or metaphorically, of course)? What kind of a journey do you want to experience in 2023? What will you need to do, to walk that path successfully?

Building Effective Strategy is a Process

When I work with clients – whether big corporations or solopreneurs – we always start with some variation of these questions. Yes, we go back and look at customer data, sales results, and trends in the competitive and general environment. And this information can help us to validate (and debunk) our assumptions and open up new lines of query. But data isn’t the key to a good strategy.

The key is what can’t be replaced by a computer. The integration of awareness, belief, and knowledge that only exists inside you. These three journal prompts will get you started. If you’re interested in working with me to go deeper – for yourself or your company – send me an email, and let’s chat over coffee.


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