4 Business Strategy Questions You Must Ask and Answer
Many agencies have — at one point or another — created a strategic plan that outlines their intended actions in the near future. Oftentimes, this document was created at an offsite meeting with the leadership team or the entire agency. The fun part is getting all the ideas down on paper, describing the variety of ways your agency will grow. After that comes the struggle: trying to execute the strategy you put down on paper.
The question I’ve heard from countless agency leaders is simple. “How do we get better at completing the goals we’ve set?”
The four business strategy questions below are designed to help you identify and push through the bottlenecks that are preventing you from implementing your strategic plan. My suggestion is to review and answer these questions at the beginning of every quarter with your leadership team. The process of answering these prompts will provide a little nudge — one strong enough to motivate action.
Question 1: What is our number one priority for the agency this quarter?
This question aligns everyone with the same common goal for the next 90 days. The problem with most strategy plans is the frequency with which we revisit them (usually just once per year). Focusing on one priority for three months forces you to implement some activity to reach your goal. The time period is short enough that you don’t feel as though you have much time to delay answering the question. For instance, let’s say your number one priority for next quarter is to increase sales. First, you want to restate the priority as a S.M.A.R.T. goal: strategic, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound. In this example, you could say, “Our #1 priority is to increase sales qualified leads by 5% in the next 90 days.”
Question 2: What activities can we invest in to sync up with our number one priority?
Countless ideas get lip service in an agency. But in reality, the ideas that get worked on are the ones with dollars allocated to their development. Let’s assume your number one priority is to increase sales-qualified leads. To achieve this, you could invest in top-of-funnel activities like paid online advertising, speaking events, conferences, guest podcast appearances, etc. The investment of precious agency dollars signals seriousness and motivates action.
Question 3: Who is running point on implementing the strategic priority for this quarter?
Accomplishing a strategic goal requires one key: an individual willing to lead the effort. Once you have identified the point person, you must ensure they have enough incentive to work on the strategic priority. In other words, think through how they will they be rewarded for achieving this goal. Rewards do not have to be a financial incentive; but the reward system must make sense for the project lead. There’s also another layer — now that the individual has this new priority on their plate, you must discuss what they’ve de-prioritized to focus on this goal. Within this conversation, you will have to decide whether someone else will step up to do the work they are no longer able to complete, or if it will just go undone. Remember that we can’t keep adding balls for people to juggle without considering that eventually, they’ll drop one of those balls. We simply need to prioritize which balls they need to be juggling.
Question 4: What Agency KPI will signal whether or not the plan is working?
We all know the quote from Management Guru Peter Drucker: “What gets measured gets managed.” The right KPI signals when to speed up, slow down, or stop an activity. It also provides immediate feedback about how you’re progressing toward your goals. There are two ways to think about KPIs — leading and lagging indicators. You can read more about leading vs lagging indicators here. In a nutshell, lagging indicators measure the past. Think of these as outcome measurements; e.g., gross revenue or profit. Leading indicators are the exact opposite. They indicate whether or not you are on track to achieving the results you want. Leading indicators are the drivers to your lagging indicators, i.e., your outcomes.
Pick a leading indicator to determine if you are on track to achieving intended outcomes. Let’s apply our sales-qualified leads example here. In this scenario, you could pick a leading indicator like # of conferences / trade shows you’ve contacted, # of sales calls, or # of sign-ups for your upcoming webinar. You can affect these KPIs by putting in the work. Measuring these KPIs will also alert you as to whether or not you should move to your plan B.
Every three months, your goal is to sync up with your leadership team and determine if you are executing against your strategic plan. During this meeting, you should aim to simultaneously review the past and ensure your strategic plan is still viable for the future. To review the past, you will use the same questions you would use in a project retrospective meeting; e.g., “What went well?” or “What did not go well?” To increase the likelihood that you will act in the future, you will answer the strategic questions above. Holding this meeting periodically helps you build a culture of accountability to ensure that strategic plans get rolling.
As I’ve learned over time, the critical element in executing a strategy is follow-up. Working with a trusted advisor on these quarterly discussions helps agency leaders move from dialogue to action. If you need an advisor to nudge and/or provide constructive feedback on your action plans, then check out our Agency Coaching service.