An Interview with Steve Rubin, Launch413 Venture Advisor
Why should any enterprise have a strategy and goals?
Creating a base strategy provides an organization with purpose and direction. It informs the constituents about the purpose of the business: what the business is attempting to accomplish, in what time frame, and, if successful, what benefits will accrue to its customers. Goals are the objective milestones that allow a business to assess how well the business is performing against its strategy. Having a clear strategy and goals that can be shared across the enterprise will guide the enterprise’s core actions, resource allocation, and the prioritization of decisions.
Is setting strategy and goals more important for an early-stage business or a mature business?
It is equally important for both early-stage and mature businesses to have a strategy and goals. Sometimes the exercise of developing a strategic plan is seen as time-consuming and difficult, but it can be a simple process. For some, a first-pass plan can be developed with just a couple of hours' effort. Whether you've just launched a new venture or lead a larger, more mature business, having a simple but clear direction and small set of goals that guide actions is critical.
Have you worked with companies that didn't set a strategy (or didn't do it well)?
I've worked as a line manager at some companies and consulted for many others where the businesses either didn't set strategy and annual operating plans, or did it poorly. It's really about the readiness of a business to embrace a simple process of visioning, planning, and aligning resource allocation. Again, setting strategy shouldn't be complicated or cumbersome. The key is to match the effort to the culture and capability of the organization. The strategy doesn't have to be perfect; what's most important is to get started and iterate from there.
How have you helped companies to set strategy and goals?
Typically the leadership team starts with a quick exercise to define the purpose of the business: what the organization does, for whom, why, and how. Then they set some short and mid-term goals that establish milestones for what needs to be accomplished. Next the leadership team identifies and prioritizes the key cross-business actions required to achieve these goals. Finally, a method is set up to regularly track progress and adjust as needed. Ideally, tracking happens naturally as part of an existing process such as monthly operating reviews, product planning or customer success meetings.
What have you found to be the keys to success?
First, identify a senior sponsor upfront to encourage employees to participate and embrace planning and change efforts. Second, find a compelling reason for change. When companies are forced to deal with a crisis, change feels natural. Without a crisis, companies need to create that sense of urgency to motivate their teams. A third key to success is an honest assessment of the current state, capabilities, and opportunities which will guide the company in the right direction. Finally, successful teams must track progress on a regular basis making sure they accomplish what they intend to achieve.
How long does it take companies to right themselves?
It varies by company and how successfully they embrace the process. Early wins will reinforce the team's efforts and lead to more success. Those that lean in tend to get results quickly, usually within six months. For some companies the change takes longer.
What if companies fail to follow through?
I wish all companies would heed the advice and tools provided, but realistically that's not always the case. Some of my clients have acted slowly or have allowed distractions to interfere. For them, the results have been more muted, or have taken longer to achieve than other companies that have embraced these efforts and acted quickly.
Did any companies that followed your advice still go under?
Strategic change never happens in a fully-controlled environment, and unfortunately, most companies are faced with a number of unforeseen challenges. I've found that companies that have implemented a strategic plan, set corporate goals and aligned resources, and cascaded the plan and results throughout the organization are the companies that are able to persevere through tough times.
When is the right time to work on setting strategy?
Ideally, develop a plan early on or before the beginning of a new year; however, setting a strategy at any time is better than not doing it at all. Once an organization implements a planning process, it's able to start reaping the benefits.
How does an enterprise know when they should be calling you for help - what are the warning signs?
Founders and leaders typically realize they need some help when their organizations are under-performing, or when their teams are spending more time reacting to issues rather than proactively building for the future.
Where did you learn to do this stuff?
I began my career at GE when Jack Welch ran the business and it was known as one of the best run organizations in the world. Most of the tools and practices I still use came from what I learned as an operator and leader at GE, as well as my time as a consultant at Schaffer Consulting, a great change and performance management practice in Stamford, CT. One of the early lessons I learned was that the best strategies and tools are ones that are simple, easy to understand, and even easier to implement. If things are complex to understand and implement, the chance of success drops significantly. I've been an entrepreneur, operations leader, consultant and advisor for 30 years now. I love helping businesses and their leaders become stronger and accomplish their goals.