Six Key Questions Every Business Needs to Answer

Vision & Strategy

If you’re looking to build a healthy, scalable business, the first thing you need to do is create clarity.

Patrick Lencioni’s book The Advantage is a great primer on developing organizational health and clarity. Unlike his other books, this isn’t a parable.  It’s a recipe book.

It just so happens that they also align perfect with the strategic planning process.  Answering these questions will create the clarity you need to start scaling your business.

In our growth programs, we spend a lot of time exploring these questions and creating clarity for your business.  It’s amazing how quickly a business can scale when these six questions are answered (and the answers LIVED).

Why do we exist?

When I started my first business, it was simply to make money.  There was nothing else to it – the job market was tough and I needed money.  Growing my business was stressful.  Heck, getting out of bed and going to work was tough.  Okay, let’s be honest, I despised it my business.  It had no soul.

One day something hit me, and it shifted my world:

Profit wasn’t why my business existed.  Profit is the outcome of being awesome.  We needed to dive deeper.

I worked with my team to figure out our company’s purpose.  We started with simple questions like:

  • What were we passionate about?
  • What impact did we want to make?
  • Why was this important?

This introspective search was so valuable. Not only did we find something that inspired us and drove the business forward, but it brought us together as a team and became our north star for decision making.

How do we behave?

This question is the underpinning of your culture.

When we design how a company behaves, we look at two angles:

  • WHO you are as an organization – these are your values
  • HOW you do things – these are your behaviours

Core values are the handful of attributes that make up your personality. They’re unique to your business and guides who is the right fit, how everyone connects, and what your decision-making processes are.

Behaviors are different.  They’re HOW you do things.  They may or may not align to your values (often they have a broader coverage).  Living your behaviours, and applying them to their role, is almost a blueprint to success in the organization.

What do we do?

While this one seems the easiest, often it’s the hardest to answer.  The goal is for the entire team (better yet the company) be aligned and answer the question succinctly and clearly.

Bonus points for making it interesting and exciting.

Sound like an elevator pitch?  It should.

Recently I was speaking with an entrepreneur who couldn’t answer this question about her own company. When asked what her company does, she rambled, dodged and evaded.  If she couldn’t explain it clearly to me, could she explain it to others?  Employees?  Investors? Potential clients?

How will we succeed?

There’s two parts to this question – what does success look like and how will we achieve it.

The first part is all about creating a vivid vision for your business – in some cases, so vivid that your team can FEEL its inevitability and that they just need to execute to make it happen.  This includes measurements for success, key projects and accomplishments.

The other side is a question of strategy.  Now that we know what success looks like, how are we going to make it happen?  The team needs to align around a simple strategy to make their vision come to life.

Some key questions to answer include:

  • Who is our core customer(s)?
  • Where will we do business?
  • How will we differentiate ourselves in the market?
  • How can we create more value for our customers?

Strategy shouldn’t be complicated.  For most businesses, you should be able to render it down to a sentence, so everyone in the company knows exactly how to succeed.

What’s the most important right now?

In Scaling Up, author and super-guru Verne Harnish coined the phrase “Strategic thinking and execution planning”.  I love this reframing of strategic planning as it drives the point that you don’t create a strategic plan.  You develop a strategy, then create an execution plan.

Early in the execution planning process, I find many companies focus on far too many priorities each quarter.  In doing so, they’re making it harder to be successful.

Instead, pick fewer areas to focus on – namely, focusing on only the things that are most important right now.  Generally, there’s 1-3 things that if your whole team focused on, you can launch them out of the park.

Those 1-3 things then get broken down into projects/goals we call rocks for execution.  Each of these rocks is owned by a team member, who is held accountable for its success.

Too often, this is where the process breaks down.  Teams need to develop the discipline to focus on the right things, overcome obstacles, ignore shiny pennies and GET THEIR ROCKS DONE.

Who must do what?

Role clarity and accountability:  Two of the biggest killers of organizational health and strategic plans.

One of Jim Collins’ most important concepts is that of getting the right people in the right seats on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus.

To do this, we need to do a couple things:

  1. Intentionally define who are the right people for the bus – scroll up to the question “How do we behave?”
  2. Clearly define the seats on the bus. This is about creating role clarity – specifically, what outcomes are role accountable for achieving

When you do this and communicate it, a lot of the … chaos … in organizations starts to disappear.

Now that you have the right seats defined (and hopefully the right people in them), we also look at your core process and do the same thing.  Every step needs to have someone accountable for its success.

Between role clarity and process accountability, your team will know EXACTLY what outcomes they own and what success looks like. Other team members know who is accountable for what, so they can go to the right person when they need help.

The same concept applies to the goals and rocks in your strategic plan.  Someone needs to be accountable for each of them.  They need to OWN those outcomes and be empowered to figure out how to achieve them.

Without the accountability that comes from this question, you’ll never be able to execute on your strategic plan or scale your business.

Next step: (over) Communicate Clarity

Simply answering each question is of limited value if you don’t communicate the answers throughout your organization.

Most companies do a townhall meeting to communicate these answers (to great fanfare) and “roll it out”. That’s not enough.

Every element needs to be over-communicated, until it’s so deeply embedded in your company’s DNA.

How do you know when you’ve communicated enough?  When you say it (for the 2343th time), some of the audience will roll their eyes.  Perfect!  Now do it again and again.

Clarity and organization health doesn’t come out of a few workshops – it takes a lot of work and engagement through the whole organization.  The results though, are worth it – you will build a scaling business that you LOVE!

Mike Knapp

STRATEGIC PLANNING & EXECUTION

Mike has been helping businesses achieve their goals for more than 20 years. He believes there is a better way for business owners and leaders to build their businesses and achieve their big goals. As a Gravitas Impact Premium coach, he leverages the 7 Attributes of Agile Growth™ to simplify the art of strategy and discipline of execution.

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