“If you want to change your circumstances – you MUST look beyond your circumstances.”
Mention “strategy” in a small business meeting and you will get one of two reactions: (1) Most will react with disinterest because they believe it is too complicated for their circumstances. (2)Some will want to know more but are concerned it still won’t work.
I think the reason small business owners don’t typically respond more favorably is they think of strategy in the big organization context: It’s a big written document, it’s complicated and it’s specific. All of these are necessary in a large organization because you have lots of people and they are often in different locations. But for the small business where there are only a handful of people and they are most often in the same location strategy is a whole lot simpler.
In hopes of helping you see this point please forgive my use of a personal story as an illustration.
It’s 1975 and I am working for the State of Illinois. For the last 4 years I have received successive promotions and am now a supervisor overseeing a group of medical adjudicators. I have been increasingly restless but, at 25, am satisfied that I am making progress.
One day a group of us is sitting in a meeting room waiting for the meeting to start. Somebody is talking about the governor and mentions that his salary is capped at $35,000. Suddenly, I am no longer restless…I have made a decision. If the governor’s salary is capped mine must be too. I am a very “merit – based” person and I didn’t sign up for that. I needed to find a job that had more opportunity.
Two things happened that constitute the first step in strategy:
• I have faced a reality: I am not cut out to be a government employee
• I have decided I can’t remain as I am
But, having faced reality and decided a change is in order, was only the start. I had to figure out where I was going. And here is where many make a tragic mistake: They realize they are unhappy and devote all their energy to “getting out of their circumstances” while giving no thought to what they will “get into.” When you do this you often “jump out of the frying pan into the fire.”
I realized that before I could do anything I had to figure out where I needed to go. In my mind the only employment that rewarded merit and gave you a lifetime growth opportunity was private industry. I realized, then, that you didn’t get experience credit in private industry with a government background. I had 4 year’s history of progressive growth that didn’t mean anything. If I waited much longer I would be considered a “Lifer.” Time was working against me.
So, step two is creating a vision. “Vision Casting” evokes a response similar to strategy among small business owners. But vision isn’t always something you can put on a plaque. Vision is knowing where you want to go or who you want to be.
I knew that I wanted to be in private industry. Without specificity that is an abstract. Most people are uncomfortable with abstracts. The think it is a breeding ground for mistakes. I have learned over the years that employees are especially uncomfortable with abstracts. “Just tell me what to do.” But, since the future is never certain all change begins with an abstract. Sometimes a vision is as clear as day. But most often it is not. The only thing that brings clarity is time and effort.
So, this abstract phase consists of:
• Facing reality
• Deciding you won’t or can’t stay as you are
•Choosing a direction
o In the beginning it doesn’t have to be a destination
Now I was faced with how I was going to get from where I was to where I wanted to go. I assessed my circumstances:
• I had a good job with fair income
• I had a bachelors degree in psychology
o I had already determined I would make a lousy therapist
o Psychology degrees were not in great demand in private industry
o I was young and had some free time
o I had a supportive wife
I concluded that the best way to demonstrate eligibility was to pursue an advanced education at the local university that was business oriented. It was then that discovered a by-product of having even an abstract vision brings.
Things seem to collude in unexpected ways when you begin moving in a direction. People or events come into your life, you discover unknown talents, and opportunities present themselves.
As an undergraduate I had devoted myself to avoiding any courses that involved math. I now discovered that I had a gift for accounting. I decided that if I passed the CPA exam on the first attempt it would be a perfect credential for making the transition. So, I committed myself.
Now I had two other elements for strategy:
• A goal
To these I added another. My goal was going to require me to spend a lot of time in study and preparation. Partly out of consideration for my family but also because I am a “rip the band aid off” kind of guy I determined I was going to do it as quickly as possible. So, while working full time I carried 16 hours a semester. This required many, many nights and almost every weekend for two years. Did I mention I had a supportive wife?
Thus, my vision required sacrifice and hard work…and risk.
The end of the story?
I passed the 1978 CPA exam in the top 3% of the nation on my first attempt. (It’s not boasting if it’s true) During my academic preparation a local company reached out to the university for promising students. I was on that list. I was offered and accepted a position that took me much farther than I had envisioned. And, for those of you with faith, god has orchestrated my steps ever since.
So, to recap a strategy is really pretty simple:
• Face your reality
• Decide that you can’t or won’t stay the way you are
• Choose a direction
o Specifics can be filled in later or, like me, will be filled in for you
• Assess your circumstances
o Identify what you have going for you
o Identify what stands in your way
• Determine an initial goal
• Figure out what you have to do to get there
• Make a commitment
• Choose a time frame for progress
• Just do it
It is a fact of life that people who choose to cast a vision and are determined to achieve it will have people in their life who will try to undermine their efforts. The other frogs don’t want you to become a prince.
I used to volunteer with an organization that worked with disadvantaged people to get them into the work force. We taught things like being reliable, personal hygiene, how to interview and so on. With each class there was a blunt conversation advising them to cut ties with their friends and sometimes their family. Sometimes to change your circumstances you have change your circumstances.
In my experience there is often someone in your own organization who will consciously or unconsciously seek to derail your vision. Very frequently they are someone you are close to or rely on. A lifetime of experience tells me there is only one choice: ignore them, go around them, or ask them to find their future elsewhere. Trying to fix them will derail you. FBA
Alan Creedy became president of Trust 100, a company he helped found in 1985. As president he built the company to one of the largest preneed marketing companies in the nation. He sold the company to a private investor in 2008. Since the sale of Trust 100 Mr. Creedy has built a successful consulting practice focused on the death care industry. Alan is an acknowledged expert in funeral operations, finance, staff and cultural development and leadership. He is also an expert in preneed marketing and sales. His Islands of Excellence© Leadership Development Programs and Blue Ocean Tours have helped independent funeral professionals across North America make positive and profitable changes to their business. Alan can be reached at 919-926-0688, [email protected] or visit his website www.funeralhomeconsulting.org.