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The Tale of Two Road Trips, and Planning for Your Business’s Future

By Gail Schaper-Gordon, Ph.D.

A few years ago, my husband, Barry, and I took a road trip to Arizona to celebrate our 15th anniversary. We drove hundreds of miles and rode the Grand Canyon Railway, talking to one another and listening to music while taking in the incredible natural landscape and perfect weather.

At one stop, we stood atop a windy bluff and looked out across the endless Painted Desert. Seeing deep gorges and multicolored mountains that have been carved out over millions of years by volcanoes, earthquakes, raging waters, and winds, we experienced a shift in our perspective of time and focus that took our thoughts away from day-to-day activities and concerns. For the rest of the trip, we had wonderful conversations about where we have been in our relationship and careers, and what we want the rest of our lives to be like. I am always amazed at how extraordinary experiences can shape our perspective and cause us to have longer, deeper thoughts.

The last few years, however, have been more like a road trip I took almost 20 years ago. I went to San Diego for a conference and my former husband went along to enjoy a weekend of golf. Tragically, he suffered a massive heart attack and died on the golf course. In shock and alone, I drove back to the San Fernando Valley in the heaviest downpour of nonstop rain I’ve ever experienced. It was all I could do to stay focused enough to see the road ahead through sheets of rain and stay ready to keep the car from hydroplaning when crossing streams of water running across the freeway. My future had suddenly been wiped away, but I couldn’t think about that until I was safely back home and out of the storm.

This “great recession” has been like the latter road trip for many business owners. It’s taken every ounce of their concentration and focus to just make it through the storm and keep their businesses from spinning out of control. They have identified essential needs and optimized processes to cut expenses and downsize their payroll. Many businesses have narrowed their attention to their most profitable and essential products or services, and they have tried to keep the minimum number of employees with the skills necessary to get the work done. By having to do whatever it takes to just get through the storm, they’ve all too often been left with a work environment that’s filled with stress and on the brink of burnout.

Now that the weather has begun to clear, it’s time to prepare for business growth and the new future. That means developing a business roadmap and a plan that will prepare you to promote existing employees and to hire new employees, who will handle the inevitable increased workload. It’s important to develop a plan now, before becoming overwhelmed by new clients and increased purchase orders. If you don’t, you’re likely to perpetuate the “crisis” mode and create a culture of chronic distress that will cause you to lose your best employees.

This is where the Arizona road trip applies. No, I don’t mean that you need to close your office and take all your employees on a two-week bus trip through the Southwest. Rather, you do need to find ways for you and your key employees to take time away from working in the business, in order to do some longer, deeper thinking:

  • Reflect on your business history and the lessons learned from deciding whom to lay off, where to cut expenses, which products and services to discontinue, etc.
  • Envision what you personally want for your future.
  • Evaluate the potential for your industry and your business.
  • Identify and analyze your business’s current strengths and opportunities.
  • Determine what will need to be done to take your business successfully into the future you want.
  • Describe the skills, knowledge, experience, character, and abilities of the leaders and employees you will need to take you into that future.
  • Build job descriptions based on those specific requirements.

By envisioning the future of your business first, you will be better prepared to have the right people in the right places at the right times in your company.  All too often, we have seen business owners quickly promote employees who aren’t prepared for their new responsibilities or build services or product lines around the unique skills and interests of their current employees, only to have those employees move on to other jobs and thus jeopardize the future of the entire company.

Armed with your future job descriptions, based on your planned business needs, you can work with existing employees to select career paths and developmental milestones to ensure that they have the opportunity to be prepared for promotions when your business has the need. Then, when the time is right, you can recruit candidates from inside and outside your company, from whom you can select the best fit for the job.

And all this begins with a company “road trip.” Some examples of things you might do to take this trip — on which you will create your company roadmap for the future — are:

  • Conduct an internal survey of your employees to gather their views and ideas.
  • Establish a long-range planning team consisting of a cross-section of employees who will address the concerns listed above, to write the roadmap.
  • Have a company retreat that includes key leaders and stakeholders in your company.
  • Assign a key employee or hire an outside consultant:
    • To manage the process.
    • To ensure that the results are documented and communicated to the entire company.
    • To oversee an implementation plan with timelines and assigned accountability.

By prudently creating your business road map and then building an organization with the right people in the right positions, you will not only successfully restore and grow your business, but you will also build a work environment and culture that will make you the employer of choice in your industry.

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ABOUT GAIL SCHAPER-GORDON, Ph.D.

Gail has been helping leaders grow their businesses and achieve their goals for more than two decades, one business at a time.

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