You may be surprised to know that many successful business people run their lives like they do their business. They go from executing the strategic business plan for the company to executing the strategic development plan for their lives. It’s rare to find a successful entrepreneur that doesn’t have a side hustle going on for their own life and development.
I discovered the power of having a strategic plan for my life in 2010, more than eight years into a successful career in senior management. Up until then I had been cruising on my reputation as a high performer and just took any professional development opportunities as they came up, without any particular plan.
In 2010, as life got busier and my health started to suffer, I started to realise that I needed a plan. So I made one. From that point on, I had some kind of plan for achieving my long term goals but it wasn’t until 2013 when my career started to come crashing down that I realised that I needed a plan that would allow me to make radical changes to my life and push me to achieve some huge ambitious goals to get me back on the right path. Since then my personal strategic development plans have been as important to me as the business plans I execute everyday for the company I work for.
If you’re in a place where you feel the need for some structure or you just need to firm up plans you’ve already got in place, I’ve put together the four key steps you need to take to create a solid personal strategic plan.
1. Understand what you are trying to achieve and focus only on that
In my view, focused progress is better than just progress. In a world of limited time and resources, moving forwards randomly will get you somewhere but moving forwards in a deliberate way towards tangible goals will get you to where you need to be faster. To me there’s a difference between, ‘I want to be well read’ and ‘I will spend my time learning about X in order to achieve Y.’
A friend of mine asked me the other day what kind of business and development books I read. My answer was ‘only those books that support my current goal.’ He was a bit surprised by this so I elaborated. My time is limited so I avoid reading things that will not move me further towards my current focus area. For example, right now I’m focused on strategic and lean leadership culture. Therefore my reading includes books like ‘Good to Great, ‘Great by Choice, Toyota Kata and the Toyota Way to Leadership. While I’m interested in reading books like The Culture Code or Atomic Habits, right now these would just distract me from focusing where I need to. This often means that my answer to ‘have you read…?’ is ‘No, but I’ve heard of it and I’d like to read it at some point.’
I’ve learned that when time is limited, and it is when you have a busy work and home life, you have to say no to anything that is not going to move you in the direction you want to go.
In business, management teams don’t sit down at the annual planning session and say ‘we just want to be better this year.’ If they do, they may improve on results but they’ll also leave a lot on the table. Successful businesses have extremely clear objectives and do not get distracted by the latest trends or fads. They focus on the goals on the business and implement the strategy relentlessly to achieve planned results.
If you don’t have a set of strategic goals for your own professional or personal development it’s a good place to start. Think about what you want to achieve and be ambitious for yourself. Document your goals in some way. I have a whole folder in my Google Drive account dedicated to years of developmental plans.
2. Break your goals down into specific achievable actions
Once you have your goals, they need to be broken down into a strategic plan. If you want to know more about how I’ve used business tools to make a personal strategic plan you can read more about it here. Your strategic plan should cover what areas you need to work on to achieve your goals. Within those areas can be specific, measurable actions you can take. For example, if you’re looking for a promotion in the next few months or years, your strategic actions might include:
- Perform a gap analysis on the skills or attributes required for promotion
- Find ways of improving those skills by taking a course, finding a mentor etc
- Discuss professional development with manager and ask for assistance in upskilling
None of these actions will guarantee you that promotion but they will get you a long way closer than you were before. Even if you get passed over in your current company, your professional development activities will make you more hire-able at a higher level in another company. If you are really focused, you will meet with your manager anyway to find out what skills or attributes you were missing and use this to readjust your personal development plan.
3. Measure your progress
Planning is easy, implementation is hard. Just like any successful business, regular reviews of your strategic plan against Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is the best way to gauge progress, find areas for improvement and take action. Your KPIs should be clear and easy to measure. For example, if your goal is to complete online courses in leadership your KPI might be the number of courses completed against a specific timeline. Each week you can measure your progress against the timeline and see if you are on track to meeting your goals. Again, this is no different to how progress against the plan is measured in a successful business.
4. Hold yourself accountable
In business, if we’re not achieving our strategic goals according to the plan, we assess the situation and take corrective action. It’s the same with personal and professional development plans. For years I’ve held a weekly meeting with myself to assess my progress against my own personal development plan. I won’t go into the detail of why this is such an important practice but you can read more about it here. The key point I want to make in this article is that however you make yourself accountable, the practice of accountability is essential to the successful execution of any strategy.
The creation and execution of strategic plans is an essential skill in business. Without a forward plan we are just marking time. In business, if you aren’t moving forwards you're going backwards because you can guarantee that your competitors won’t be standing still. It’s the same in life. As time passes, we become less ambitious and more complacent. I’ve found that having a personal strategic plan keeps me pushing forwards, always identifying new areas for growth and constantly working on those areas that inevitably trip me up. Remember to celebrate success and progress as well, just as you would with your business colleagues after succeeding on a project or deal.
Having a personal strategic plan keeps the business of managing my life humming. If you haven’t tried it, you’ll be amazed how running your life like a business can return dividends.
Donna Sherriff is a New Zealand based improvement and operations management specialist. Seeing a need for simple, no fuss improvement advice she started The Lean Minimalist blog in 2017. Donna writes articles offering advice and tips for rapid and sustainable business improvement based on over 15 years in Senior Management roles. She also writes about her own personal improvement journey, minimalism, and her life long struggle against the tyranny of cookies.