A former President of the United States once referred to himself as a “Decider in Chief”. It’s weird on one level. On another level, it’s educational and short and sweet. The person who has the greatest authority to make decisions is the person who will be judged on the success or failure of those decisions. End of the story.
Sounds a lot like a business owner, doesn’t it?
When entrepreneurs start a small business for the first time, most likely do not see themselves as the “top decision maker”. But from day one they are. This is the great and terrible reality of working for yourself, a reality that looks more and more like a roller coaster as your business grows. You can fire any of the shots. (Yay!) If they work, you’ve earned the fame. (Woohoo!) If it doesn’t, you risk feeling like a failure. (Gulp.)
How you experience this rollercoaster-like entrepreneurial journey is directly influenced by the quality of your decision-making. I actually see them as one and the same: this is your decision-making, this is your small business. Point.
Looking for the least turbulent ride as a small business owner? Then work on your decision-making skills. The smarter your decisions, the smoother your journey will be. That doesn’t mean that decisions are easy. Decisions are often quite difficult. Provided you make wise decisions, regardless of their difficulty, the trails ahead will make for a smoother, more successful journey.
There are many ways to improve your decision-making skills. Experience alone in the wild business world is a good teacher. However, experiential learning can often be reactionary. If you want to complement the experience with a proactive counterpart, invest some brain power in learning and using a strategic framework.
What is a strategic framework?
Ask someone, “What is strategy?” and you will likely get a dizzying array of answers. The strategy is difficult to determine discreetly as it involves (in most cases) a set of inputs: values, vision, market conditions, competitive advantage, intellectual property, available resources, intended outcomes, etc.
A framework can help organize such a fluid concept in focused and actionable terms that will drive your decision-making. In other words, a framework is what small business owners like you, me, Pat and others need to turn our ideas into action.
Here is a textbook definition of a strategic framework: “An action plan or policy to achieve a major or overall goal.”
The plan part of this definition is crucial. Applying a framework creates the plan. Without a framework, you have no plan; Instead, at best, you have a series of loosely related actions that you invest time, energy, dollars, and other resources in. These actions will hopefully produce desirable results and are therefore possibly (but not necessarily) strategic in nature.
If this wishful existence makes you squeamish, then you would do well to adopt a strategic framework.
Frameworks vary. Some are surgical, like a SWOT analysis. Others are more mind-set, like Blue Ocean. Some are created from the bottom up in an organization for consistent performance; B. Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). Others seek consistent performance from a top-down approach such as goal, goals, strategies, and metrics (OGSM).
There is no right framework against another. Frameworks are tools (a topic I’ll come back to later in this article). How you use a tool is usually far more important than the tool itself and / or in combination with other tools.
I believe in using multiple complementary strategic frameworks. If you’re a nerd like me, think of Voltron. The collective is more powerful than any individual component. However, I also believe in a central strategic framework that anchors thoughtful decisions at the business / corporate level. It is the starting point for all of our deliberate actions.
For us at SPI Media, this is the OGSM framework.
I was introduced to the OGSM framework for the first time in my postgraduate executive development program at Johnson & Johnson. This framework has revolutionized the way I think about strategy development. It taught me how to not just promote strategically Ideas rather, and more importantly, to develop strategically plans Link the vision (ie raw ideas turned into directional goals) with outcomes (ie results called goals) through targeted actions (ie focused strategies).
The OGSM framework comes from the corporate world and isn’t as shiny as other options like OKRs. That’s fine with me, because whatever luster is lacking, it makes up for it in terms of content.
Components of the OGSM framework
I re-train and re-emphasize the OGSM framework every year with my SPI Media team during our annual strategic planning summit. In fact, the slide above is courtesy of my strategic planning presentation deck. It summarizes the four key components of the model:
- A visionary direction that aims to achieve something great
- Can be quantitative in nature and further quantified by its goals
- Must strengthen the company’s vision and mission statement, as well as its core values
- Quantifiable results that show that the goal has been achieved
- Must have at least one goal per goal; can have multiple goals
- Goals are delegated to others according to their role and responsibility
- Prioritized work to achieve the goals with which it is associated
- Can be a combination of projects (one-off effort) and / or practices (work in progress)
- Explained strategies should not be confused with tactics and tasks
Metrics (also known as measures)
- Data points to collect, analyze and review along the way to effectively control work
- Over time, the metrics analyzed should reveal trends that indicate positive progress
- Tracking too many metrics is counterproductive. Focus on the few critical KPIs
This framework provides a high fidelity way to organize your strategy-level decision making based on the goals you strive for to achieve a goal. When decision-making is refined in this way, the waste of valuable resources (e.g. time, money, energy) is reduced and the likelihood of success is increased. However, success is not guaranteed.
Attention: Strategic framework conditions do not guarantee success
Strategic framework conditions – all – are tools, nothing more. As with any other tool, success is not based on its innate properties, but on its use. So don’t make the mistake of believing that adopting a strategic framework quickly will make all of your dreams come true.
Instead, proceed with cautious optimism. Using a strategic framework will feel strange at first. That’s natural, so don’t stop on the uncomfortable feeling. Also, don’t stop using it if it doesn’t achieve your goals because – frankly – this is probably the first time.
The not-so-secret secret to inferring value from a strategic framework is to use the framework repeatedly. It is simply building muscle, where the “muscle” in this context is your strategic brain – your critical thinking and decision-making skills. Using the tool builds and strengthens the muscle. At first you will be weak. If you keep doing the work, you will become strong. And strength comes from success.
How to Apply the OGSM Framework in Your Small Business
Start small. Start slowly. Visit frequently. This is the best, most distilled, and effective way to apply this or any other framework to your small business.
For the OGSM framework specifically, I recommend entrepreneurs consider the following approach:
- Define your goals.
- Combine these goals into one overarching goal.
- Think of all the possible strategies that you could invest in to achieve these goals, and therefore the goal.
- List your main operational constraints, including time / bandwidth for work, budget, availability of other types of resources, relationships that can be helpful, etc.
- Reduce your strategy list to the few critical points that you believe will produce the results you need to achieve your goals, so that you can operate within your established constraints
- Choose a pick list of metrics (1-3) that you will track over time as a signal of your progress towards your goals.
Why you should start with goals
There are two main reasons to start with goals:
- In my experience, very few entrepreneurs know what their goals are. Oh, I am most certain think You know. But when I speak to small business owners, advise founders and CEOs of startups and generally take part in this spectrum of conversations in entrepreneurial communities, I am reminded how rarely it happens that someone has credibly defined goals in quantitative, rational and achievable terms. If such high quality goals don’t exist, then it is questionable why you should bother developing an organized plan for strategic action.
- Goals are a good “Stage One Rocket Booster” for strategy development. The first time snapping to this level of the model is usually quicker with less friction than elsewhere in the model. This positive dynamic is the “booster” that is needed to drive further good work elsewhere in the model.
If you are not yet in a position to organize your decisions in this way, you can further relieve your work by reducing the length of your strategic plan to just three or six months. There’s no rule that says you need to create a twelve-month annual plan right off the bat.
Start small with your chosen strategic framework
Remember, success with any strategic framework comes with repetition. So, consider creating one for the next three months, then executing that plan, analyzing and evaluating the results. Learn from this experience and apply this knowledge to the next three-month strategic plan. And so on, and so on, until with that caliber of strategic decision-making you have gained enough strength and confidence to feel ready to put together a six-month strategic plan.
It’s easy to get lost in the trees and forget about the forest when strategized on purpose. So, step back from time to time and reconsider why you’re doing this work in the first place: to make smarter decisions that will actually lead to the results you want for your small business, while smoothing the journey.
If the process and / or results are not what you want, then throw away the plan you have and start over. After all, you are your own decision maker. Embrace this incredible and terrible force the devil and you will be fine.
To learn more about building your business, check out my guide, the SPI Beginners Guide to Business Basics.