Business Improv


Remember the TV show “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” It’s an improv show packed with wild and funny sketches, recorded in front of a live audience. The comedian actors and actresses are hilarious in this. The show came to the US from the UK if I recall. Both series are side-splitters.

Business can be a little comedic, too. Improvisation is unfortunately (or fortunately) the name of the game. Sometimes, this improvisation can be GREAT. It leads to opportunity, inspiration, new ideas and services and as a result new revenue, partnerships, jobs and so on.

But if all we do is improv, we can easily end up flailing. Spinning. Like a pinwheel in a tornado.

What’s the balance between improv and planning (and executing the plan)? And, how do we strike the balance?

I would never recommend a business owner improv every day, all day. Nor would I recommend that a business owner draft and execute a plan without adjusting as you go.

Dwight D. Eisenhower  is quoted as saying, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” What this means is the act of preparation is what gets you ready to deal with the reality that unfolds.

I guess what this means to me is that finding the balance between improv and planning is critical. As a business owner, we need to both. Not only for ourselves, but for the team who depends upon our success.

Here are 5 things that will work for you to be absolutely successful at both.

  1. Make sure you have a vision for your business. This may seem basic, but ask yourself, “what picture do I see before me when I think about my business?” If you have a clear picture of if, ask your key leaders what they see as the vision. Do they agree with you? With each other? When the vision is clear you can move forward with confidence.

  3. Tie your strategy to your vision. What’s the difference, you ask? It’s simply this: vision is the BIG PICTURE and should pretty much stay the same over time. STRATEGY is a time-based set of goals you’ve identified which drive you toward your vision. Time-based does not mean 5 years or more. We prefer ‘seasonal priorities’, near-term strategic goals that can actually be accomplished. If they’re hugely different than your vision, ask yourself which is not aligned. Then fix that misalignment. Most importantly – don’t craft strategic objectives that can’t be executed. What I mean is, if you don’t have the team in place to kick off your strategy, then it probably can’t be implemented. Think practically. Then take action.

  5. Execute your strategy. Sounds simple, but get this. A LOT of business owners execute only what’s right in front of them. There are two root causes we see. One is the business owner who is highly strategy and visionary, yet ‘allergic to details’. What happens is the business moves from opportunity to opportunity. It can be a very fun environment, but also highly chaotic. The second root cause we see frequently is the absolute opposite. The highly detail-oriented business owner who moves from project to project doing more of the same. Sometimes it leads to broader, ancillary projects. But this is not strategic. It’s reactive. Here’s the deal. Both are key. Build a strategy that can be executed. Execute within a strategic framework to move yourself (your business) forward.

  7. Evaluate your team resources honestly. What are the strengths? Weaknesses? Does everyone understand the vision? Strategy? Do you and they have the skills to implement the strategic objectives? If not, what is needed? This is hard, but necessary. Don’t abandon the strategic goals when you encounter objections, obstacles or opportunities. Do focus on the missing pieces and supplement with help, training, and accountability to get (and stay) on track.

  9. Build leaders. Imagine if your strategy succeeds. Rather, imagine WHEN your strategy succeeds! Now, imagine what would happen if you don’t have the right types of leaders ready, in place, trained and anxious to handle that success. We’ve seen great strategies collapse under the weight of its success. What a tragedy that is. If you know you’ll need twice the number of leaders in place in 3 years (for example) to handle the success of your strategy, start NOW to build the leadership you’ll need then. Bonus points: developing your leadership from within will build unwavering trust among your team, and will solidify leadership development as a priority in your business culture.

  11. Culture is your growth engine. That’s a two-edged blade (by the way, what’s a one-edged blade?, but I digress …). Good culture? Growth. Not growing? Look at your business culture. You can do the math. Everyone (well, nearly everyone) talks about the importance of their employees. But what does that mean, really? People do want to be well-compensated, that’s true, but what attracts and retains people the most is a strong culture. Culture is not nebulous, it can be defined and grasped. If this is of interest to you, let me know and I’ll be happy to talk this through with you in more detail, specifically as it pertains to your context. In short, building and investing in a strong culture will be highly valuable to you in the long-run.

The key to developing the balance between improvisation and planning and execution is clarity in your vision and tying everything else to it.

Think of it as river-banks. When the banks are clearly defined (the “plan”), what happens in between them can be free-flowing, highly creative (“improv”).

Develop a clear strategy that is tied to your vision. Make sure you have resources in place so the strategy can be executed. Invest in leadership development so when your strategy works, you aren’t left high and dry. And finally, focus on your culture to energize perpetual, even exponential growth.

Tell me – are you improvising? Planning only? Or succeeding with both?

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