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How come our business "game plan" isn't working?




It happens.


You spend countless hours developing a strategy (let's call it a game plan) for your business that you think ticks all the boxes, yet it’s not long before important objectives aren’t being achieved. Everyone in the business starts getting more than a little frustrated.


As a result, you know your business growth isn’t sustainable. You get the occasional growth “sugar hit”, but deep down, you know that’s been the result of luck rather than judgement.


It would be easy to get caught up looking at short-term solutions but what you really have is a bigger-picture challenge.


If your overall plan isn’t firing, whatever you do day-to-day is unlikely to put things right.


So what might be the cause, and what can you do about it?


Dean Zanforlin - Head of Partnerships and Growth at Empiraa




To help answer that question, we sought the views of Dean Zanforlin, Head of Partnerships and Growth at Empiraa – a platform that keeps staying on track with planning top of mind across your business by enabling easy and effective collaboration.




1. Your game plan isn’t purpose-driven


Most successful businesses are driven by purpose...where business purpose becomes the validation for everything that happens in the business and every decision made. Research globally has proven it over and over again.


A plan created in isolation from a clearly defined, well-articulated business purpose runs the risk of being completely “disembodied” from the business. When not aligned to purpose, your game plan will drift, with its different elements seemingly focused on unrelated outcomes.

Put simply, if you can’t clearly explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, there’s a high chance of sub-par results. Empiraa’s Dean Zanforlin agrees. “Being clear about your business purpose provides your source of truth when putting together your plans”, he says. “It helps align everyone in the business around the same end goal”.


What to do about it


Take time out to define (or redefine) your business purpose. Involve as many of your employees in the process as you can or at least a good representative group. You want everyone in your team as aligned as possible with your purpose to achieve the best outcomes.


Start by running a workshop or series of workshops to explore why your customers’ lives are enhanced because your business exists. You can derive a concise and meaningful purpose statement from that basic premise.


Purpose should be at the core of your plans

That purpose statement will provide the principles that will guide you when you create your game plan.


As your game plan takes shape, make sure at every step you ask the question: how does each element help us be true to our purpose?

2. Your assumptions aren’t realistic


Your game plan is all about the future.


Dealing with the future is frustrating because it has a habit of not delivering what you think it will. With that in mind, your game plan should always be constructed around a set of assumptions about a range of factors relevant to your business.


Questions to consider include:

  • What could be the impact of economic and market factors?

  • Will your target market and ideal client profile change over time?

  • What about your product or service offer?

  • And your ability to attract and retain quality talent to the business?

There’s potentially a long list of factors external to and within the business that will be moving targets into the future.


Sometimes it’s tempting to use assumptions that present the best possible, rather than the most realistic, future circumstances. And the inevitable result is a game plan built on over-optimistic thinking that flies in the face of reality. There’s zero point in that.

What to do about it


Step one is to know with some degree of certainty the set of assumptions that you’ll need to rely on. Don’t be tempted to create a massive list of assumptions, half of which you don’t need. That’s wasted time and energy. Set aside some specific time to make your starting list and only add to it if you believe it’s necessary. Your aim is to limit your “unknowns” to those that will be critical in your thinking.



This kind of thing won't help in the long term



The key message is don’t just make things up. You might get away with it for a little while, but....







Try to make whatever assumptions you make as robust as possible. And they should be reviewed over time to ensure that what you put into your original plans remains relevant and appropriate.


3. You’re relying on the past to deal with the future


It’s tempting sometimes to seek out the comfort of history.


Tempting but dangerous if you rely too heavily on what has gone before.


Of course, it’s important to consider the past, especially when it comes to thinking about:

  • What hasn’t worked (and why);

  • What’s changed, internally and externally, that might make past failures potentially now successes (and vice versa); and

  • Whether your best ideas from the past remain relevant today.

But it's not generally ok to base future actions wholly or substantially upon what you know of the past.


Using this as our reality...

We'd never have got to this point

What to do about it


Things change quickly these days. You need to accept that history might be a guide, but it rarely, if ever, repeats exactly.


Think about possible future trends and build a sufficiently flexible game plan to cope with the rapid shifting of the foundations on which it’s built.


This is another area where clarity of purpose provides context. Clearly articulating why you’re in business and what you want it to achieve means you’re not shooting at a constantly moving target.


Your purpose and vision keep your attention fixed on the future rather than the past. “Part of this as well”, says Dean, “is keeping your core values front of mind during the planning process and over time.”


When you and your team think in these terms, change becomes more of an enabler than something to be feared.


4. You’ve bitten off more than you can realistically chew


It’s OK to be ambitious…to “think big”.


Remember, though: the bigger your plans, the bigger your pool of available resources needs to be – both capital and people. There’s no shortage of businesses that have come unstuck because of plans that are just too ambitious for them to have ever been executed successfully.


Before you and your team sign off on those big plans, you need to be honest with yourselves about the available resources needed to execute those plans. If those resources don’t exist in the business today, how realistic is it to believe you can secure them in the necessary time frame?


What to do about it?


Don’t set your plans in stone before running your ruler over every element to assess resource requirements. It’s an incredibly important step in the planning process.


Include a broader group of team members in this exercise - those you’ll rely on to make things happen. Who better to ask whether there is capacity within current resource constraints (as long as you enable an open and frank discussion)?

5. You fail to act


Can't do this forever and hope things will happen for you...

We know it’s obvious, but you can’t just set your plans and expect them to execute themselves. But some businesses do.


Even if you nail all the issues 1 through 4 above, your plans will fail if you don’t execute well.

What to do about it


A big part of executing “well” is establishing appropriate milestones and actively monitoring progress toward their achievement. By “actively”, we mean regularly, critically and objectively reviewing progress.


It’s here that Empiraa excels and it's why GrowthCatalyst has partnered with them for the benefit of our clients.


Traditionally, businesses might review plans annually (if at all). With the available technology there’s really no excuse for infrequent review of your game plan.


Empiraa is designed to pump life into planning. Strategy isn't meant to live in spreadsheets or other documents. The Empiraa platform allows everyone in the business to be engaged with its strategy. With its "Simple Strategic Framework" Empiraa helps bring your game plan to life.


Using the platform, you can keep on top of your plans more easily than ever. You can see if all’s going well or if there are issues with one or more elements of your plans. “It does away with spreadsheets and other more static tools that are frequently used in a business” says Dean.


You can learn more about Empiraa here.


That’s a lot to think about


Let’s boil it down…

  • Start with clarity of purpose: this should guide everything that happens in your business, starting with a longer-term game plan;

  • Establish a robust base of assumptions: or resign yourself and your employees to a life of ambiguity and randomness;

  • Look firmly to the future: because that’s what planning is all about. Embrace change and consider it not a hurdle but an enabler of progress and success;

  • Be ambitious: within the context of what’s reasonable given your starting point. Ambition and realism can co-exist;

  • Execute, execute, execute (and review): don’t ever take your eye off the ball. Review progress, be honest about what’s working and what’s not and be prepared to shift gear when needed. This is where a platform like Empiraa becomes an essential business tool.

Also, acknowledge that mistakes and miscalculations happen and should be seen as a learning experience. We believe that unless you have a (manageable) strategy fail now and then, you’re probably not trying hard enough.



Your challenge


A great game plan, driven by purpose and well executed, is, without a doubt, a foundation for building sustainable growth.


The practical challenge is to be deliberate. We speak to many business owners and leaders who confess to a lack of real focus on their game plan and even less on its execution (typically because you can't execute a plan you don't have). Among these, there are two schools:

  • those who continue to do what they've always done and expect a different result; and

  • those who enlist some help in facilitating the planning process and hold them accountable for execution.

Which group do you think sees the better outcomes in their business....?


What's your current approach?


What changes will you make?




How's your game plan looking?


Is it really what you want it to be?


Is it genuinely purpose-driven?


And let's not forget....are you getting it done?


GrowthCatalyst can help you answer these questions and more.


We invite you to contact us to arrange a conversation, face-to-face or virtual.


Alternatively, you can book a time for an initial discussion here.


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