Why Clarity and Organization are the Keys for Coaches to Make Progress

So, you feel stuck? Your progress slows and you’re unsure about making a difference for your clients, or even for yourself. Many little things pull you away from the end goal, which means the tyranny of the urgent takes hold, yet again. Perhaps you've been here before, in the fog of doubt and hopelessness. Or, maybe this is the first time you feel stuck. Either way, there’s a way out — a way to make progress.

Step 1: Determine which is stuck: you or your goals

A big concern when coaching others is to make progress. You should make a difference in your clients’ lives. But, it’s tough to measure progress if your confidence, clarity, or organization languish. It can be hard to make progress if you, the coach, are the one who feels stuck. Barbara Fredrickson’s (2004)  broaden-and-build theory suggests that positive emotions help us see more broadly, find creative ways of thinking big-picture, and build positive assets to continue broadening our perspectives. But, on the opposite side of the spectrum, negative emotions — whether rooted in personal or professional life — narrow our attention and can contribute to feeling stuck. So, the first thing to do is to answer the question, which is stuck: you or your goals?

The solution to either answer is the same: get clarity and organize yourself around what matters most. But, if you’re unable to determine whether you feel more stuck professionally or personally, then it’s important to acknowledge the outcome is influenced by the weight of the other. In other words, it can be difficult to ensure your coaching is making a difference without high self-efficacy in your effort. When you — as a person — feel stuck, it's easy to assume that it's solely the result of one aspect of life. But, in reality, your confidence and motivation are based on every aspect of life — personally, professionally, and relationally. Without knowing whether your effort in one area translates into another, the natural result creates a disconnect. It feels like a jumbled yarn ball full of disorganization, confusion, and insecurity. No fun. 

Step 2: Take stock and prioritize

Whether with a physical or mental list, taking stock of where you adequately apply effort personally and professional is step one. The goal of this exercise is to clarify where you make the biggest impact. Business Insider explains how Gabriele Oettingen’s (2012) concept of mental contrasting is one way to take stock of your effort; thinking about what's holding you back in reality and what outcome you desire helps you weigh the effort being put into a task and if it's worth it. This is one way to visualize progress and, by default, see where you're falling behind.

Once you identify what’s holding you back, the second step is to prioritize and reallocate your effort. This should fall into place pretty easily. Your biggest tasks to make progress should be more clear and real. And, when this happens, you get relief by knowing where and how to progress, especially with purpose. This gets you out of the chaotic treadmill of “busyness” that holds you back. Your path becomes clear.

Step 3: Get organized

The easiest error to avoid is to know what’s holding you back and not do anything about it. But, make no mistake, it’s an easy trap to fall into. Prioritizing effort won’t make all the progress you need. The key is to push yourself beyond this sticky place into organized steps. This becomes the road map to overcome whatever is holding you back. Without a clear starting point, it becomes impossible to go beyond the tyranny of the urgent or chaotic treadmill of “busyness.”

If you’re frustrated by the lack of progress your clients are making, then it’s likely they could benefit from this same exercise. Take stock of where you are and identify whatever is preventing progress. The point is this: if you are truly uncomfortable with feeling stuck, then the first step is to identify where effort should be focused and prioritized, with a plan to overcome whatever is holding you back.

Step 4: Determine what makes progress worthwhile

You’ve been stuck long enough. You’ve asked yourself how to get organized. You know passive discomfort is no way to live. Prioritizing what matters most is the start to getting organized. But the truth is it takes more than knowing your priorities. It takes work, clarity, and follow-through. If that’s worthwhile, then overcoming whatever holds you back will help you do it again and again. Mihaly Cziksentmihalyi (1990) explains in a study that there are eight major components of enjoyment and the combination of them “is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.” Overcoming what holds you back takes a lot of effort, but you gain the organization, clarity, and strength to constantly move forward, personally and professionally.

500+ Ways to Earn Your Future is a great place to start. With over 500 personal and professional goals, you can find examples that suit your needs and then structure them to fit your situation. Lift yourself beyond feeling stuck and progress with purpose, especially if you want to earn your future. Or, purchase the Growth Guide™ to create purpose that you track over time. It's within you if you choose.

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Design your future by using learning, behavior, and performance goals

Many business environments have competing demands that make it difficult for any one person, team, or company to focus. It’s one reason so many firms struggle to keep up everything—from working through growth plateaus to achieving something new, especially when everyone is already “busy.” Unfortunately, these are the very challenges that hold organizations, teams, and individuals back, especially when setting goals. Researchers Edwin Locke and Gary Latham wrote about Goal-Setting Theory in A Theory of Setting & Task Performance (1990) and suggested multiple attributes affect goal attainment. The essence of their findings is very relatable and practical for daily activities. In short, setting no goal creates a lack of focus; an easy goal fails to provide positive challenge and motivation, and vague goals are too undefined. Moreover, criteria must be met in order to help ensure successful goal attainment. If a person doesn’t have the ability, resources, commitment, or objective feedback on progress towards goal attainment, then they’re less likely to successfully persist toward completion. There is, however, another way to think about setting goals.

Reverse Engineer Your Future

When thinking about Goal-Setting Theory, there’s a totally different way to think about success and engagement. Here are three ways to increase your confidence as a business leader by using learning, behavior, and performance goals.

  1. Leverage 3 different goal types. First, get a handle on where you want to go before you start going anywhere. Using these three types of goals to grow will help to frame your desired future state, the end result, or objective. Once your future is in hand, turn it into a SMART performance goal. An example could be, “increase net income by 10 percentage points by DD/MM/YY.” Second, build two behavior goals around it. These behavior goals are the kind of ongoing activities that serve as measures of effectiveness or efficiency towards achieving your performance goal and create key performance indicators along the way. To continue this example, behavior goals could include “achieve 40% customer retention rate through DD/MM/YY” and “get customer acquisition costs to x$ per by DD/MM/YY.” Then, finally, develop and implement three learning goals that complement your behavior goals. In this instance, they could be “measure current customer churn rate by DD/MM/YY,” “identify the current cost per lead by DD/MM/YY,” and “develop and launch a lead generation funnel by DD/MM/YY.” By reverse-engineering your end-game, it makes the process of learning, behaving, and performing more manageable. And, soon, your future will become more tangible.
  2. Answer four questions about goal commitment before starting. Make sure anyone involved is up for the task. These four questions will help to determine the likelihood of success. If you can answer, “yes,” to all four, then you’re set. If not, then you need to rethink your goal, strategy, plan, or all of the above. It’s important to construct goals in a way that ensures the proper ability, resources, commitment, and feedback are in place. Otherwise, as Gary Latham and Gerard Seijts suggest, success could be compromised.
  3. Use STRE.ME’s free Strategic Boost Template to develop a manageable, actionable, and measurable work plan. As a busy professional, you know how sometimes it feels like quite the accomplishment just to check email, let alone get ahead of anything else. This free template is made for those moments when fear, anxiety, and panic set in about a new project. STRE.ME’s Strategic Boost Template will give you a manageable, actionable, and measurable work plan to create value. Moreover, you’ll gain confidence, focus, and a clear vision of success.

Bring Your Future To Life

While pursuing a goal, future state, end result, or outcome may seem overwhelming, this process can make the process more manageable and increase your confidence. And, when that happens, you’ll increase the likelihood of success and engagement towards goal attainment. Moreover, the more you consistently engage in goal pursuit, the more confidence you have, which will help you to build and sustain an abundance mindset. Finally, STRE.ME’s Strategic Boost Template makes the process that much more pertinent. Everything you need to increase your confidence as a business leader is in hand. Just start by designing your future with performance, behavior, and learning goals.

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Increase your confidence by harnessing the power of learning, behavior, and performance goals

Use these three types of goals to grow and to increase your confidence
Learning, behavior, and performance goals can be used to increase your confidence and to grow.

People from all walks of life set goals. The actual numbers vary, depending on quoted or misquoted research. There’s no such data here, but it’s easy to imagine how many people feel the need to gain clarity about the future by setting goals. Or, sometimes goals are set just for the challenge of it. But, in reality, many people flounder or fail when setting goals because the goals, themselves, are too general or simple. And sometimes the individual is simply not committed enough to attain the goal. Then, there are times when goal completion can be unsatisfying because it’s too easy and fails to stretch the individual. The point is, people can easily lose the true value in setting and achieving goals. But, there’s another way: harness the power of three different types of goals.  

Steps to Maximizing the Value of Goal Attainment

One of the first steps to maximizing the value of goal attainment is to look at the different types that exist. According to Latham and Seijts’s Distinguished Scholar Essary: Similarities and Differences Among Performance, Behavioral, and Learning Goals (2016), “three types of goals are described: performance, behavioral, and learning,” all of which apply to individuals, teams, and organizations. 

Performance goals are the kind that shows the outcome, desired result, or future state. In business, they often include things like revenue generation, cost reduction, cost per customer or acquisition, and the like. These can be the most obvious, yet difficult to achieve. Behavior goals are more operational in nature and describe the way business should be conducted. They demonstrate and measure the effectiveness of activity within a given period of time. Capacity utilization levels, the Net Promoter Score, website bounce rates on target landing pages, and conversion rates through the marketing or sales funnel are examples. And, last but certainly not least, are learning goals, which all about acquiring, building, or improving something like knowledge, a skill, or product when an individual has yet to master whatever is being acquired or built. 

When looking at these different types of goals, it becomes easy to think about how to apply them to almost any skill. If you want to golf, then a learning goal is to learn how to grip and swing the club. A behavior goal is to have a consistent backswing and tempo, and a performance goal is to break 80. If you want to be a jazz musician, then learning goals could include learning how to play the instrument and understanding the idiom’s theory, harmony, and language. Behavior goals include comfortably playing through the changes of a given tune, and performance goals include making it through something like Giant Steps at 260 BPM without being kicked off the bandstand. In the business world, you may have a goal to:

Understanding the Flow of Goal Types

There’s a natural flow to goals when you understand what types of goals exist. Since learning goals acquire or build something, behavior goals are about the individual, team, or organization’s effectiveness during a period of time, and performance goals are the outcome or desired result, the relationship looks something like this:

Knowing how to pursue learning goals that influence behavior goals and eventually performance goals can create a virtuous growth cycle and increase confidence.

And, much like the difference between an abundance and scarcity mindset, this relationship can easily turn into a virtuous growth mindset, which increases self-efficacy and confidence. When confidence increases, you become more engaged in goal setting and attainment and, in turn, more open to possibility.

More to the point and also from Similarities and Differences Among Performance, Behavioral, and Learning Goals (2016), Latham and Seijts suggest, “Individuals with high self-efficacy engage in goal-directed behavior such as developing a plan or strategy, information search and testing potential relationships among variables more so than those with low self-efficacy.” Moreover, they continue: “Individuals with high self-efficacy reported more commitment to the learning goal than those with low self-efficacy.” 

Again, when self-efficacy and confidence increase, you become more engaged in goal setting and attainment. The more you do this, the more open you become to possibility. It’s a virtuous growth cycle, especially if you can say yes to these four goal-setting questions.

Using Learning, Behavior, and Performance Goals to Grow

If you start with a learning goal that builds or acquires something, then you will better understand how to effectively behave and perform at a higher level and increase the likelihood of achieving your future state. Continue the process and your confidence and engagement in goal attainment will increase, which puts you in a virtuous growth cycle. The more you overcome adversity, the easier it becomes to move beyond barriers or other challenges.

Here’s the big takeaway: the more you overcome adversity with higher self-confidence, the more you build positive resources. The more you build positive resources, the more you draw upon them to proactively cope with a situation, which enables you to control emotions while making decisions. You make better decisions and overcome adversity with greater ease. This is how you can use these three goals types—learning, behavior, and performance—to grow, personally and professionally.  

Get the Strategic Boost Template to set manageable, actionable, and measurable work plans to start pursuing goals with greater clarity and confidence. >>>

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The key is to understand how to put yourself in a position to succeed.

We all know goals are important. Everyone needs them, yet it’s also easy to simply give lip service. Or, maybe the goals stay in your head. Whatever the case, businesses rely on many types of goals, like monthly sales or customer acquisition targets. Top-line revenue or a specific number of new and/or returning customers are examples. Financial results could include gross margin or net income for a given month or quarter matter. And, in the marketing world, there are always objectives and key results, such as launching a new product or service on time and budget, generating a specific number of new leads, increasing landing page conversions by a specific percent, or decreasing bounce rate values before a certain date. The sheer number of options is the reason why goals can be so tough to achieve.

Finding and pursuing the right goal can be challenging. With so many choices available, it can be hard to narrow down the ones that matter most. Then, there’s the method behind crafting goals that actually bring results, which affects attainment. Vague goals can be tough to achieve because they're either too easy, abstract or just plain boring. And setting no goal usually means it’s easy to get distracted and make little to no progress. Then it’s easy to ask or think, why even do it? Fair point.

The Reason to Set and Pursue A Goal

The reason to set and pursue a goal is all about the desire to experience something new and to know yourself and your business enough to put yourself in a position to succeed. In short, goals help you flourish. As Barbara Fredrickson states in The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology, “Flourishing describes a state of optimal human functioning, one that simultaneously implies growth and longevity, beauty and goodness, robustness and resilience, and generativity and complexity.”

To do this, it’s important to understand the relationship between a goal and your performance towards it. Gary Latham and Gerard Seijts suggest individuals, teams, and organizations are much more likely to achieve a given goal if four conditions are met. These are the questions that must be answered positively to improve goal performance.

  1. Do you have the ability to achieve your goal?
  2. Do you have the resources to achieve your goal?
  3. Are you committed to achieving your goal?
  4. Can you get objective feedback on your progress?

Answering “yes” to all of these questions means you’re putting yourself in a position to succeed. Otherwise, you may need to go back to the drawing board to reframe the goal in a way that turns your “no” into a “yes.”

The Rewards of Better Goal Performance

Then, growth suddenly moves from being plateaued or in decline to being on the up and up. That’s when you’ll say, “grow business grow!”

Your ability to define, acquire and use necessary resources (e.g., technological, knowledge, financial, etc.), commit to persist and to overcome barriers and to measure progress affects goal attainment. Repeat: you need the ability, resources, commitment, and openness to receive feedback to achieve any goal. The more you do these things, the more you increase confidence and the likelihood of success. In turn you feel less anxiety, distress, nerves, or tension around achieving goals.

The more you find ways to learn, to create and maintain productive behavior, and to perform well, the more achieving goals will become second nature. Before long, you’ll be able to identify a goal, make and measure progress, overcome adversity along the way, know how to plan and allocate resources, and to gather feedback along the way.

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An abundance mindset increases confidence and the likelihood of success and makes effort worthwhile.

You choose whether to see the world from an abundance or scarcity mindset and to act accordingly; all of which affects your business.

Mindset can be defined as, “as mental attitude or inclination” or “fixed state of mind.” It determines how you think about things, make decisions, view the world, and choose to exist. If you view things with abundance, then your experience is full of positivity, generosity, mindfulness, thinking of others, and taking advantage of opportunities. The opposite is true for scarcity, where it’s all about negativity, lacking something, or being myopic. It’s also the difference between being open and closed or growing and declining, both of which apply to every business and its people.

A Scarcity Mindset Drains Resources and Decreases Confidence

Business owners have lots of pressure to support others, including customers, staff, and vendors. Sometimes simply paying the bills is a challenge, let alone yourself, as the owner. Constantly reacting to unplanned situations, putting out fires, and living in the tyranny of the urgent is draining—physically, intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually. There are improvements that could be made. Always. But, fear, anxiety, and drudgery often creep in when thinking about tackling something new. When this type of thought process creeps in, it can be difficult to remove. Suddenly, it feels overwhelming to find a path forward and, before you know it, succumbing to adversity is the norm.

Then, when this loop occurs, business owners and leaders get caught in a vicious growth cycle that drains resources, like energy, time, and money, and decreases confidence, especially when you need it most.

Sound familiar? If so, then you’ve been introduced to the scarcity mindset. It’s unwieldy and brutal. A scarcity mindset closes you down to the point of being completely myopic and in survival mode. Tunnel vision sets in and potential is compromised. Unfortunately, this negative mindset is full of challenges that decrease the likelihood of success. In short, it’s usually the beginning of the end. And it’s a trap that only gets worse as clarity, motivation, and structure lessen. But there’s another way to lead and operate your firm.

An Abundance Mindset Makes Business Ownership Worthwhile and Increases Confidence

Do you aspire to do what you want, to have manageable and actionable paths that help to overcome adversity, and to achieve goals by being a better version of yourself?

If so, then please meet the abundance mindset. As the name suggests, it’s all about being open to possibility and being grateful for what you have, as well as embracing a future state. Here are three ways an abundance mindset can grow your business.

  1. Clarity — an abundance mindset is achieved when clarity enables you, the owner and leader, to articulate what you want to do.
  2. Structure — this will help to anticipate and cope with the inevitable adversity when it arrives. Your ability to create structure via manageable and actionable paths to overcome adversity will increase because you have higher levels of self-efficacy, which encourages you to make progress.
  3. Motivation — you build more motivation to keep the good momentum going and to become a better version of yourself, all of which is driven by self-efficacy. Suddenly, it seems feasible to solve key issues and to say no to whatever distraction may captivate you at the moment.

Navi Radjou’s concept of frugal innovation shows what happens when people do more with less. This phenomenon occurs when economic, environmental, and social values increase while resources, like time, capital, and energy decrease. Being in an abundance mindset means acting with others in mind through wisdom (i.e., clarity), unity (i.e., clarity), ingenuity (i.e., structure), and (com)passion (i.e., motivation). Having a scarcity mindset is the complete opposite: being self-centered, fearful, and desirous while seeking power. Frugal innovations occur with an abundance mindset because you become more purposeful when values increase and resources decrease.

Open Yourself to Possibility by Enjoying Ownership and Leadership

The more clarity you have, the more you can do what you want. In turn, the more structure you have, the easier it is to overcome adversity. And when that happens, you have more motivation to improve and become a better version of yourself. Lastly, and most importantly, owning a business becomes worthwhile because of the virtuous growth cycle you’ve created and perpetuated. This simply means you can do more of what you want, overcome adversity with greater ease, and continue to become a better version of yourself.

An abundance mindset opens you to possibility. The world opens up and you can make connections sooner and stronger. You gain more clarity, structure, and motivation. In turn, this creates a virtuous growth cycle that increases your confidence and makes the whole experience more worthwhile. To this end, you have a higher likelihood of success.

Would you rather have an abundance or a scarcity mindset? You choose. If you want to work towards a future state, then STRE.ME’s Strategic Boost Template will walk you through the process of identifying an objective, key results, and more.

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Get a Bigger Piece of Your Market's Pie by Increasing Market Share

Virtually every business needs or wants more customers. Why? To stay in business. As CB Insights found in their analysis of nearly 300 failed start-ups, no market need (i.e., customers seeking a solution) was the top reason for failure. To this end, if you have customers, then why stay in business? Many answers exist, but the essence is to serve a need (i.e., solve a problem). To continue solving a problem—or creating value—many businesses must grow, which can mean different things to different people. The more a company grows, the more resources it can devote to creating value. Growth comes in many varieties, including financial (e.g., gross margin or net income), customers served, personal (e.g., leadership and professional development), and mindset (e.g., abundance instead of scarcity), amongst others. The bottom line is customers, especially new ones, validate a business's reason for being. Otherwise, failure, idling, or decline occur.

Business growth occurs in four ways, all of which revolve around your product or service offering and its market (i.e., distribution). Igor Ansoff was an applied mathematician and business manager who consulted and taught at many distinguished universities. He’s known for developing strategic management and corporate strategies—one that suggests growth occurs through one of four product-market strategies called the Ansoff Matrix. This happens when existing or new offerings (i.e., products or services) are introduced to existing or new markets. The result creates different go-to-market strategies that support each growth goal.

Why Customers Are the Key to Growth

One option is to increase your market share. It’s easy for businesses with existing customers and an established distribution channel (or more) to select this path. This is the best option if you want to grow an existing market with the same product or service. Customers, offerings (i.e., a given product and/or service), and a distribution channel are used as the foundation for growth through increased market share. And, ideally, your market is growing. But, in short, this growth path means you intend to take customers away from competitors.

In addition to taking customers away from competitors, increasing your market share typically means your business has the ability to incorporate additional marketing tools. Discounting and promotional options are common tactics that, when added to your competitive advantage, create growth potential. As a business leader, this path also means you have a lower risk tolerance and want a smaller, more immediate return than developing a new offering and/or market. If this sounds like you, then here are five ways to increase your market share.

Five Ways To Increase Market Share

  1. Leverage your assets and opportunities.  Many challenges seem overwhelming to consider, let alone overcome. As a result, it’s easy to repress them and hope they go away while they linger and actually get worse over time. That’s why STRE.ME’s Value Shift process uses clarity and structure to develop solutions that are based on your unique goals, challenges, assets, liabilities, opportunities, and threats. This is a great way to start the process.
  2. Create or refine a sustainable competitive advantage to overcome your competitors’ weaknesses. Sometimes this is as simple as refining and repositioning a product. You can also clarify your message by understanding your customer and problem(s), offering empathy and authority in a handful of steps, and showing success or failure in all marketing assets. StoryBrand is an amazing way to develop and implement this approach.
  3. Find a way to increase promotions, marketing, and distribution support with your refined competitive advantage. Creating a sustainable competitive advantage will make it easier to increase relevant promotions, marketing, and distribution support. It gives you something to talk about through all media (in person, digitally, and through print). In turn, it will help to convert sales by solving customer problems. Benson Shapiro’s Harvard Business Review article, “Improve Distribution with Your Promotional Mix,” provides a great structure for putting this into action.
  4. Experiment with temporary price reductions or product bundles to convert sales. These short-run tests can help to spur sales and qualify leads. Just be sure to track conversions through your sales funnel and into your CRM. This will help to assess lead quality and customer retention. Competera’s blog, “How to Use a Bundle Pricing Strategy to Increase Sales," outlines the advantages and disadvantages of this approach.
  5. Think outside the box by acquiring a rival or refining your product. This can be beneficial if you’re able to integrate both firms’ operations, cultures, and distribution channels. This Angel Investor Report post, “Growth Plans and Investment: Growth Through Acquisition,” outlines good considerations for growth through acquisition.

Outcomes from Increasing Market Share

To recap, increasing your market share is the way to go if you have:

This whole process will enable you to develop and implement a vision for making money, saving time, and reducing risk. The more you follow this path, the more your business will create a growth cadence around the priorities that matter most. And, the more you consistently focus on this path, the more you increase the likelihood of success by leverages what makes you better. There’s no sure bet here. But, as the saying goes, luck favors the prepared.

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The answer is, "yes," if you focus on tactics before strategy.

Which Comes First: Strategy or Tactics?

It’s easy to lump marketing and sales together, especially if you know a little about each. The same is true for strategy and tactics. They’re both about action and getting stuff done. But, in reality, the two are opposites. Literally. Strategy is essentially a plan of action and a tactic is basically an action that’s carefully planned. This means strategy is to marketing what tactics is to sales. Marketing and strategy create demand and sales and tactics convert it. Ever heard the expression, cart before the horse? That is what’s in play here, especially if you think strategy and tactics are the same.

It’s hard to image pursuing actions without a plan. But, think about how many small businesses have little to no marketing efforts, let alone strategy. Or, maybe it’s really inconsistent. Many small businesses take action without a plan because it’s hard to focus on something without an immediate payoff. But beyond anecdote, the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy’s 2018 Frequently Asked Questions estimated 50% of small businesses fail after their fifth operating year. Why? The reasons vary but several stick out. CB Insights analyzed over 100 failed businesses and found that at least 5 out of the top 10 reasons are marketing-related, with another 2 or 3 being closely aligned. In short, it’s easy to suggest that many small businesses fail because of poor planning.

Who Said There’s Never Time to Plan?

In a small business there’s no question it’s tough to find time to plan. Competing demands are everywhere and it often feels like success just to get through the day. Have you ever received that unexpectedly bad email at 6:49 p.m., which ratchets up the anxiety more than anything? Yeah, that one. It’s almost impossible to consider anything else until you can solve the problem. Yourself. As true as this may be, it is also very confining. There’s no good way out because your attention is given to the tyranny of the urgent. Gabrielle Oettingen studied fantasy and daydream research to better understand whether imagining the future led to action and/or successful performance. In Oettingen’s scholarly article, Future Thought And Behaviour Change, several self-regulation strategies showed how imagining a desired future can actually increase motivation and strengthen goal pursuit. This is also elaborated in Oettingen’s fantasy realization theory, which describes how making progress towards a goal affirms the expectation of goal attainment and vice versa. To put this idea into context for small businesses, strategy represents both the future and way to achieve it, while tactics are actions towards realizing the desired state. This means goal pursuit weakens without action. You actually decrease the likelihood of achieving your goal. Or, perhaps more to the point, as John Wooden famously said, “never mistake activity for achievement.” Coach Wooden’s model was built on proper planning (strategy) and its execution (tactics) with four components described in his book, Practical Modern Basketball, none of which exist without the plan (i.e., strategy).

Strategy *Is* the Plan of Action

As Coach Wooden showed us, strategy is the plan of action. It’s the reason strategy comes before tactics. Again, strategy is the plan of action, not the action of plan. And, just because activity may be high, doesn’t mean achievement follows suit, especially for something vague like sales. Remember, cart before the horse is way different than envisioning the future and pursuing it—putting the horse before the cart. There’s nothing to pursue if you’re unsure what the future holds. Once more, this is why strategy comes before tactics. Strategy imagines the future and ways to get there, while tactics are the actions that create progress towards the goal. A tactic simply desists without strategy or the action without a plan. In the words of management guru, Michael Porter, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” As Oettingen and Wooden’s work points, out the clearer your vision is, the more likely you are to achieve it. Otherwise, you’re either confusing activity with achievement, creating competing demands, setting yourself up for failure, or decreasing the likelihood of success. Small business owners know competing demands are inevitably constant and, to be successful, they must be minimized. This is precisely why strategy must serve as the plan for action to make complementary tactics the actions of the plan.

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No Plan for Action Is Costly

Creating the necessary attention, energy, time, and space to develop a proper strategy is easier so than done. There’s no doubt about it. But, having no plan for action is even more costly in the long run. At least prioritizing strategy ahead of tactics will help your small business better understand the world around it and how to fit within it. Then, it’s easier and more likely to mobilize effort around common goals towards the future, which ultimately increases the likelihood of achieving your desired future.

Get the Strategic Boost Template to create a manageable, actionable, and measurable work plan towards an objective and key results. You’ll envision the future, potential constraints, and roles and responsibilities with greater ease to ensure your activity actually leads to results. Then, ask yourself which is more costly, a plan for action or no plan for action? Your answer will determine whether your small business is sabotaging itself.

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Growth Means So Much More Than Sales

It’s easy for small busineses to be focused on growth. Sales, income, and adding people are commonly associated with the idea of “growth.” But, there’s so much more to it. When a small business experiences growth, it evolves through a web of tangible and intangible effects. Some outcomes are way more obvious than others, although they’re almost always evident. And some are more positive or negative. The key is to be aware of the process that unfolds because it's often unpredictable and can happen slower or faster than ever anticipated. This is why there’s way more to growth than sales. Moreover, there’s a big difference between growth and progress, although they’re closely related. When used properly, this difference can steer teams clear of many challenges, a common one being competing demands, which will compromise almost any organization.

Leveraging the Difference Between Growth and Progress Increases the Likelihood of Success

A Tale of Letting Growth Run Your Small Business

For context, here’s an example of the difference between growth and progress. One brother decides to help another by starting a new business venture together, partly out of sympathy and curiosity but mostly out of the desire to make money. Early on they complement each other and capitalize on their strengths that make up for the weaknesses. Their last name is on the building. A couple of prospects become customers and then turn into raving fans. Word of mouth takes over. Before long, the business experiences growth and both brothers begin to make money. Lots of it. Organic and rapid growth take over and the two owners hire whoever they can find. They simply need warm bodies and hold on for dear life.

Seven years pass with amazing year-over-year growth before sales plateau in the eighth year. People are burnt out, tensions are high, and the drama between both brother-owners skyrockets. Before long, their relationship erodes, sales vanish, and the pressure to maintain overhead for 20-some employees mounts. Then, the firm’s reputation gets tarnished as quickly as it blossomed. Soon the mass exodus of talented people begins, one brother buys out the other, and the business is swallowed into the black hole of competing demands. The magic disappears, the team dissolves, and the once-booming business is a shell of itself. And the one brother who initiated the endeavor is now overtly negative and biased about being a small business owner. He shuts everything down and resigns himself to never wanting to live with ownership responsibilities ever again.

Does this sound familiar? Chances are you’ve heard of a local small business like this. They’re everywhere because, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, private firms that employ fewer than 20 individuals in 2014 accounted for 89% of all domestic firms. That means almost 9 of every 10 local businesses employ fewer than 20 people. How could a small business like this avoid being swallowed by the black hole of competing demands? The answer is they fail to understand and leverage the difference between growth and progress.

Why Does the Difference Between Growth and Progress Matter?

The difference between growth and progress affects a small business like the one described above for one reason: competing demands. Just like small businesses, competing demands are everywhere. And they’re all-consuming. What is more, they’re so pervasive because the relationship between growth and progress is often unclear. This is important because one supports the other and creates chaos if there’s no separation. Moreover, it’s tough to know which one to focus on first. As a result, growth is often associated with obvious things like sales or revenue. But, like a lot of things, growth has many layers, each of which creates a ripple effect. Just the like brothers who started a business together, growth and progress must complement each other to become stronger and to overcome weaknesses.

Merriam-Webster describes growth as an increase in something, whereas progress is onward movement or the gradual betterment toward an objective or goal. In business, the first connotation with growth is sales or revenue. Beyond this initial glance, though, other attributes like size, scale, pace, or complexity help to define growth. Intrinsically there are leadership, skill-sets, knowledge, and vision that also influence growth. Meanwhile, progress is still generally all about an ongoing effort towards something. Understanding and owning these differences is the key to unlocking the power of each.

5 Ways to Leverage the Difference Between Growth and Progress

Here are five ways for small business owners to leverage the difference between growth and progress.

  1. Define and contextualize growth AND progress for your small business. As mentioned above, if growth is about an increase in everything from revenue to complexity and leadership skills to knowledge and vision, then progress is all about facilitating the ongoing effort towards increasing things that grow. Moreover, please know growth has its negative sides, as well. The more your small business grows, the more complexity and the responsibility to support more people adds pressure, especially for owners. This never stops—it only grows. Every small owner will feel the change from hiring their first employee, to the fifth, twentieth, and so on. It can be a lot to embrace, manage, and lead if the owner is unprepared for ownership responsibilities. These small business owner tasks and responsibilities are just the beginning of what amounts to a lot of pressure to lead and perform for others, let along yourself.  
  2. Visualize how growth and progress complement each other. Instead of shying away from this pressure or ambiguity, own it and make the most of growth and progress. Use your vision to think about what you want to grow (i.e., the objective to your growth) and progress (i.e., your indicators or key results) to determine how you intend to grow. OKRs, which stands for objectives and key results, are particularly popular in tech firms but can be applied to any organization. They help organize what you want to grow and how you intend to make progress towards it, which creates clarity and structure.  
  3. Mobilize effort around growth and progress. Growth and progress are only as good as your ability to mobilize effort around the same vision, objective, and key results. To do this, develop a work plan that outlines a SMART objective, key results, necessary resources, potential constraints, roles, and responsibilities. Doing this will help to ensure that a clear growth objective is articulated with supporting progress understood and community. STRE.ME’s Strategic Boost Template will help you create manageable and actionable work plans. In turn, you'll be in a better position to create value by creating value with confidence. Get the free guide here.
  4. Get the right people in the right spots to make progress towards growth. Roles and responsibilities should always be evident in a work plan with OKRs for two reasons. First, a well-defined work plan sets expectations for everyone involved and, as a result, increases accountability. This Strategic Boost Template lets you facilitate conversations with team members to get their input, refine and improve the work plan, and ultimately let team members determine their roles, responsibilities, and timelines. This level of participation can increase employee buy-in. Then, second, as the business owner, you get a better sense of capacity utilization levels, which measures your firm’s productivity level of output against available time. You’ll know whether you’re adequately staffed to carry out the work plan by simply evaluating its roles and responsibilities. Ideally, individual team members are responsible for different key results. Otherwise, as the small business owner, you’ll continue to have competing demands that stunt your growth. At least you’ll have a better sense of being pulled in specific directions before starting the process.
  5. Know how to measure progress towards growth. Your work plan’s key results will serve as indicators, which are also known as key performance indicators or key metrics. As these indicators become more evident through regular progress, your desired growth will come. This is the point where you need to focus on making progress before growth because this is where it’s all about your ability to mobilize effort around the same goals. Otherwise, your small business will be making progress on multiple fronts, which delays results, creates competing demands, dilutes resources, and increases complexity. Then the black hole of competing demands will swallow everything in sight. Literally.

Getting Growth and Progress to Work Together

When small business owners can get growth and progress to work together, they gain focus, clarity, and confidence, and increase the likelihood of success. It’s the difference between herding cats and rowing in the same direction. Which do you prefer? Same for your team. Simply put, the more your team can make progress towards the same growth objectives, the more likely you are to be successful, especially as a small business owner. Otherwise, you’ll end up being swallowed by the black hole of competing demands, just like the brothers who went into business together and let growth get the best of them. Knowing how to complement growth with progress requires effort, clarity, structure, and accountability. But controlled growth and increasing the likelihood of success is totally possible for those who can understand and leverage the difference between both.

Get the Small Business Growth Guide to determine how to gain focus without losing control. >>>

Ever Feel Like There’s No Time to Plan?

Small business owners can often like there’s no time to plan. Ever. This is especially true for those in growth mode or trying to avoid a disaster. Or, maybe there’s a feeling that “strategy” should happen during certain times of the year to dedicate time to selling or “getting real stuff done.” The problem with this mindset is there’s nothing more important than strategy because, if implemented and measured well, it increases the likelihood of success. If you’ve ever heard the saying, “luck favors the prepared” (which comes from Louis Pasteur’s notion that “…chance favors the prepared mind.”), then strategy helps you be prepared for luck. Simple as that.

Strategy increases the likelihood of success by visualizing your future state, vision, and growth path.

Common Questions That Strategy Can Answer

So, if you’re feeling lucky, then how will strategy help? There’s no mystery behind what makes an organization evolve, idle, and languish. Any firm, whether a small family-owned business, not-for-profit, rapidly growing start-up or a Fortune 100 company, faces the same questions.

The ability to answer and consistently make progress towards these questions is the difference between flourishing, idling, and languishing. It’s what makes a firm grow or decline.

Four Ways to Embrace Strategy

There’s no need to worry whether these questions have never occurred to you or seem overwhelming to answer. All you need to do is start small and consistently make incremental progress. If you break this process down into manageable and actionable steps, then results will come. Read this blog about leveraging the difference between growth and progress if “strategy” feels daunting. Otherwise, here are four ways to embrace strategy and to increase your likelihood of success.

  1. Review your internal and external environment. This means doing a little discovery work with your team inside the business and then exploring the world around it. To do this, try to understand your firm’s current financial performance, resources, capabilities, and competitive strengths and weaknesses. Then, evaluate your industry’s conditions, changes in the environment that may affect your organization, and compare your position against direct and indirect competitors. The Business Model Canvas is great for understanding how your firm makes and spends money, a SWOT analysis will organize your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and Value Shift will clarify the growth assets and liabilities you control against opportunities and threats beyond your control. Conducting a market analysis and performing competitive intelligence will make your marketplace more clear, actionable, and help to differentiate your business. This is the step shows where you are and lays the foundation for your strategy. It increases awareness about your business and the world around it.
  2. Embrace your vision. This step articulates where you want to go. It’s easier to create a clear competitive advantage once you better understand the world around you and, more specifically, the value you create within it. Once you can differentiate your firm and its offerings, the process to embrace your vision becomes easier to implement. At this point, your mission and core values can either be affirmed or refined. Then, once your vision, mission, and values are set or updated, the next step is to identify your optimal growth path. Options include increasing market share, introducing a new product to your existing market, adding a market with your existing offering(s), or bringing a new offering into a new market. Get the Growth Guide to learn how to gain focus on your growth path without losing control. Or, purposefully and confidently pursue sales targets with Atlas. You’ll be ready for action when this step is done.
  3. Operationalize your strategy. This step shows you how to get from you from one place to another. Reviewing your environment and embracing your vision will prepare you to put your strategy to work—from point A to point B, C, and eventually Z. To measure your strategy’s progress, you need a manageable, actionable, and measurable work plan. When finished, share it with the team, get input from every stakeholder, and make sure the objective and key results align with your vision. This step should bring your competitive advantage to life. If you articulate up to five SMART objectives with supporting key results, resources, constraints, roles, and responsibilities, then you’ll have a solid strategy in hand. Review this Strategic Boost Template with your leadership team and firm to get feedback, refine the direction as necessary, share it internally, and provide regular progress monthly or quarterly to keep everyone on the same page. This is the point where strategy starts to feel palpable. The next step is where you begin to experience strategy way beyond anything on paper or in your head.
  4. Measure progress. This final step will tell you when you’ve arrived at your desired future state. Please remember to continue making, measuring, and sharing progress with everyone, because it will take some time. Persist, focus, and stay the course until you have enough data to pivot with confidence. The iterative process of making progress and growing will slowly unfold. Progress only makes itself known when you stop to measure or hit one of those indescribable watershed moments. Use your Strategic Boost Template to track key results as indicators of progress towards an objective.

Be warned: growth will come if you persist and remain focused, disciplined, and prepared for luck. Just wait. You’ll see.

Create value with confidence, focus, and a clear vision of success.

The Benefits of Strategy

While all of this may seem daunting and like a lot of work, it is. But, strategy is valuable and transformative work that pays off over time. By following these steps, you will:

Almost every organization wants to evolve. The question becomes, what’s the easiest or most effective and efficient way to do so. This is what strategy does; it simply increases the likelihood of success. With proper strategy and implementation, your vision and execution are the only things holding you back.

Get our Growth Guide to learn how to gain focus without losing control. >>>

Get the Small Business Guide to growing your business.

Helping clients with business growth has always been a professional focus. Every circumstance is different. Leadership, vision, strategy, resources, and grit vary as much as anything, especially opportunity and challenge. As someone who uses both sides of the brain, brings clarity and structure to situations, and lives in the creative space just as much as the analytical, this kind of variety fuels intellectual and emotional curiosity. Almost every situation could use more clarity and structure. This is why I launched STRE.ME. It’s the same professional journey to help organizations grow, just a new chapter.

Same Journey, New Chapter
Jack Patton | CEO & Founder

It’s easy for small business leaders to be stuck working in the business instead of on it. Reactive tactics prevent progress from being made and everyone tries to keep up with too many competing demands, afraid to disrupt the status quo. As a result, the tyranny of the urgent takes over, the pace of business growth becomes erratic and unpredictable, customer acquisition becomes an unending challenge, and many small business owners are simply unsure what to do. Then, growth plateaus, the organization goes into survival mode or languishes, and potential becomes compromised. That's one of many reasons why only half of small businesses manage to stay open for more than five years. Small businesses need an easy way to formulate strategy, focus employees on custom goals, visualize progress, and provide accountability to increase the likelihood of success because most solutions are costly and/or complex.

Small businesses need an easy way to formulate strategy, focus employees on custom goals, visualize progress, and provide accountability to increase the likelihood of success because most solutions are costly and/or complex.

-Jack Patton, STRE.ME Founder

STRE.ME simplifies the business growth process by providing clarity, structure, and accountability around the priorities that matter most. It’s about making strategy accessible—as in: manageable, actionable, and measurable—to those who want to grow. It's all about the process to assess, position, and activate everything, and to set busy executives free from so many competing demands.

Small business growth guide
Learn how to gain focus without losing control
Get the Small Business Growth Guide to learn how to gain focus without losing control.

In the end, small business owners and organizational leaders gain focus, increase their confidence to take calculated risks, and get closer to fulfilling their potential as owners and leaders. They save time, simplify operations, reduce risk and effort, avoid hassles, reduce costs, and maintain quality. Before long, business growth accelerates and becomes manageable, actionable, and measurable. It’s all about providing clarity and structure that enables every organization to embrace what’s working and to avoid what’s not.

"Value Shift rocked my business! It unlocked knowledge
and perspectives that I didn’t know I was missing."

-John Kaufeld, million-selling author and speaker

As John Kaufeld, a million-selling author and speaker, described one of STRE.ME’s products, “Value Shift rocked my business! It unlocked knowledge and perspectives that I didn’t know I was missing. You’re already an expert at what your business does. This process takes you inside the HOW and WHY of your business, giving you insights for action. This isn’t some fluffy ‘feel good about what you do’ thing; it’s a hard-core analysis that blasts open the walls holding you back and sets your business free.”

That’s the goal. Always. This is why STRE.ME is the same journey, but a new chapter. This time it’s my own—one where I’m eating my own dog food. Get the Small Business Growth Guide to discover your ideal growth path. Or, take this Five-Minute Growth Assessment to see how prepared you are to grow.

Get the Small Business Growth Guide >>>