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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Thoughts on Progressing with Purpose

“I'm tired of passive living. I'm sick of passively letting life drive my existence. I want to control my time, finances, and surroundings. I want to determine any given day's schedule, activities, and outcomes. I want to minimize regret, the dependence on others, and any barrier that sucks me into mediocrity. I know better and struggle with common challenges yet can't achieve meaningful satisfaction. And, I've been saying the same s#!t for 10 years. There's an entirely different world I want to experience. I want to live with more satisfaction and control, and ultimately influence my life. (Forget anyone and anything that negatively influences it for me.) While my standards are high, there is a point at which enough is enough. My problem is that's a ways away; I'm just getting older and time is speeding up. Enough is enough. I must choose to actively drive my life or accept my choice to live in mediocrity. The first step is to choose action.”

-Jack Patton

Growing Frustration

This is an email I sent to myself several years ago during a frustrating day. Enough was enough — something had to change. Work was tough for several reasons and the experience of being yanked around by the tyranny of the urgent — all of which was completely avoidable — was exhausting. As someone who values work-life integration, it was clear the vast majority of energy, at home and work, was negative. Work-life is important because, as the son of an engineer, I constantly mull problems over until finding a solution. (This is one reason my wife often asks me to use my outside voice.) In other words, I am often consumed with thinking about work. It’s always top-of-mind, which amplifies issues if they’re bad — I constantly dwell on negativity and frustration. As a result, the idea of creating and relying on positive assets seemed more far-fetched than I wanted because everything revolved in a world of obligation and problem-prevention. I felt stuck and needed to find a way out.

Jack Patton's "Passivity Sucks" email, which was the result of increasing frustration.

Increasing Resentment and Irritability

After living with an increasing level of frustration — again, think irritability, impatience, and myopia — for over ten years. Some of this went back to my early career as a musician; resentment and irritability were skyrocketing because I knew I was pursuing something that wasn’t a passion. This sense of frustration affected my decision-making, clouded judgment, and overtook most of my energy. It was unhealthy and often created tingling shocks when my blood pressure would skyrocket after being zinged through some terse interaction, client demand, or nasty email or text. I’ve been fortunate to have a strong network of mentors and trusted advisors, but it was clear something needed to change. Most encouraged me to invest in professional activities that created positive feelings. And, then one trusted advisor, Karl LaPan, the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center’s CEO, shared the Harvard Business Review article, “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” which reinforced their advice.

These ideas affirmed the following. “To effectively reenergize their workforces, organizations need to shift their emphasis from getting more out of people to investing more in them, so they are motivated—and able—to bring more of themselves to work every day. To recharge themselves, individuals need to recognize the costs of energy-depleting behaviors and then take responsibility for changing them, regardless of the circumstances they’re facing.”

Bingo. This showed just how far away I was to experiences that created positive resources, like energy, memories, motivation, and confidence. As someone with high self-efficacy, I was doing the opposite: experiencing things that depleted the very resources I needed to be a better version of myself.

Longing to Live Another Way

The email to myself proved just how much I wanted to experience life differently. That's still true today, but the idea looks and feels different. The bottom line: I longed to live another way. I felt stuck and trapped. Another business owner once described me during a meeting — with my supervisor — like a racehorse who was tied up to a post, running in circles. That may seem arrogant to share here, but that's exactly how I felt. There's no doubt I was chomping at the bit and felt held back. (h/t Barry.) While this email was an outward expression of many things, it was one brief moment through many little steps that now provide perspective.

Fringe Hour Deep Work

I developed the habit of getting up around 4:30 am in my mid-twenties for a couple of reasons. First, it was a great way to jump-start the day with lots of coffee and clear thoughts. Second, I learn, read, think, and process best early in the day, especially when it's quiet. Third, creating this foundational routine provided a trajectory I could carry throughout the day. Fourth, this is the only focused time I have at home with an active family. Last, I was learning and applying a TON of information. All in all, starting to work on passion projects at 4:30 am created a valuable and impactful experience.

As a life-long learner, I thrive on the variety that comes with learning new things. This excites me, especially when solving a problem, and feels way more rewarding than being told what to do. I find the whole process to be invigorating and, again, get immersed in the problem until solving it. Researching and learning about ways to solve my frustrations was both educational and rewarding. Even though I was often short on sleep, the energy I accumulated from this deep work was stimulating and over-compensated any fatigue. This routine was easy to maintain while we had kids and I returned to grad school for an MBA. The fringe hour deep work always paid off and was worthwhile. I felt more productive, energized, and purposeful. My ideal future became more clear and tangible.

Jack Patton, CEO of STRE.ME

Defining Solutions

Through the course of various passion projects, I became fixated on choice, as is the choice we have with certain levels of the cognitive ability to think. Whether Freewill or The Paradox of Choice, there’s lots of great literature around the subject. But, for me, the research from over two-dozen scholarly articles and many non-fiction books was only as good as the ability to apply it. After compiling nearly 500 pages of notes and synthesizing them down into 100, I was able to create a framework that I could use. The ideas had been floating around since I was a kid, literally. But, now the rationale and context for certain things became clear enough to do something for me. Solutions started to become evident.

Embracing Adversity’s Inevitability

As shown in the Growth Guide™, adversity surrounds us. It’s inevitable. At the same time, adversity creates a phenomenal opportunity to learn and grow. Every chance to overcome the slightest challenge is a gift to accomplish something. Over time this produces positive resources that we, as individuals, use to proactively overcome adversity. It’s the difference between making an objective and informed decision versus reacting with emotion. I.e., overcoming adversity can help you make better decisions, one after another. This idea and all of the research that surrounds it was a game-changer. Suddenly my restlessness and high need for closure could be used for something other than creating anxiety and irritability. But, embracing adversity's inevitability was only the first step.

Applying the Findings

Over time and many iterations of technical proof of concept, the ability to consistently and repeatedly create solutions and apply findings made a difference. No matter the conversation, whether personal or professional, recurring themes were everywhere. This was great fodder for refining concepts and for using trial and error to improve everything. But, most importantly, I was applying what I learned. This exploration and discovery created a new learning experience that instilled confidence, vulnerability, core values, and a little courage. I knew I was making progress.

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Launching and Evolving STRE.ME

Life evolved to the point where I launched STRE.ME in the fall of 2018. Enabled and empowered with the knowledge, skillset, and tools to flourish, I was suddenly challenged to eat my own dog food, to use the same tools I’m asking others to use. But, as uncomfortable as it is, there's a tremendous gift to be allowed to share this with others. This is why STRE.ME was launched and continues to evolve. Now, STRE.ME has products and services that are based on ideas and applications for a repeatable framework. It's all about enabling others to progress with purpose. Moreover, the goal is to help others earn their future. Check out the Growth Guide™ and mobile app for a simple and cost-effective way to pursue goals and track your progress. Let an accountability partner participate in your journey. Or, schedule some time to walk through the process with me through TeleCoaching packages. You can also check out Feature Toolkit if you're developing new technology and want your development dollars to go farther faster. Whatever the case may be, simply evolving STRE.ME to the point of having products available represents significant progress away from the idea that passivity sucks.

Learning to Control What I Can Control

Through Axiogenics’s cognitive self-leadership coaching offered by Moellering Management, I began using personal assets to overcome biases. This helped me to do things like learning to control what I could control, being at peace with what is, and centering myself around natural tendencies. It's still a work in process, for sure, but continues to be valuable and formative ways to think, reflect, and embrace the chaos inside and around me. Again, it's another way to eat my own dog food. But, more to the point, STRE.ME is now delivering something new.

It’s still early, but if you’re looking for proven, traditional, middle-of-the-road life experiences (especially with goal setting), then I’m happy to provide other options. But, if you’re looking for something new, unproven, daring, transformative, important, and an experience that only early adopters care enough to do — those who are brave enough to try — then try STRE.ME. Download 500+ Ways To Earn Your Future, like STRE.ME’s Facebook page, get the Growth Guide™ and annual mobile subscription and ask yourself whether you’re ready to actively earn your future. I am and welcome others to join.  

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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.  

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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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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.

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

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. >>>

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.

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