There is a mantra used by the U.S. military to describe the essential framework for building an effective military presence. It’s a simple formula: Plan, Equip, Train and Lead.
All four parts must work in harmony. Take one or two away, and you have an effort that will not perform at its potential. One can argue we are seeing that played out in Ukraine. Russian forces are either poorly equipped or not well trained. In some cases, the leadership has poorly executed the plan. The net effect is a supposed world power than has been unable to finish what it so unwisely started [yes, I am injecting an opinion there].
Conversely, the Ukrainian forces have proven their small but well-trained and nobly-led ability to defend themselves. As better equipment arrives and training comes too, the resistance has been strengthened up to and including the ability to launch counter-offensives.
Running a Successful Business
Running a successful business can apply these same four principles. Yet too often, business founders fail to apply all four elements.
Let’s explore the ways these principles get applied (or not).
On the one hand, many business leaders I know do something about planning. But in smaller businesses, planning is limited to looking at the cash in the bank and making decisions based solely on that. There is no clarity on long-term direction, sales growth, profitability, or strategy.
It can start with the lack of a vision. I talk a lot about creating a vision.
Stephen R Covey calls it “begin with the end in mind.” Where do you really want to go? What do you want to be about?
In my work with small business owners, they actually have trouble talking about these vital aspects of what they are doing. A clear vision is a foundation for making a good plan.
Here too, I see teams trying to operate with limited resources. In my days as a young apprentice in a master’s woodshop, I learned some key principles about the use of tools and materials. Trying to use the wrong tool in a situation will damage the tool, the material, or you.
Having the right resources and equipment for the job at hand is critical. To state an extreme example, going back to the military aspects, fielding an army of soldiers equipped with rocks and sticks against a battalion of Abrams tanks won’t turn out very well.
As a leader, you must be ever-vigilant about the availability and condition of the equipment you expect your team to use.
Once the right equipment is provided, your team needs the training to be able to use the resources. More importantly, they need to be trained on the standard you expect them to achieve.
Training is often the weak spot in small businesses. We try to hire people who already have the right experience. While the technical aspects of that can work, the understanding of the leader’s vision and expectations must be trained too.
Training can take many forms. Whether you rely on the classroom, online/virtual, or on the job, training MUST be provided. A simple 48 hours onboarding indoctrination exercise won’t get it.
Then a leader must inspect what they expect. If defects or deficiencies show up, re-training is needed.
Finally is the need for effective leadership. A team with the best planning, equipment, and training cannot perform at its potential without effective leadership. In the best case, leaders also need the training to be the best they can be.
But in smaller companies, the owner/founder often ignores the development of their leadership ability. The mindset is usually centered on ‘doing the work’ to make profits grow. That is why we see so many entrepreneurs get stuck in the weeds or “in the business.” They are relegated to working in the business, not “ON” the business.
Take an Inventory
If you own a business or are responsible for a team, take an assessment of exactly where you stand on these four pillars. Survey your team. Think about the details for each of these areas: Planning, Equipping, Training, and Leadership.
If any area needs work, that might be the reason you are not progressing the way you had hoped for.