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Idea Management in Companies – “That Squirrel Will Kill You!”

idea managementFifteen years ago, I had a dog named Killer. Killer was really cute – a Yorkshire terrier – and was about 15 years old. Killer hated squirrels with a passion. One day, he saw a squirrel across the street and took off after him. Before we could catch him, he was hit by a car and passed away.

I apologize for the sad story, and I know that probably wasn’t something you expected to read from The Strategic CFO. The purpose of this story is to tell you that there are “squirrels” in your business that will kill you, too. Idea management in companies is more difficult than you think. In our company, we have a saying. Whenever someone shares a new idea that is irrelevant to our current projects, we call out “Squirrel!”. We do this to do two things: identify that it is in fact a squirrel and refocus our attention so that we don’t get distracted from our current projects. We don’t spend all of our money doing every new idea that we think of. This may even be an issue in your own company. Let’s explore why…

Why “Squirrels” Will Kill You

Squirrels are tangible, worth pursuing, and bring value. But what you may not know is that those new ideas may hurt you more than they help you more often than not.

Leaders are Innovative & Ambitious

Let’s say you’re in a room full of executives and business leaders, pursuing a project that you’ve worked on for months. Suddenly, one of your colleagues brings up the problem with the vending machine. The vending machine problem has nothing to do with your project. Another colleague chimes in and agrees with your other colleague about the vending machine. Now you’re all talking about the vending machine, and the initial project is pushed again… another 2 months.

That squirrel just killed your chances of successfully finishing that initial project.

If you’re an entrepreneur or a business leader, creativity is in your blood. You can’t help but think of new ways to grow your business, or fix small problems when they turn up. At the same time, squirrels distract you from your goals. “Chasing squirrels” is especially dangerous for entrepreneurs and businesses that have been operating for less than 5 years. Try to focus on what’s really important. Remember…. if you’re always chasing squirrels, you’ll never get down the street. This is where new idea management in companies comes into play.

Take the 40,000 foot level view when looking at projects! There are more squirrels than can be caught. Download our free 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs and learn how to take your financial leadership to the next level!

Most Ideas are Worth Pursuing… One Day

Just because you have a main project doesn’t mean you can’t have ideas. If you have a useful idea, but it may not be related to what you’re currently working on, write them down! Writing down your ideas is more than a list; it’s a goal that you can one day pursue (and maybe should pursue).

idea managementHow to Manage the “Squirrels”

Managing new ideas in companies should always be organized with a path in mind. How do you address squirrels so that they don’t kill your organization, you, and/or your momentum?

The action plan is the best idea management tool.

What is an Action Plan?

Our biggest recommendation is to make an action plan for your company. An action plan is a tool to manage the tasks to be achieved within a certain period of time. This tool isn’t solely for the leaders of a company to watch their employees. The action plan serves as a communication tool between ownership and staff, which then ensures accountability within a company.

Idea Management in Companies with Action Plans

Many of my clients, and my own employees, can attest to The Strategic CFO action plan tool (can be found in the SCFO Lab). When managing the “squirrels” in your company, your efforts shouldn’t stop at merely having a tool. What makes it effective is how you use it. Here’s how we all learned how to use an action plan effectively:

List Your Tasks 

It’s okay to brainstorm and unleash your ideas. In fact, we highly recommend you do this. But you can let the ideas flow out in a constructive manner that will prevent you from derailing off the tracks. List out any ideas, from small to big; from things you want to accomplish today, to milestones you want to accomplish by 2019. The sky’s the limit!… as long as the ideas are realistic and attainable.

Assign and Prioritize This Task

Now is the time to organize your ideas. Which tasks are easily attainable? Which tasks serve a purpose? Which tasks align with other tasks? And finally, who will complete these tasks? are all questions you should be asking yourself when completing this step. Color code, write notes, create labels… do what you need to do to organize your thoughts. As you do this, also try to map out how you’re going to accomplish a goal (because some goals need sub goals in order to accomplish them).

Update Progress and Priorities

Oftentimes, plans don’t always happen like you had originally expected. It’s normal to move around certain tasks to make room for more pressing ones. Just make sure that you don’t move them around too much… It might end up being a “squirrel.” It’s always a good idea to update your progress as well. When you complete a task, mark it as finished and don’t delete it.

Leave What You Have Already Accomplished

Leaving the completed tasks is crucial because the management needs to review progress trends, and quite honestly, it also boosts morale within the company. If you constantly remove the accomplishments, it will feel like your company has gotten nowhere. On the other hand, if you leave your completed tasks, you can see what works and what doesn’t work. You’ll also see how fast certain tasks are completed, and the work habits of your staff and yourself.

idea managementConclusion

Constant ideas can help your company, but they can also hurt your company. Having an action plan for your company is important not only for your staff, but for yourself. Action plans, or ideas with a plan in mind, organize the company’s thoughts and ideas in a more manageable and realistic fashion. Ask yourself: Are these ideas helpful right now? Will they be helpful in a couple of years? If you answered “no” to the first question, the ideas are squirrels. If they’re not helpful ever… then those are just bad ideas. Take care of your company, or else it might end up like Killer.

To learn more financial leadership skills like managing your company’s ideas, download the free 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs. Find out how you can become a more valuable financial leader.

idea management

Strategic CFO Lab Member Extra

Access your Flash Report Execution Plan in SCFO Lab. The step-by-step plan to manage your company before your financial statements are prepared.

Click here to access your Execution Plan. Not a Lab Member?

Click here to learn more about SCFO Labs

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Leadership Action Plan

Effective leaders must not only have a vision that inspires others, but must be able to execute this vision successfully to ensure that it becomes a reality.  But, how do you ensure successful execution in today’s rapidly changing and dynamic business world?  Through focused and intentional leadership development.

Leadership Action Plan

Consider the following leadership action plan for those wanting to improve their leadership skills.

  1. Begin with an end in mind – What does the leader need to do or know? What skills or competencies must be acquired to accomplish the goals?
  2. Truthfully level regarding gaps – Be honest with individuals about the gap that exists between where they are currently and where they want to be. Help them develop a plan to get there and provide supportive feedback along the way.
  3. Develop real-time learning opportunities – Give people learning assignments from real-life situations or issues. To grow, people need stretch goals and assignments.
  4. Provide continuous feedback and support – Small group feedback can be effective and constructive.
  5. Be sure to celebrate victories – Acknowledge and give credit and kudos to demonstrate how you and the company value people and their contributions.
  6. Don’t allow resting on one’s laurels – Begin the cycle again with new goals and objectives for growth and development.

An individual leader may be able to effectively solve simple technical problems, but today’s complex problems require an alliance of diverse individuals and groups contributing unique knowledge, experience, and expertise.  It is the workforce, in creative alliance with leadership, which drives effective change – not the individual leader.

If you want to learn more financial leadership skills, then download the free 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs.

leadership action plan

Strategic CFO Lab Member Extra

Access your Flash Report Execution Plan in SCFO Lab. The step-by-step plan to manage your company before your financial statements are prepared.

Click here to access your Execution Plan. Not a Lab Member?

Click here to learn more about SCFO Labs

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Write an Action Plan

See Also:
How to Run an Effective Meeting
SWOT Analysis
How to Respond to an Imminent Disaster Threat
How to Prepare a Flash Report

Write an Action Plan

When you write an action plan, it is more than just how to get organized. The primary purpose of the action plan is to serve as the controller’s tool to communicate with the Owner(s)/Management the goals to be achieved and the relative priorities. It is important that your action plan template provide fields for a detailed description of the tasks, the assignee, the due date, priority, current status, and completion date.

Action Plan How To

The action plan is a means to communicate scope to management. By communicating your scope of work, it serves as a tool to manage expectations and to assist in the setting of priorities…especially when the number of projects start to stack up. The value of the action plan in this latter part is immeasurable entrepreneurial owners tend to load up on more projects than either time or money will permit!

Action Plan For Employees

Once you have a firm grasp of the situation at hand, you can now formulate the tasks that need to be accomplished. These tasks should be listed on the Action Plan and communicated to the Owner(s)/Management. A discussion can then take place as to the relative importance of these projects as well as the resources and time required to complete them.

This meeting usually occurs within a short time of the controller’s hire. The individual who will ultimately be responsible for implementing the Action Plan should ideally prepare it.

Primary Liaison

In entrepreneurial companies, the primary liaison will typically be the Owner(s) of the firm. However, there may also be key management staff that you will need to interface with. It will be important for you to meet with all of them, although not necessarily all at the same sitting.

Meeting with Owner/Management

When meeting with the Owner/Management of the company, it is important to go into the meeting with the frame of mind come out with specific, measurable tasks to accomplish. Out of your meeting, you want to be able to put on paper something tangible. Why is this important? It’s important because a tangible task is a task that you can accomplish…without much debate as to the results.

Meet with Other Staff

After you have met the Owner/Management, the next step will be to meet with pertinent staff. The Owner/Management of the firm should be able to point you in the right direction in terms of who to talk to. One thing to keep in mind when meeting with the staff is that the issues the Owner(s)/Management present may or may not be the root cause of the true problems present at the company. The staff working at the company may have an entirely different take on what is ACTUALLY happening. Once you have a firm grasp of the situation at hand, you can now better formulate the tasks that need to accomplished. These tasks should be listed on the Action Plan and communicated to the Owner(s)/Management. A discussion can then take place as to the relative importance of these projects as well as the resources and time required to complete them.

Meetings with individual staff may occur over several encounters depending on their availability and/or new facts that come to light. However, it will be important to meet as many people as possible initially if for no other fact than to establish trust and relationships.

Fact Finding

After having met with the Owner/Management, take some time to organize your thoughts and get a game plan together as to who you need to see. Having done so, you are now ready to start the fact-finding mission. Keep in mind though, that this process is as much about trust and relationship building as it is about fact finding. A lot of times, the company’s staff will know things that the management doesn’t know. They also will be able to provide clues as to how to best approach the Owner/Management of the client company. As is the case with meeting the Management/Owner, listening will be your best tool.

Action Plan List

Once you have had a chance to meet with all the pertinent parties, it’s now time to assess the particulars of what the problem is and how you can add value. The meeting with the principals will usually provide the general direction, if not specific projects to work on. The company’s staff will also provide the consultant with important perspective on the problem.

Formulate Tasks

Once you have a firm grasp of the situation at hand, you can now better formulate the tasks that need to be accomplished. These tasks should be listed on the Action Plan and communicated to the Owner(s)/Management. A discussion can then take place as to the relative importance of these projects as well as the resources and time required to complete them.

Draw up the initial list of tasks and projects after you meet with the Owner/Management and the company’s staff. However, you’ll find that as time goes on, the management/owners will assign more projects to you.

Update It Constantly

When you write an action plan, update it constantly to help communicate as to what you are involved in and your priorities.

Feel free to add additional fields in order to tailor the Action Plan to your specific situation. Possible additions include columns for resources, such as who to leverage off of or who it is assigned to.

In addition, this task list could very well serve as the basis for a Gantt Chart for managing a project. Consider putting this on the public drive so that everyone can see the status of projects.

Once you have completed your list and/or updated it, you should arrange to meet with the Owner/Management to review it. Having finished reviewing the list, you and the Owner/Management should mutually agree on the priorities. Periodically review the list and rearrange priorities as necessary.

Assign Prioritize Tasks

Whenever possible, try to leverage off of the company staff. This provides several benefits. First, leveraging off of the company staff speeds the process along. Second, this frees you up to do higher level value-added tasks.

Since you are working off of the action plan, update it continuously to provide you with a situational awareness of the task list. As projects become complete, new ones will be created. As such, it is also important to re-prioritize your action plan.

Prioritize the tasks by their: task, due date, status and person assigned to handle. One of the first priorities is to improve the accuracy of the accounting information, without which you cannot function as a CFO/controller.

Update Progress Priorities

As you make progress on your task list, keep a status update on everything. Also note which staff member, if any, is working on it. You will shortly find that even as you strive to complete the tasks at hand, the Owner/Management will come up with even more things to do in short order. The Action Plan will help communicate what is left to do and the priority of each project. Review with management your progress to come to an agreement as to what’s important.

Draw up the initial list of tasks and projects after having met with the Owner/Management and company’s staff. However, you’ll find that as time goes on, the management and owners of the firm will assign more projects to you. Keep your action plan updated constantly. Then sort by task, due date, person assigned to handle or status.

Review with Owner/Management

Review the updated action plan to agree as to what the priorities and direction should be. This way, you manage expectations.

Update your action plan constantly to help you communicate to management what you are involved in and your priorities. To learn more financial leadership skills, download the free 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs.

Write an Action Plan
Write an Action Plan

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Business Plan

See Also:
Value Drivers: Building Reliable Systems to Sustain the Growth of the Business
Business Cycle
Business Intelligence and Finance
Make-or-Buy Business Decision
Acquisition Capital
Marketing Plan

Business Plan Definition

The business plan definition is the plan of action for business operations which has the goal of creating and growing sustainable profits. It is necessary for any business venture. A business plan has 3 main purposes: forming a strategic plan for future business initiatives, serving as a retrospective measure of the success of the business and it’s plans for expansion, and an explanation of the business for the purpose of raising capital. Business plans can vary greatly depending on creator, industry, operations, needs, phase in the business cycle, and more. Ultimately, the term business plan is used to describe a myriad of written documents which lay out the plans a business has for the future. Despite this, the goal is the same; creating profits for the shareholders of the venture.

Business Plan Explanation

Business plans are either internally or externally focused. Internally focused plans serve as a document to “rally the troops”; organize the stakeholders, especially employees, of a business and give an overall strategy to each of their regular tasks and actions. This has particular benefit for organization and motivation around the strategic goals that company leaders want to achieve. An internal business plan is the tool used to communicate these goals in a clear, effective, and calculated manner.

External business plans serve the purpose of raising capital. Banks constantly visit with small businesses desiring a loan to finance a new project. Meanwhile, venture capital firms accept roughly 1 out of 1000 companies that contact them for financing. An external business plan serves as a tool to show that the business concept is developed, evaluated, and planned. Investors and lenders want to eliminate as much risk as possible, and an external business plan provides them a way to measure and mitigate these risks. In short, an external business plan is a way for a developing company to stand out from other businesses while showing that goals and aspirations have been considered and documented.

These plans begin by following boilerplate sections and explanations. They then become unique documents. They are customized based on a variety of factors. For example, a web marketing firm has little use for the structure of an operations plan which is common to a manufacturing firm. In a similar fashion, a retail e-commerce store will even have a different business plan from a brick-and-mortar retail store. The factors of success, operations, marketing, risk, and measurement dictate this.

A Living Document

A business plan is often referred to as a “living document”. This is because a these plans are constantly changing. Whenever new developments in competition, marketing tools, the legal factors which relate to an industry, or others change a business plan must be updated so as to keep relevant. In this way a business plan is constantly evolving. A simple business plan is generally 20 pages, where a complicated one should not exceed 40 pages, on average.


Download The 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs


Business Plan Format

For a business plan, combine parts to make a whole. These parts, though different for each plan, generally follow common purposes. The standard business plan format is as follows:

1) Executive Summary

2) Business Description

3) Products and/or Services

4) Marketing Plan

5) Operations Plan

6) Management and Organizational Structure

7) Benchmarks and Milestones

8) Legal Entity Structure

9) Capitalization

10)Financial Plan and Projections

11) Appendix

Example

For example, Alejandro has decided to start a micro-lending firm in his native country of Mexico. Combining philanthropy with his enlightened self-interest, Alejandro plans to make a profit while also fostering the entrepreneurial spirit in people who face a difficult future. Alejandro is excited to start his company and therefore, make his impact on the world.

Alejandro knows that he has to create a business plan for his new venture. Despite this, he is a young adult and is not sure where to begin. Determined, Alejandro starts by searching the internet for the term how to write a business plan. He finds some results which begin his thought process. Alejandro picks up a few books from his local bookstore and begins his journey.

Writing the Business Plan

To start the business plan format, Alejandro starts by writing his executive summary. This process is difficult. Alejandro then learns from his research that to write the executive summary after the rest of the business plan. Alejandro stops this section and begins the business explanation.

After writing a rough draft explanation of his business, he begins the competitive analysis. Here, he does as much research as possible into competitors on the market. Alejandro searches the web and personal contacts for this information.

Then, Alejandro assembles industry statistics and information for his industry analysis section of the business plan. He will need to summarize these into a section which serves his purposes.

Alejandro continues and eventually finishes the plan. With a rough draft in his hand, he seeks some advice for what he has made. Alejandro knows that he has a lot to learn, so he prepares himself for a lot of criticism. He finds his local S.C.O.R.E. chapter and prepares to begin the mentoring process.

In conclusion, Alejandro knows that he has a lot to learn. Still, he realizes that anyone who has achieved greatness started somewhere. Alejandro prepares his plan more, parks his ego at the door, and walks into his meeting with a smile.

Template

Find a variety of business plan templates at S.C.O.R.E.

To learn more financial leadership skills, download the free 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs.

business plan definition, Business Plan Format

Strategic CFO Lab Member Extra

Access your Flash Report Execution Plan in SCFO Lab. The step-by-step plan to manage your company before your financial statements are prepared.

Click here to access your Execution Plan. Not a Lab Member?

Click here to learn more about SCFO Labs

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Action Plan

See Also:
Write an Action Plan
Business Plan
Exit Planning
Pension Plans
Keogh Plan

Action Plan Definition

An action plan, defined as a plan which explains the action to take place in full detail, is a personal plan as much as it is a business tool. In any action plan, there are 3 main factors: what must be done, what tools are needed to do this, and when it will be finished. In this way an action plan format is universal: every action plan answers 3 main questions.

Action Plan Explanation

The action plan explanation is the what, how, and when of achieving a goal. It is also an essential business document. Because the action plan establishes exactly what needs to be done to achieve a goal, it is so important. Whether the goal is to open a business, complete a project, or organize the paperclips on a desk, the action plan is the path to thorough completion of the task. Though the tasks differ for each action plan, medical staffing and pizza delivery as an example, the structure of the plan remains the same.

They often become a part of a larger action plan outline. In business, you combine specific action plans to finally create a master action plan. This is the business plan. For example, we even created a plan of action to write this article. Though the project was set back for unexplained reasons, the action plan was finally completed, with the article written on software and published to the internet. For it, a writer was needed as well as a computer, internet access, and a subject matter. In this way, every goal will have an action plan if it is to be achieved.

Example

For example, Vito is the owner of an Italian restaurant. Coming from his motherland to a new home in the United States, he is an expert in authentic cuisine from southern Italy. Vito loves his food, his work, and his business.

Main Goal

Vito has created an action plan to create a pizza. First, the goal is to have a pizza ready for the customer in a maximum of 30 minutes. This is the main goal of the plan.

Tools

Next, the action plan establishes the tools to make a pizza. Vito needs dough, cheese, miscellaneous toppings, and the tomato sauce with the secret recipe from his grandmother. Vito assembles these tools every day.

Timeline

Then, he creates a timeline. In the first minute, you must knead the dough. After that, it takes 5 minutes to add all of the toppings. Vito knows it takes an additional 20 minutes of oven time to make the pizza. This leaves 4 minutes for accidents, distractions, and other time extensions.

Conclusion

Following his method, Vito is able to make his company a great success. His pizzas are delicious and customers love the secret sauce. Vito even created an action plan, marketing for his business, which focused mainly on finding a good location and creation an eye-catching sign. Vito loves his work, so he creates an action plan for achieving goals each part of it. This way he can achieve his tasks and come home happy that he has done valuable work.

To learn more financial leadership skills, download the free 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs.

action plan, Action Plan Definition, Action Plan Explanation

Strategic CFO Lab Member Extra

Access your Flash Report Execution Plan in SCFO Lab. The step-by-step plan to manage your company before your financial statements are prepared.

Click here to access your Execution Plan. Not a Lab Member?

Click here to learn more about SCFO Labs

action plan, Action Plan Definition, Action Plan Explanation

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