Pitcher Partners’ recent Business Radar, a survey of 400 mid-market business leaders and owners, found 68% of mid-market decision makers wished they could spend more time planning and thinking about ‘big-picture’ decisions – sound familiar? The report also identifies a range of barriers business leaders struggle with that prohibit them from spending time on planning.
Having long-term plans in place gives assurance and direction, as demonstrated by a correlation between higher confidence and the likelihood that the business has developed a formal succession plan. Interestingly, those businesses that are planning five years or more ahead are more likely to have the founder involved (61% vs 48% total sample). Businesses planning six months to one year ahead are less likely to have the founder involved (37% vs 48%).
No delegation, no time to think
Dedicating time to develop these long-term plans, however important, remains difficult. 68% of our mid-market business decision-makers agree – they wish they were able to spend more time planning and thinking about ‘big-picture’ decisions for the business. And the main reason they can’t? They’re spending their time and attention on urgent, day-to-day matters – 64% say this is the biggest barrier. Similarly, when considering succession planning, over half of the mid-market businesses (52%) said a lack of time was the key barrier.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, three-quarters (75%) of respondents said there are parts of the business they cannot delegate and they’d like to spend a third of their time on long-term planning. It’s reasonable to assume that these tasks that seemingly can’t be handed over are filling decision-makers’ planning time. Delegating or outsourcing day-to-day tasks seems to be key to planning big-picture decisions. Discussion with clients support this, with some businesses reporting that their systems unlock time for owners and decision-makers.
No point in planning
For some businesses, the barrier isn’t so much about time but about whether there’s any point to long-term planning at all. Only 15% say they’re happy to plan further out than five years, a discomfort mostly likely stemming from the COVID-19 disruptions. Similarly, only a quarter of mid-market businesses have a succession plan – over a third of respondents (38%) said their main barrier to developing one was that succession planning was too far off, and therefore not seen as an urgent consideration. However, we know from experience and observation of current events that succession planning helps businesses prepare for the unexpected. Succession planning is a journey, but it’s important that you start the process to ensure you’re opportunity ready.
Lack of know-how
16% of businesses said they needed advice or guidance to build a succession plan – a barrier we can also assume applies to long-term planning in general, when we consider that almost half of businesses (49%) struggle to find useful advice. Over a third (35%) want external help to provide ideas and guidance to help with their business and look for this through business networking with people in decision-making positions as much as, or possibly more than, external advisors.
Insights for business
While it’s easy to see how a lack of time to plan could be improved with better delegation, the stickier issue is the attitude of those business decision-makers who don’t value planning in the first place. The research tells us this is because they’ve been burned by derailed plans or see long-term planning as simply too long-term to bother with, given the operating environment’s volatility. We know from on-the-ground experience that creating long-term plans, adjusted over time, can be a key driver of success – this research indicates that it’s a driver of business confidence. A documented but flexible long-term plan can help provide a framework for quicker and more effective business decisions while ensuring resources are allocated to the highest-value opportunities. It also means the business is aligned and operates with a common understanding. 68% of respondents wish they could spend more time planning, and another group don’t see the value in it at all, meaning very few businesses do so. This makes long-term planning an opportunity to get ahead of competitors.
68% of respondents wish they could spend more time planning
Actions you can take
- Take time out to set a clear vision and plan for your business. Involve your people in creating your vision to achieve a shared understanding and commitment to achieving the plan. Utilise their front line knowledge to identify opportunities and solve problems within the plan.
- Translate the plan into a realistic action list and clearly identify owners for each of the actions. Then track your progress against plan, reviewing on a regular basis and adapting as needed to the current environment.
- Include succession as an element in your overarching strategic plan. If you have internal candidates for succession bring them into the plan early to increase engagement and development opportunities.
- Be prepared to be flexible to adapt to, and capitalise on, current market conditions. Developing scenario plans for different external factors can allow your business to adapt and change direction more quickly.
- Create systems and processes to streamline decision making and operations to free up time to for leaders to focus on strategy and planning.
- Invest time to build your professional networks. Different perspectives can help evolve your strategic thinking and help to highlight potential opportunities, issues and risks in your planned direction.
What to do now
Explore further insights through the full Business Radar hub on our website today