How Core Values Are At The Heart Of Business Planning.

I am sure that we all reinforce the importance of business planning with our consulting clients and we may even help them to craft business plans in conjunction with their key executives. However, how much time do our clients spend looking at the status quo and their core values, before rushing off into the future?

Lots of businesses take a cursory look at where they are now, imagine where they want to be in a year or two from now, and then start planning steps to get to their next set of milestones. But how many business owners take a serious look at the journey they are on from the perspective of where they have come from, what their business stands for, and what has brought them to this place and time?

In my view, business planning needs to begin with the evolution of the business and a clear recognition of what has brought the business to where it is today, before mapping out the future. It is about recognizing what the business is uniquely good at and where it has limitations. It is also about examining the business culture and articulating what is held important, not just for the founders, but for everyone who works in the business, as well as those who are in the wider community it touches.

This brings us back to looking at the core values or beliefs that the founders or executive management hold dear, and examining whether these values have changed over time. Core values reveal the underlying culture of a business. They are the guiding principles that underpin how the business operates and they bring clarity to what is a “should” and what is a “shouldn’t”. For example, in a customer centric business you may find that a customer service representative might say – “I should always go the extra mile for a customer and I shouldn’t react badly to a rude or demanding customer”.

Naturally, core values for every business will be unique and different, and it may take a little bit of work to unearth them and to put them into meaningful language that does not appear to be a glib statement of intent, rather than an embedded and well-understood way of working.

Core values are not always about having warm and fuzzy beliefs about customer service, respect for the individual, or teamwork. They may have more to do with product quality or market focus or something that is not common in other businesses. Whatever the core values are, they must be unchanging, well defined and understood, and they should always be a guiding light for the rules and behaviors that your consulting clients want to consistently see in their businesses.

Once the core values have been established, it is important to carry out a 360-degree situation analysis. There is little point in looking at KPI’s or the performance of a few key areas, as this can give a false impression of the status quo. A well-rounded examination of a client’s business will identify any of the shortcomings that may exist, so that they may be addressed in the context of crafting the business plan. I use a 28-point business analysis framework, which you can access at Remember that the tools you use are less important than the clarity they deliver.

With strong core values and a clear understanding of the status quo, your clients will then be in a position to envision the future they are trying to build and can decide how to craft the steps they need to take to make it a reality. In the fast moving reality we now live in, your consulting clients should have several lenses for looking at where they wish to bring their businesses. The first lens is short-term goals and should look at a range from 90 days to one year out. The second lens is looking at targets from 1 to 5 years out, which are aspirational in nature, and which may change as you move forward in time. Then there is a third lens, which looks at 10 plus years out. This is in effect the vision of the business and it is often the end-game that the owners have in mind.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a fan of Verne Harnish, author of “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” and “Scaling Up”. Harnish offers free access to a one-page strategic plan template, which I find particularly useful when discussing strategic plans with my own clients. The document is copyright to his company Gazelles Inc., but he encourages anyone to download and use it. It is reproduced below for your convenience and it may be downloaded from

Harsh One Page Strategic Plan

If you can get your consulting clients to the stage where they have identified their core values; they have taken a 360-degree view of their business; and they have a single page strategic plan like the one described above – then they are well positioned to fill in the blanks on their canvas for taking their business forward. Remember, the business plan is supposed to be a map and not an epic like the Game of Thrones – shorter may be smarter.

Niall Strickland