Martin Luther King: His 'dream' is great business strategy

Martin Luther King defined his dream and created a plan to reach it. Entrepreneurs who do the same may not achieve Dr. King's grand results, but they can achieve great success.

John Littlewood/The Christian Science Monitor/File
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at a meeting of the United Neighborhood Houses of New York in the Biltmore Hotel in this 1966 file photo.

“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King had a dream in 1963 – and while it took many years, eventually it came true. Today in Alabama and across the United States, boys and girls of all religions and races hold hands, play together, and are taught the perils of discrimination.

The reasons for King’s success were simple. First, he defined his dream, and then, he created a plan for how his dream could be realized. This same strategy can be applied with great success to businesses.

Most businesses start with a dream. Entrepreneurs and founders generally dream of a new product or service they will introduce – and the riches that will follow. The problem is that most businesses don’t realize the success they initially envisioned.

Soon after the launch, it begins to dawn on entrepreneurs just how hard it is to run their business. Getting new customers is almost always harder than it first seemed. Recruiting and training employees to perform at a high level is equally challenging, as is managing every other aspect of the business.

But there is a solution. In my new book, Start at the End: How Companies Can Grow Bigger and Faster by Reversing Their Business Plan, I lay out a precise formula to do so, one that is very similar to King’s formula: 1) Envision the company you want to create and 2) document and follow a plan to build it.

In envisioning the company you want to create, get specific. Start by setting a date in the future when you would like to “exit” your company; perhaps by selling it or taking it public. Then answer several questions about that future date. What will your company’s revenues be then? How many employees will you have? What new products or services will you offer then?

In the words of baseball legend Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably not going to get there.” So the first step is to write down a detailed vision of where you want your business to go. The next step is to create a plan to achieve that vision.

I like thinking about the plan as “reverse engineering.” Since you already know where you want to go, you simply have to work in reverse. The best way to do this is to figure out what you need to accomplish in the next year to get on the right trajectory to meeting your longer-term goals. Start by asking the same questions from above but with a timeline of one year. For example, what must your revenues be one year from today to get you on the right trajectory to meeting your long-term vision? And how many new employees must you recruit and train this year to put you on that trajectory?

Next, continue to work backwards. Since you now know what you must accomplish in the next year, figure out what you must accomplish this quarter to put you on the right trajectory to meeting your annual goal. Then determine what you must accomplish this month to achieve your quarterly goal. And what you must complete this week to be on track to meet your monthly goal. And finally, figure out what you must do today to achieve your weekly goal.

When you complete this exercise, you get a clear picture of what tasks and projects you need to complete every day, week, and month to put you on track to achieving your long-term dream. Importantly, in executing this plan, most entrepreneurs and business owners have to adjust their work schedules. Here’s why.

Most entrepreneurs spend their days running the business. They help out in sales, bookkeeping, customer service, production, etc. in order to make the business run just right. But to grow the business, they need to carve out time to execute their plans. To do this, it’s critical to create systems in your business so key functions like sales and fulfillment run flawlessly without your day-to-day involvement.

While your business dream and plan may not be as grand as King’s, creating them will be absolutely critical in achieving the success you desire. You can achieve it.

– Dave Lavinsky is president and co-founder of Growthink, a national consulting firm and investment bank.

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