One of my favorite authors and management gurus, Peter Drucker, once said “The only things that evolve by themselves in an organization are disorder, friction and malperformance.” Businesses left to natural devolution will move from order to disorder, from performing to nonperformance and from thriving to surviving or worse. The call then to business leaders is to take control, to take assertive steps to create the future and avoid the natural degeneration of business.
Few would disagree on the importance and value to having a plan for business. But if understanding the value of something were enough to cause it into existence, we’d all be fit, trim and living healthy lifestyles. Developing a plan takes discipline, determination and the willingness to stick with it. Preparing the plan is just the first step. There’s plan execution, ongoing monitoring and periodic course changes in response to a dynamic marketplace and business.
There are several common pitfalls that can sink a good plan. Avoid these traps and you’ll be closer to your goal of implementing a plan that actually achieves results and improves your business. Here are a few common traps that can derail a plan.
1. Having a plan simply because you think you should. Each semester when I teach entrepreneurial business planning I remind my participants that unless they intend to use the plan as a guiding and monitoring tool, there’s no reason to put in the effort to develop one. As strange as it seems, some businesses go through the motions of developing a plan simply because they believe they should. Don’t do it. You have better things to do with your time. Just like most everything in life, you get out of a plan what you put into it. If you’re going to take the time to write it, use it.
2. Not having the discipline to see it through. We exit the planning process full of energy and optimism but soon get weighed down by today’s activities and have little room for working on tomorrow’s future. Everyone is busy and begins to run out of steam. If not addressed the organization will eventually get the message that the strategy is not as important as today’s work and will stop working on it. This is almost as bad as writing a plan and putting it on the shelf. Unlike wine, business plans don’t get better if their left to age on a cool dark shelf. If a plan is to be an effective management tool, it must be implemented and used.
Markets and industries can also change quickly. It’s possible that a plan may need to be changed in as little as a month or two from when it was written. If that’s not done, soon the plan doesn’t fit the reality of current business and market conditions and it’s abandoned. Don’t become so wedded to the plan that you fail to see that changes may be necessary. Periodically review the plan and adjust it to stay relevant. Without this, it’s tough to stay committed to a process that no longer makes sense.
3. Not having the right people or organizational structure in place to carry out the plan. The best plan and intentions will fall short if the organization doesn’t have the skills and structure to support it. Management must be willing to make tough decisions to ensure the right individuals are in the right leadership positions. The “right” individuals include not only those with the needed skillset but also those who believe in the direction the company is going and the plan it has to get there. Moving forward without the right team is a setup for plan failure and disappointment.
4. Trying to do too much too fast. I frequently write about stretching the organization’s potential with challenging goals, but there’s also a limit to the capability and efficacy of every organization. Plans need to fit the organization. Planning beyond the practical limitations of the business is a recipe for disaster. Leaders should pay attention to changes in the business environment, set meaningful priorities, and understand the need to match goals to the organization. By its very nature, planning is designed to change things and change is never easy. As the organization’s confidence and efficacy grows, so can the size of the goals and the level of optimism for producing the results. By designing a realistic business plan that fits the readiness and condition of the business you’re much more likely to maintain a commitment to the plan and greatly improve the chances for success in your business.
By preparing for some of the expected challenges to your plan, strategies can be developed to deal with them or plans can be scaled back to fit the realities of the business. It’s much better to create a modest plan and accomplish a little than to stall out and get nothing. A small success may only accomplish a little but can create the drive to tackle more the next time. To the contrary, a bad experience with planning can sour the organization to future efforts.
With some intentional and thoughtful planning, companies can take a proactive position against any decline in business performance. Consequently, a little planning that you can get done is better than a lot that goes nowhere.
If you’d like to talk more about how to plan successfully, respond to my post or use the “contact us” tab on this page to reach me.