Why is planning so often avoided? Even when it is done it’s often ineffective. More often than not I run into businesses without a plan for where they’re going. In many cases they’re smaller organizations, but it’s certainly not limited to them. Even companies with revenues of $10-$50 million operate from year-to-year with little more than an expectation for where they’re going and an idea for how they might get there. Sometimes the reason is continued success. Business has been going well for long enough that the leaders either don’t believe they need a plan or are too busy to work on one. That situation can lead to complacency that will eventually catch up with the business. I think the more common reason is the perception that it takes too much time and resources, or leaders lack the knowledge for how to plan.
Then there’s the matter of effectiveness. Of those that do plan, many fall short of achieving their goals, and departments and individuals become disillusioned and frustrated. When you combine those that don’t plan at all with those that do with little success, you can see that very few organizations experience the powerful benefits that can be derived from even a simple plan. With that kind of track record, why would anyone plan? Sometimes less is more and in the case of planning, one of the first steps is to forget what you believe planning should be.
Planning shouldn’t be done unless there’s a purpose for the plan. When there is, a few simple steps can get the job done quite well. If you don’t typically plan or maybe you’ve planned but struggled to make it successful, the secret is to start simple, very simple. A planning process that works for you is an excellent planning process. Don’t feel pressured to conform to someone else’s model.
- Take a moment with yourself or others to examine how your business is operating. What parts are going well? Which ones would you like to perform better? To know what’s working well and what’s not implies there’s a purpose or benchmark from which to evaluate effectiveness. How do you know something is working well or not? What should it be doing? This is a reflective thinking step. Consider all aspects of the business.
- Once you have a list of business areas identified for improvement, and it may be a long list, choose the top three to five. They may be financial in nature, organizational, behavioral or any other aspect of the business. These would be the areas that, if improved, would do the most to help the company realize the greatest impact from the first step.
- Once the most important needs are identified, set a goal for each one. Pick goals that you feel you can reach and are objectively measurable. By giving yourself goals you can reach, you’ll actually improve something and build confidence to do it again.
- The next step is deployment. Here you decide who is going to do what and when. Like the previous steps, keeping it simple is the best method. Don’t burden individuals with a laundry list of tasks. Just a few easy ones to accomplish will do. When they’re done you can add more if you need to. Planning should help people achieve goals, not frustrate and confuse them.
- The final step to this simplified planning approach is execution and follow-up. Unfortunately, this is the step where leadership plays the most critical role and where most plans run aground. All too often, failure to execute is explained away as the fault of the team members. In a way it is, but in most cases it’s a failure of leadership to maintain clear, consistent and regular follow up and communication on the tasks to be performed. Leaders should hold team members accountable for their tasks. That means checking to make certain that work is progressing as planned and supported where necessary. Plan execution meetings with the entire team are also necessary. Success depends on everyone pulling on the oars together, supporting one another and understanding how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
This is where simplicity shines. A few goals, a few initiatives and clearly defined responsibilities will accomplish much. It’s better to accomplish one or two things well than a dozen that are left unfinished. If you’re not getting a lot done to move your company forward, the answer might not be to do more, rather it might be to do less, and accomplish more.
If you’d like simplify planning process and improve your planning effectiveness, give reach out to me through our website and let’s begin a conversation.