are worthless, but planning is everything,” said President Dwight Eisenhower. Having served as the Supreme Commander of the
Allied Expeditionary Forces during the invasion of Normandy, the largest
amphibious invasion in world history, he should be considered an expert on
planning. Eisenhower explained that a
plan’s weakness was that it couldn’t account for the unexpected. In contrast, the ability to plan was indispensable
because it prepared you for dealing with change as it occurred over time.
Eisenhower’s point was obviously not that plans were
worthless but rather that the bigger value exists in the process, not the
outcome. The outcome (the plan) is usually
a list of assigned tasks with schedules and a ration of resources. It’s like a map and if it’s perfectly
constructed and completed, then perhaps you at arrive where you want to be. But what if the world changes as you execute
your plan? A map can’t anticipate road
closures due to emergencies nor can it guarantee that your destination will
still offer what it promised when you set out.
In this article I hope to resell you on the value of
investing time in developing a plan for your company and also give you three
tips which will make your plans more effective.
As a first step, let’s consider some of the features a plan.
A plan is a tool for communication. It communicates goals and priorities. It can be used for marketing and to attract
resources such as talent and investors.
At the end of its life it can be used to measure accountability and serve
as a historical record.
Now think about some of the benefits that the planning
process delivers regardless of whether or not you accomplish all the goals of the
- Since it is a proactive process rather than a
reactive process, it helps you to identify and achieve what you really want –
in part by prioritizing goals so you aren’t wasting resources on, or being
distracted by, less important tasks.
- It gives you an opportunity to address and solve
issues that otherwise would be too easy to ignore – at least until they festered
into bigger issues.
- It provides an opportunity to brainstorm new
innovations and discover new opportunities.
- Participation in the process develops ownership
– the more inclusive your process, the more buy-in you develop. When your team feels ownership they are
inspired and motivated to be more productive.
There are many techniques that can be used in the planning
process in order to increase the return on your investment. I want to remind you of three that are sometimes
If your plan involves other people then its main
purpose is to serve as a tool for communication – and the easier it is to
understand, the more people you will be able to attract as an audience. In math it’s called solving to the lowest
common denominator. In pop music it’s
called finding a hook. In sales it’s
called giving an elevator speech.
It is our practice to simplify any plan into something that
can be printed on just one page. Since
you really can only effectively work on one thing at a time, the one page plan
serves as a constant reminder as to which tasks should be prioritized the
highest – especially if it is displayed in a prominent location on your desk!
detail should it contain? While
multi-year planning is conducted by our owners with the input of key staff
members, our entire company works together to develop an annual company plan. We allow one level of "nesting” initiatives
within the annual plan but each team member must develop and execute a personal
90-day plan that relates to the initiatives of the annual plan. Each plan keeps the detail level to about one
page – any more detail than that and you’re just boring each other.
"Better a little which is well done, than a great deal imperfectly,”
attributed to Plato.
Another related quote is easier to document:
"The business schools reward difficult
complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more
effective," attributed to Warren Buffett.
An important benefit of this process is that your plan
becomes a protective shield to keep you from being assigned "pet projects” that
don’t benefit the entire company.
"A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his
tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his
goals,” attributed to Larry Bird.
We live in a society that expects immediate and perfect results. It would be disingenuous if this article led
you believe that there are simple steps which guarantee success at developing
or executing your plan. The process of
planning and the execution of the plan are both skills that can be improved. The value of practice is often overlooked.
The process of planning is an exercise in change management
and conflict resolution. To thoroughly
capitalize on the strengths of a team, participants must be willing to consider
thoughts that are different from their own and be able to build a consensus
that first serves the group – which often requires concessions from the individuals
involved. A skilled, independent
facilitator will maximize participation – and thereby buy-in – so don’t
miscalculate the value of a practiced, professional facilitator.
There’s also a tendency to be optimistic during planning
sessions – in part because it’s an opportunity to express innovation and in
part because it’s easier to quantify tangible rather than intangible costs. It’s easy to build a plan without remembering
that many new ideas require training and practice in order to become
efficient. If you neglect the need for
practice, your resulting plan may exceed your capabilities and better ideas may
be abandoned because of faulty comparisons.
"I had to spend countless hours, above and
beyond the basic time, to try and perfect the fundamentals,” attributed to
"There are no secrets to success. It
is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” Colin Powells
quoted in The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell (2003) by Oren Harari.
Repetition alone does not guarantee improved results. If you practice something badly you will just
become good at doing that thing poorly. Frequent
review and evaluation helps you to stay on the course you desire. Reviews and evaluations are inevitable but it
is our experience that frequency and attitude affect effectiveness.
An evaluation should be a positive experience. If you take the time to review completed
tasks you will normally have more accomplishments than failures – and even a failure
in the short-term may actually be an important step in a long-term success.
"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work,”
attributed to Thomas Edison.
At the end of its lifetime a plan serves as a template for
accountability – which is good – but evaluations during the plan serve as
opportunities for coaching and accurate improvement. The more frequent the evaluations, the less
the likelihood of major errors.
"My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are
content with your failure,” attributed to Abraham Lincoln.
Plan to Grow
Simplify, practice and evaluate. Add these tools to your planning process and
continue to grow.
plan. Follow the plan, and you'll be surprised how successful you can be. Most people don't have a plan. That's why it's is easy to beat most folks,”
attributed to Paul "Bear" Bryant.