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The Boomer Bulletin - 2012
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Invest Time In Developing A Plan

Posted By Scott Morrill, Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Plans 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 plan:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. It provides an opportunity to brainstorm new innovations and discover new opportunities.
  4. 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 undervalued.

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!

How much 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 Julius Erving.

"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. 

"Have a 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.

Tags:  strategic planning 

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