These days as we move from one crisis to the next, it might seem that any effort to plan is a waste of time.
Many business owners this year have had to change tack again and again as the world adjusted to inflationary pressures, interest rate rises, supply chain issues, recruitment challenges and many other changes.
Yet, mention the word “plan” to many business owners and they’ll likely conjure up an image of a travel itinerary or a builder’s “blueprint” where you have a beginning and end with precise steps along the way. Neat, prescribed and manageable. You figure out what to do and then do it.
But not all types of plans have that level of precision. In a fluid, unpredictable environment, you need to have a very different understanding of plans and planning. Look at military strategy.
German Field Marshal, Moltke the Elder, created a new approach to directing armies in the field. This involved developing a series of options rather than simply a single plan. His famous statement is now as interpreted as “no plan survives contact with the enemy.”
President Dwight Eisenhower similarly stated, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” He continued by explaining that in an emergency, the first thing “to do is to take all the plans off the top shelf and throw them out the window. But if you haven’t been planning, you can’t start to work, intelligently at least.” Those last three words say it all.
Like military strategy, business strategy must be developed and executed in a fluid and unpredictable environment. The distinction between planning and the plan is very pertinent for business owners developing their strategy.
Here are a few principles to adopt when thinking about strategic planning:
1. Strategic planning is foremost about getting everyone on the same page
A strategic plan is an evolving written plan that sets forth the vision, purpose & values of your company, the long and short-range goals and KPIs, so your team moves together as one.
Notice that the focus here is the team. Strategic Planning is all about getting your team into alignment and moving together as a unit.
In a lot of newer, early-stage businesses, there is a ton of vision being shared, and this attracts a lot of great people. You keep them and inspire them with a big vision. But as a business grows, things can spin out of control very quickly.
Without organisational alignment and focus on the top priorities, time, effort, and energy are squandered, and it becomes less and less possible for a business to really accomplish great things.
2. A plan is a guidance tool.
Mike Tyson said it best, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Everyone requires a solid plan, but the real value lies in being able to adapt, stay light on your feet, and roll with the punches, so to speak.
The problem for many business owners is that their expectations are all skewed from what can be realistically achieved via a strategic plan. In their eyes, the plan becomes a device for control rather than one of guidance. They’re not comfortable with the fluid and uncertain military concept. This can then lead to giving up on strategic planning and simply ignoring any document that is produced.
3. Assume the plan is a work in progress
A strategic plan is not a set-and-forget instrument. It’s a living and breathing document that guides decision-making, sets priorities and helps allocate resources. The fact that circumstances are changing rapidly is a very good reason to visit the plan regularly to review objectives and priorities.
These regular reviews – annual, quarterly, monthly and weekly – set the team meeting rhythm in the business. The agenda item then becomes “progress against the strategic plan.”
4. Planning v The Plan
Even though your plan is liable to become immediately irrelevant, you still need to invest in documenting it. For two reasons.
Firstly, it can surface disagreements that may otherwise remain hidden. You can have all the discussions you like with your team; however, it’s in the crafting of your business’s position that you realize that, well, no, we’re not all on the same page.
Secondly, it provides a platform from which change can be leveraged. The line-in-the-sand from which you can agree to a different course of action if circumstances change.
Winston Churchill said, “the best generals are those who arrive at the results of planning without being tied to plans.” The planning process is the critical piece of a successful event. A plan will form out of it, but the most capable leaders have thought ahead and are flexible and agile enough to shift when needed.
5. Commit to the destination, not the plan
The world doesn’t stand still while we plan. Planning has an important role in preparing for change. Your strategic plan is an essential device in navigating disruption’s headwinds.
When you’re sailing to a destination, if you’re sailing into wind, you’re tacking back and forth pretty radically. You’re almost never perfectly on target, but you’re always coming back to where the destination is because you have that reference point.
The people who achieve their dreams don’t do so simply because they had a good plan. Instead, they commit themselves fully to the goals they have set. They maintain a clear vision of what they want, and they work hard to make it happen. They tell themselves that it’s not a matter of if, but when and how.
When a crisis happens, there are three things we can be sure of:
- That we weren’t able to accurately predict what it would be.
- That the exact plans we have won’t work to resolve it.
- But if we have been planning, we’ll be a giant step ahead on responding to it intelligently.
If we keep ourselves “steeped in the problems” we may face, we’ll have a better chance of solving them, no matter how unexpected.
The plan will change. The process will evolve. It can be tempting to desperately hang onto an original plan – even one that’s failing – if you aren’t sure what next step to take.
That’s where a professional business coach can really help!
If you’d like to discuss how good planning can benefit your business you can book an initial 15-minute call with me at timewithshane.com.