Strategic planning season is upon us.
For organizations whose fiscal year ends December 31, the period between Labor Day and Thanksgiving is prime time for planning.
Vacations are over and there’s enough data from the current year to factor into your thinking about programs, people and budgets for the year ahead. Finish your planning by Thanksgiving and you’re ready to finalize budgets, fine-tune systems and make the necessary moves to start the new year fast.
Of the nearly 150 sessions I’ve led as a strategic planning facilitator, 64% have been held in the 83-day period between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.
Yet every year, leaders make the decision to not put their plans in writing.
Last month, I was leading an executive workshop on accountability in the workplace for a group of successful CEOs and noted that it’s almost impossible to achieve the accountability you expect without a written plan.
“Why bother with the plan at all?” one CEO asked. “I know where we’re going and what we need to do to get there.”
Before I could respond, another CEO said, “The plan’s not for you. It’s for everyone else in your organization.”
Took the words right out of my mouth.
My second strategic management book was written at the suggestion of a CEO whose team I’d helped develop their plan. I wrote Lead The Way to:
- counter the excuses for not planning
- outline in detail the results you should expect
- answer frequently asked questions about planning
- provide steps to take and exercises to use to develop your plan
- recommend activities to combat the reasons most plans fail
Since writing the book, I’ve heard from lots of CEOs about how the book has helped increase individual and organizational performance – read what they say.
And so here is my top 10 list – in abbreviated form and in reverse order – of the benefits of planning:
- Breaks down silos – Most people in a company are focused on making things happen in their own world. Planning creates the opportunity for all leaders to come together to examine and debate problems and opportunities from a holistic perspective.
- Provides a safe harbor for “possibility thinking” – Five words prevent an organization from achieving its full potential: We’ve never done that before. Even your best people are reluctant to offer their ideas on ways to tackle a problem or suggest a new way of making money if they know their comments will be stiff-armed. Planning provides a structured way to talk openly about issues that affect performance.
- Motivates your team and increases their value – Once you and your team start talking about possibilities, you’ll discover a new level of energy in the room. The future can be intimidating or it can be exciting. It’s your choice. Good planning processes will make thinking about the future exciting. Not because you’re sugar-coating things. Just the opposite: You are raising issues and inviting your leaders to address them. People want to contribute and they want to succeed. Planning provides the blueprint.
- Exposes blind spots – We all have blind spots. We’re simply oblivious to certain people, situations or even our own actions that others see all too clearly or in a completely different light. Planning provides a framework to ask questions and expose blind spots.
- Ensures you’re working on the right things versus doing things right – Planning is about trust-building, not budget-building. Budgeting is a form of planning, but it perpetuates the silo thinking that likely already exists within your organization as each department or functional area prepares its set of resource requirements. When the future is approached from a zero-based, clean-slate perspective, your team is forced to confront realities, which can build trust and lead to focusing on what really matters.
- Brings order and clarity to your business – CEOs are intent on getting things done effectively and improving their bottom-line results. Since you can’t do it all, planning brings clarity to who will do what by when in order to deliver the greatest impact.
- Uncovers new ideas and areas for growth and improvement – Value is determined outside your company by your customers and prospects. If you can’t answer “Why us?” don’t expect the market to know. Use the planning process to identify or confirm your core competency and examine the value the market places on it. What unmet needs can we address? What systems can we streamline to improve profitability? Should we be taking help from experts like Holland Parker for enterprise-wide workflow streamlining and forecasting efforts? Planning should help you uncover new or more effective ways for giving your customers more of what they want – more efficiently.
- Achieves alignment among your leadership team – Lack of alignment among the leadership team will, at the least, hold back your organization and, at worst, kill it. If senior leaders can’t agree on what’s to be done and how, by whom and by when, this lack of alignment will trickle down through your organization and dilute or even poison daily operations.
- Determines specific objectives and action items to be implemented – At the beginning of the day, it’s all about possibilities. At the end of the day, it’s all about results. You and your team will agree on your priorities and develop a written action plan focused on making the right things happen. Your plan needn’t be long or complicated to be effective. The shorter the better. I start with a one-page plan called a Migration Chart.
- Establishes accountability – Of the hundreds of leaders I speak to and work with each year, accountability is the greatest single threat to execution. What guarantee do I have that this plan will work? I’m asked. None, if there’s no commitment from the leadership team. None, if the company – starting at the top – is unwilling to change. None, if there’s no discipline and performance is not tracked. A plan is your written contract that establishes – and drives – accountability.
There may be other benefits to planning, but these 10 top the list.