3 Thoughts About Planning

"Our company has a short range and a long range plan. Our short range plan is to stay afloat long enough to make it to our long range plan." – Anonymous

One of the challenges I hear leaders mention on a regular basis relates to planning. Our businesses are faced with so much change that it's hard to think into the future. Everything seems variable, whether it's customers, employees, products, marketing, whatever. It seems impossible to put together the standard 5- or 10-year plan.

So don't. The days of putting together some 20-page strategic plan with lots of narrative and graphs laying out what we intend to do over the next 10 years are over. Too many things are too hard to foresee. Maybe there are people out there who feel good about predicting what 2028 will look like, but I'm not one of them, and neither are most people I know.

So break it into smaller pieces. Think 3 years instead. And don't just put together a plan today and revisit it in 2020. In today's world I believe you can't go more than 90 days without revisiting your company's plan. Things happen so quickly that parts of it become obsolete if you wait longer than that.

That still doesn't make planning for an uncertain future easy. But here are 3 things to keep in mind that hopefully make it easier.

NOW. Make sure you really understand where your business is today, in measurable terms. Not just "We're profitable and growing", but "Our profit margin was 20%" or "Our profits were $1 million" or "We grew 30% last year". Think the same way in terms of products, people, markets, competitors, etc.

WHERE. Take time to think about what you really want the business to look like. What does the "right amount" of growth look like? What customers do you want to serve? What are they going to want? What kind of people do you want to work with? What's really important to you about your business? Don't run off and start making a to-do list without creating a clear & measurable picture of what you want that future to look like. (Note: Yes, this is hard. Yes, the future is hard to predict. Tough. You're not getting paid to do an easy job.)

ACCOUNTABILITY. Too many plans look really good all the way to the part about actually accomplishing what you want to accomplish. If your plan doesn't have due dates and people's names assigned to specific actions, you don't really have a plan. You have a hope that some random unnamed person might have enough free time to decide to do something on the list. Good luck with that.

Don't think that because we live in a chaotic world that planning is no longer relevant. You just need to rethink what your planning process & outcomes look like. Break it down into something you can handle and get to work.

Article reproduced with the kind permission of Matt Heemstra.
Matt is a director of Cain Ellsworth & Co. LLP, USA.
For over fifteen years he has worked with small and mid-size businesses, helping them to envision their future and then make it happen.
Matt heads up Growth & Profit Solutions (GPS), a division of Cain Ellsworth.