What’s Next?

By David Favor

Planning is something that nearly everyone would agree is important. Still, most people ignore the positives and shrug it off as too much work or pointless. Planning is the act of anticipating what you will need to know, what you will need to have, and what you will need to do, to achieve your personal goals.

If you have not defined your goal, it is hard to know exactly what you will need. Over the years, I discovered most people do not know the goal. They use whatever the immediate need is as the goal. There is no futuristic goal, just real time. I have seen this in both personal and business situations. Even if there is a future goal, people tend to let immediate needs take over. Here is an example:

We are in a meeting, and we all agree that in three days we will publish an article. I get the assignment and develop my three needs. The next day I start to execute my plan. My first need is for information, so I start to research. While I am busy doing my research, I am told to stop doing that and instead do something else. There is no discussion of the relative importance or priority of either action. I execute the new task and get back to doing my research until I am again told, stop doing that and do this. Again, no priority or thought of importance. By day two nobody remembers that we were to publish an article tomorrow until we get a notice. Everyone is shocked, and on day three, we scramble to write an article.

In many cases, I have seen a discussion about all the interruptions concluding that none were important. So why didn’t the team stay focused on the primary goal? I would say that the leadership was focused on immediate gratification, not quality deliverables. There is not an easy resolution. I have met many people that are quite capable of planning but sill focus on the immediate needs. Sometimes they get tunnel vision and do not even consider the planned projects. They constantly get surprised by events and interrupts.

There is something else going on here. Sometimes the planning sessions are not complete, and the goals we develop are not real. There is no real buy-in on the goal developed and no priority assigned. When that happens, any interrupt that comes in has the same priority and buy-in as the original goal. There is no incentive to focus on the goal developed in the planning session. The result is a reactive team with loose plans that quickly fall apart.
Planning provides a list of needs to make effective decisions about how to allocate resources to enable the organization to reach its objectives. Being constantly focused on immediate needs prevents a good allocation of resources. The business process eventually becomes very inefficient.

The problem I see with all of this is our inability to foresee the future. Planning would be easy if we could see the future, but without that, we do our best to predict what the future will be like. The planning process is a lot of predicting and best guessing. The measure of how effective you are at that process is a measure of how close your plan matches reality. Back in my corporate days, we would measure the effectiveness of our planning departments by measuring how close they came to schedules and cost after a project was completed. They hated that measurement and often complained by saying it was not fair. I would always point out that developing an accurate plan was what they were hired to do. I carried some of that logic with me when I started working with law firms. I had a client that would ask his attorneys to predict the value of a case when they accepted it. So, I developed a set of metrics that would measure how accurate that prediction was after the case settled. You should have heard the noise I got after I did that. The same principle applies, part of their job was to evaluate potential cases before accepting.

Strategic planning includes a set of business analysis like the SWOT to gather the information that can be used to predict the potential for a plan. We use historical data and competitive performance data as well in that mix. Now stand back and look at what strategic planning is all about. Stage one is developing what you want. This includes the values you intend to adhere to, the vision of what success looks like, and the audience you want to serve. Then stage two is the analysis phase where you do the SWOT, collect historical data, and evaluate what you have in place (talent, resources, and competitive advantages). Stage three is where you develop the plan, and stage four is where you execute the plan.

I would never suggest that a strategic plan should never be altered, but I would say that a good strategic plan would provide the most effective execution. The best strategic plans have the best prediction of the future with built-in tools to handle course corrections. A lot of that course correction will be dependent on the performance metrics selected and the relevance of the data.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com.