Where Planning Goes Wrong
I often tell people that planning is not complicated but it is not easy either.
The key to success is balancing a variety of issues and finding what is right for your organization.
What makes this difficult is that every organization has a different sweet spot when it comes to planning.
Finding the sweet spot takes effort, experience and a willingness to experiment with different techniques.
When planning falls short of its potential to help an organization it is usually because one or more of the
following is out of balance:
Too Much Process, Not Enough Content - I am the first to claim that process is vitally important to
any successful planning effort. How you come to a decision has a big impact on your ability to implement
that decision. However, "death by meeting" is a danger in any organization. A process that gets out of
hand can be a costly drain on an organization's resources. The process must be designed to drive the
organization toward critical decisions and avoid the pitfalls of endless meetings.
Not Involving the Right People - Unfortunately, it is difficult to have a truly strategic discussion
with 50 people in the room. Some situations call for large meetings but these tend to focus less on
developing a strategy and more on communicating the strategy. On the other hand, when it comes to
setting strategic priorities, is essential the key implementers are involved every step of the way.
Their ownership in the decisions is essential and without participation they are unlikely to own the results.
Inflexibility - A plan must provide a clear set of priorities that will focus the organization's
resources and provide a set of expectations for employees. A plan must also recognize the dynamic
nature of our economic, political and social environment. Anyone who is still faithfully implementing
their strategic plan from 5 years ago is either clairvoyant, lucky or out of business. A plan is always based on
assumptions at the time. To the extent the assumptions are proven false, the plan must adapt.
Bolted On Rather than Integrated - One of reasons we invest in planning is to force the organization
to step back from day-to-day activities and think about the future. We set aside time to remove
ourselves from the operating mode and focus on strategic issues. Unfortunately, some organizations write
up the plan, send it out to the managers who will put it in the file until it is time to develop another
plan. Plans improve performance only if they are implemented. Plans are implemented if they are
integrated into the management process. The issues and priorities in the plan must become part of the
agenda of the regular weekly, monthly and quarterly management meetings. Planning is not a task, it is
a way of managing.
Inconsistent or Infrequent - A five-year plan is not intended to be updated once every five years.
Five years is the planning window the plan is intended to cover. Because the world changes so quickly,
a five or ten year plan should be updated every year - or at least every two years. A more frequent
planning process also allows organizations to build planning skills. With practice, the process
becomes much more efficient. The organization's collective memory about what is most important, is also refreshed.
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The Power of Vision
Try this exercise. Write down your Vision Statement and the Vision Statements of two of your competitors.
Show it to your managers and ask them to identify which Vision belongs to your organizations.
My guess is that many managers will get it wrong and they are not to blame.
The "Vision Thing", as one leader called it, has become so common that it has lost much of its
power to inspire and drive the strategy of the organization. Yes, Vision should drive strategy.
But if your Vision is the same as everyone else's in your industry, on what basis will you compete?
If everyone wants to be "the leader" with the "highest quality" and "best service", how will you
differentiate your organization from all the others?
I once worked with an organization that told me they had spent the last six months working on their
Vision Statement. I admit that is a little excessive but I believe most organizations spend too little
time talking about their Vision and how it defines their strategy. Some organizations want to skip the
Vision discussion altogether and go straight to the action plans. I even had one manager who wanted to use
someone else's Vision statement because it sounded good.
The Vision Statement is a powerful tool but only if it is used correctly. It is like trying to
use an electric sander without plugging it in. You are going to work a lot harder and still not
get the results you expected. To determine if your Vision Statement is working for you,
ask the following questions:
Is it unique?
Does it look to the future rather than the past?
Does it inspire employees to achieve more?
Are customers drawn to the organization because of it?
Is the leadership committed to it?
Is success defined by how close you come to reaching it?
Do your competitors wish they could replicate it?