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Planning, Failing, and Failing to Plan

Of all the business truisms that one will encounter, none is perhaps more likely to resonate with executives, strategic planners, consultants, and managers than failing to plan is the equivalent of planning to fail. Without a plan in place, it is almost a guarantee that no future outcome will have any degree of likelihood of being achieved. There may be no more important concept to securing the business’  future state than the need to build a plan to achieve the outcome intended.

And yet, the process of planning is not always well understood by those that do not do it as a regular part of their livelihood. Rather than hoping or praying for sales, customers, prospects, profit, or happiness to fall from the sky into one’s hands, the following topline overview of the process is provided:

1. Identify goals and objectives
2. Recognize current practices
3. Determine changes needed
4. Implement plan
5. Monitor results

Identify Goals and Objectives

The first step is to crystallize the goals and objectives the business (or department, function, or even individual) has for the short-term and long-term future.  Be sure to reach a consistent view of what goals are to be attained.  Be aware that some people will prefer to seek sales, while others may prefer market share, or some pursue efficiency and others may chase innovation, etc.  Be certain that the goals are agreed upon and that all are aligned with the same goals, objectives, and strategies.

Recognize Current Practices

The next step is to identify what are the business’ current behaviors and actions. Taking stock of what one is currently doing (sales, marketing, operations, technology, research, etc. – in short – the entire approach to business)  and how likely those behaviors are to provide the hoped for goals and objectives. For example, a business that is currently a single storefront tht wants to open a 140 stores over the next year, and is currently unable to pay vendors due to a turndown in business 30 is a clear misalignment of current practices and one’s ability to achieve a future goal or objective.  Certaiin intermediate goals may need to be established, and more realistic timeframes may be needed.  The “dream” may be viable, but the current practices cannot support it without a significant change.

Determine Changes Needed

The third step is to identify what within the current practices would need to be modified or changed in order to achieve the intended goal. In the above example, our single store owner would need to seriously consider how to increase his or her sales level, which in turn would increase the income as the hoped forexpansion cannot be accomplished on the current level of income and with vendor expenses going unpaid.  A return to school to learn finances, better sales and marketing techniques might be one step, another may be to eliminate any extraneous costs currently incurred, and a third may be to have a spouse return to work if not already in the workforce to provide some additional income in the current environment.

Implement Plan

Once a plan has been made and the changes have been determined, it is essential to implement the plan and stick to it. Any variance from the plan, exceptions permitted, or delay in executing the plan leads to the slippery slope of backsliding and losing the necessary focus on achieving the goal. Every day there will be distractions or opportunities to do things “just this one time.” They imperil the likelihood of success and should be avoided.

Business planning helps the owner to choose the right course of action.

Monitor Results

Lastly, the vigilant evaluation and monitoring of results is necessary. Constant (monthly) measuring of performance to identify anomalies, changes in circumstances, or needed modifications is critical. Being aware of progress achieved is motivating itself, but also provides an early warning system if things begin to go awry and a different set of behaviors becomes necessary to remain on course to achieve the goals and objectives.

Planning in business rarely can anticipate every outcome or future variable.  The plan will likely require modification at some point to address a competitor’s surprise action, a change in the market, an economic correction, etc.  However, the failure to plan is a key factor in many businesses being unable to sustain their current and/or future success.

David Zahn