The Planning process – fail to plan ….plan to fail!

It is one of the oldest clichés around yet it amazes me how so many businesses fall short in their planning process. One my mantras is that before you do anything it is ‘important to set the foundations’. Without a solid planning process there is no doubt you are setting yourself up for problems that in many cases could have been easily avoided or circumvented along the way. A solid planning process is not difficult and relatively mechanical yet so many don’t get it right.

Before the first die is cast within the process it is essential that all parties understand and appreciate both the ‘why’ and the ‘how’. Without engagement of the process you will be facing an uphill battle for planning success. An effective engagement tool is via participation to the process – no surprises here but again so many fail to do this effectively. Surveys, discussion papers and briefings are useful participation tools in this regard. Regular communication, informal discussions and updates are without question a ‘given’. Discussion papers should include a market and competitor analysis together with any planned initiatives. To ensure relevant and timely responses survey questions should be kept to a minimum – suggest a maximum of ten key questions. Briefings traditionally should include the current state of play and recent operational trends.

Your first step is to ensure everyone involved understands, appreciates and can confidently answer the question ‘what are we here for’ ? Commonly called your mission statement, raison d’etre or more simply… company purpose. Once everyone is on board, then, and only then the planning process can effectively begin.

The next phase is what I call the ‘leader assembly, discussion and debate’ phase. This is arguably the most productive phase of the process where the seeds of performance and strategy are sown. The result being the strategic plan. To be most effective an offsite location together with formal agenda and timings are critical. Discussion and debate need to incorporate all briefings to form an effective and relevant strategic plan. The strategic plan is comprised of goals to achieve your raison d’etre. Traditionally a strategic plan is longer term; usually three to five years with intervening years (years 2 – 3/5) used to debate and discuss the progress of the plan. Any amendments or deviations to the plan occur at this point and they are largely a function of external factors.

Once finalised the strategic plan is passed to management to formulate the operational or management plan. In it’s simplest form, the operational plan is a timetable of initiatives that outline how the strategic plan will be executed (by management). A comprehensive operational plan should also include a financial plan, marketing plan and human resources plan. The operational plan needs to link the management initiatives through to the strategic goals. This then creates an accountability framework via a roadmap that can be monitored periodically.

The effectiveness of the process in my experience is highly dependent on engagement or more simply ‘buy-in’ of the Board, executive team and management. Communication and accountability frameworks are an essential aspect from this point and without regular progress review discussion and question the plan is primarily left to the mercy and manipulation of management.

The planning process should take around two months realistically dependent on size and availabilities. Any longer will reduce its effectiveness and simply ‘drag on’ losing momentum. For a June 30 financial year this traditionally starts in January with meetings early February. The operational plan follows once the strategic plan is finalised and should be ready no later than March 31.

Some may question the inclusion of a marketing plan and human resources plan within the operational plan. Without a human resources plan you are ignoring your greatest asset particularly if you are a service business and without a marketing plan growth and sustainability realistically are not front of mind. This topic will be explored in a future blog in greater detail.

Note if you are interested in help, advice or facilitation of your planning process Figure 8 has had extensive experience in this field with proven results.