If you are not getting the results you want, or making a difference in the way you dreamed was possible, you are well aware that something has to change. Knowing and doing can feel miles apart. Are you trapped in the status quo?
For the same reasons that pilots use maps when they fly cross-country and chefs craft recipes, a solid business planning process can serve to guide you, while significantly increasing the likelihood of success.
SOUNDS GOOD BUT MY BUSINESS IS DIFFERENT
Although there is a lot of solid research correlating success in business with good planning practices, it probably won’t surprise you that many businesses don’t have a written strategic plan, or even meet to do a year-end planning meeting.
Interestingly the very reasons why people avoid planning are the reasons why planning is so important. Let’s take a look.
1. TIME– “We are so overwhelmed – hiring, making sure our customers are happy, getting new products out – we just don’t have time to think about next week, forget about next year. Somehow, the future will just have to take care of itself.”
Thinking versus action provides a dilemma for many professionals. We are action oriented. When we are doing something, we feel productive. When we take the time to think, we feel unproductive. We need to do both. Without investing the time and effort to think about where we’re headed, it is likely we won’t get there. When you are too involved in the day to day you risk losing perspective.
If you are mired in the trenches, the easiest solution is often implemented, not the best one. Planning takes time, but it leads to a focused use of the limited time available.
2. FLEXIBILITY– “We like to stay open to opportunities as they arise.”
Creating a strategic plan doesn’t mean that your business can’t be flexible. A plan sets the foundation so that when things start changing; there is a baseline from which to evaluate new opportunities.
Out of strategic planning come decisions like: “we will approach this target market, not that one”, “we will offer these products or services, not those”, “we will accomplish this objective before anything else.” Written plans demonstrate that careful consideration has been given to the future. It is easier to make decisions strategically with a longer-term view. When things get stressful, it becomes difficult to see the options well enough to make educated decisions.
“We have a basic idea of where we are headed, why write it down?”
Unwritten goals are simply thoughts that will change as often as your opinions change. The act of writing out goals helps to clarify them and can provide an objective way of tracking them against actual results. Magic happens when you put goals on paper, they start to become real. You begin to make commitments, and are open to opportunities you may not have noticed before.
3. UNCERTAINTY– “Strategic planning is a business school concept developed when people thought they could anticipate and predict the future. How can we plan in a world that is highly uncertain?”
Uncertainty is a real issue in forward planning. However, putting our heads in the sand probably isn’t the best solution. Most organizations have their strategies, structure, and service offering challenged on a regular basis.
To remain successful it is vital to ask important strategic questions on a periodic basis:
Researching trends and evaluating the risks and opportunities they create, will help to frame out the best current market opportunities.
4. I HAVE A PLAN– “I wrote a business plan when I started the business”
The act of strategic planning is often confused with a business plan. Business plans are usually drafted to obtain financing, then wind up filed away. The strategic planning process is an activity that is conducted every few years to evaluate opportunities, wrestle with environmental changes, build consensus, and to create updated goals.
A strategic plan is a short working document that defines the positioning and future of the organization, with an action plan to get from here to there. Good plans are regularly referenced as the framework to make short term decisions and corrections.
5. WE ARE NOT ON THE SAME PAGE– “I could never get everyone to agree on the best way to move forward. Anyway, shouldn’t it be my vision?”
An effective planning process will help to get people talking, and ensure that the business owner/CEO benefits from the ideas of his/her team. Planning with your team will build confidence, support and commitment.
If it is only possible to include a limited group in developing the plan, the planning initiative creates a foundation to align everyone in the organization with great follow-up and ongoing communication about the vision and concrete next steps.
HOW A FACILITATOR CAN HELP
The use of a skilled strategic planning facilitator will
- Keep the planning process focused on the big picture, and maximize everyone’s use of time. There is often a strong tendency of those participating to focus the discussions on today’s problems.
- Help to address uncertainty, broaden thinking and make sure that new ideas and directions are generated.
- Use their training and skills to bring different factions together
6. COST– “We don’t have a budget for planning.”
With all the activities that make up running a business, setting priorities in the context of a plan is important. Without a plan, the limited resources of a growing business will tend to be spent in a haphazard way netting results that take longer and cost more.
What are your personal priorities? Is profitability, work/life balance, a motivated staff, or public recognition on your list? What are the personal benefits of achieving your goals? What are the consequences if you don’t?
If you are serious about your business, it is time to overcome the challenges to planning and start to soar. Don’t hesitate to enlist help. Stop thinking about a better future, start planning today!
Written by Helene Mazur
Helene is the founder of Princeton Performance Dynamics, an executive coaching and strategic planning facilitation company for business and non-profit leaders and their teams. Helene’s passion is helping her clients to focus their goals, see new perspectives on their current situation, put in place realistic, motivating plans, and execute to achieve new levels of success.
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