I was told recently that I take too long to get into the meat of what I want to say in these posts or blogs. If you are time-poor and don’t want to read the whole blog, I’ll remedy the problem up front. Planning is the most fundamental skill required for success in business – without it, you will waste time and money, expose your business to unnecessary risk, underutilize your team, and not achieve your goals. Done. You can now get on with the other things you need to do, and I’ll ramble on to the rest of you who probably have the time to read the whole blog because you have PLANNED your time properly!
So what exactly is planning?
A plan is generally defined as “a detailed proposal for doing, or achieving something”, and in most cases the “something” referred to in business terms would be a “goal”. Building on the original definition, we could then say that planning is ” the definition of an organized program of steps, or actions to be taken, in order to achieve a desired outcome”. So let’s knock off each of the issues I attributed to a lack of planning, one by one.
Challenge #1: Resource allocation
No matter how big or small your business or team is, you do not have unlimited resources. Utilizing those you do have – efficiently – is one of the primary roles of management, and planning delivers the kind of information that leadership needs in order to allocate people, time, money and equipment in the way that has the greatest chance of delivering the success they are after. The outcome of effective planning is that available resources are channelled into the projects with the greatest chance of success, and productivity is boosted significantly.
Challenge #2: Risk management
No matter how big or small you are, you also cannot control the external environment in which you operate. Risk is a factor in every business, and to be successful, it is an element that needs to be managed effectively. Every plan must be “stress tested” using “what if” scenarios to build redundancy and contingency into the plan. Unfortunately, the greatest stress test will utilize only predictable events, and in every business cycle there will be unforeseen events that require rapid responses to prevent, or at least reduce, the negative effect of those events.
And even if you only encounter the predictable bumps in the road, the rapid pace of new technology and systems require teams to be able to quickly adjust both strategy and tactics to deal with the new conditions. Robust stress testing in the planning process helps reduce the number of possible unforeseen events to the absolute minimum, and therefore increases your chances of success significantly.
Challenge #3: Honesty is the best policy
Planning also removes the rose tinted glasses, as it requires leaders and managers to develop a realistic understanding of the present state of the business or team. Strengths and weaknesses need to be defined, and a balanced view of the competition needs to be developed, as the starting point of the planning process. Proper analysis will also reveal areas of potential weakness in competitors offerings and service delivery, which allows product, sales and marketing strategies specifically designed to exploit those weaknesses, to be developed. Competitor analysis will often reveal emerging markets, or previously unknown opportunities, that can then be included in the current planning cycle.
Challenge #4: Start with the end in mind
Once the starting point has been accurately determined, the “destination” needs equal clarity. A vision of the “desired outcome” needs to be developed so that the steps required to arrive at said outcome can be decided upon.
Setting “desired outcomes” (goals) that challenge the organization to deliver better performance or service, is a key element of planning, as long as the goals are realistically achievable. Over-aggressive goals will have the effect of demoralizing most teams, so keep them within the bounds of reasonableness for them to achieve the desired effect. In today’s fast paced business environment, leaders need to be stretching teams continuously, or they will find themselves playing second fiddle to the competition. Goal-setting that stretches, also serves as a wake-up call to leaders or team members who may have become complacent, spurring them on to function at an optimum, rather than comfortable level. And finally, having the goal in place allows leaders to measure actual outcomes against the planned outcomes, and apply the necessary remedies to the exposed variances.
A plan that is properly conceived, thought through, and then effectively communicated to the members of your business unit creates an environment in which cooperation grows and the team builds naturally. Involving team leaders, managers and supervisors in the planning process reduces future resistance, and potential conflict, immeasurably, and even budget reductions will be more easily accepted when the person affected had a say in the process. Each person knows not only what is required of them directly, but can also easily identify other areas of the process or organisation where their skills and experience will add value and momentum. Seeing that they can contribute productively to the success of the endeavour as a whole let’s them take pride in what they do, and encourages the type of collaboration and responsibility that builds synergy.
So there you have a quick overview of the headline points that make up the fundamental skill required for success in your current business or team.
If you would like help applying these principles in your specific situation, or would like a deeper grasp of the concepts, give us a shout through www.version8.com.au, or via our Facebook page and Twitter feed.