Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Does your plan include a ladder?

It is that time of year, and that time in the business cycle when leaders' thoughts turn to strategic planning. No more keeping your head down in bunker mentality mode to ride out the economic crisis - it's time to carve a new path.
I've seen many plans over the course of 25 years or so, and many of them are missing the key components that will help them be successful. When it comes down to it, many business owners invest time, energy, thought, and money in creating plans that don't yield the results they want. Here's what I mean:

  • The vision-only plan. This plan articulates the owner's dream for the company. It speaks in hearts and flowers about becoming the provider of choice for the products and services it provides. It sometimes talks about geographic expansion, or of being on the leading edge of technology. But it stops short of developing specific, measurable action steps to fulfill its intentions. It becomes, in effect, a castle in the clouds.  
  • The tactics-only plan. This plan is often developed in tandem with the annual budget process. It focuses on the activities for the next year (calendar or fiscal.) But it doesn't reach beyond the limited view of the near-term. So the boots on the ground in the company or organization don't understand why they are doing what they are doing.
  • The super-secret stuff plan. This is the work of art that is locked securely in a file cabinet so no unauthorized people can get ahold of it. Life in a closely held business means that owners often don't want to share the intimate personal details behind the business. In other cases there are strategies or tactics that are better not shared beyond a limited audience, but usually there are more that can only be accomplished with all hands on deck.

What a plan needs is, in effect, a ladder to connect the boots on the ground with the castle in the clouds. Sure, create that beautiful vision for the future of the company and the grand purpose that galvanizes employees and gives them the sense of doing something significant. But then make the connection to tactics - even down to specific departmental or individual accountabilities that will take the company from point A closer to point B as defined in the plan.

Don't be concerned about a fancy wrapper - rather than a leather binding, give your plan one sheet of paper (highlights, of course) that can live under the glass on an employee's desktop, or on a bulletin board in their workspace. Make it easy to access and it will have greater relevance to day-to-day activities.

Make it measurable. Your staff will be encouraged by visible progress up the rungs of the ladder. This might seem a bit scary if you're not used to making performance measurable and public inside your company. But what's more important to you - feeling comfortable or achieving success? I'm betting that the people who work with you can help you reach that castle, and more quickly than you thought possible.

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