fail to plan? you’re planning to fail

The Santa Clarita Valley Business Journal

Dwight D. Eisenhower said “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

As I write this, the “stay at home” and only go to work if you are running an essential business looks as if it will continue for a few more months.

The chaos that surrounded the March orders and the resulting uncertainty are now in the rearview mirror and many companies are looking beyond the initial panic and into the murky, hazy future. 

Some level of stabilization has taken place, but many businesses are still in fire-fighting mode.

I can’t say whether any company is going to write 2020 off; there are plenty of businesses going strong while many still face great uncertainty. 

It doesn’t matter if your firm is going gangbusters or barely surviving, having a plan, a roadmap, is still the best way to move forward. 

Now in my own personal experience, I know that there are different CEO personality types with interesting approaches to planning.

The first type is the proud CEO with a plan only in their head who believes that they will never forget anything and refuses to share the goals, strategies or tactics. The management team and employees are totally in the dark. 

The second type simply doesn’t believe in planning. This CEO has a mission “to make money” and will come up with a dozen ideas or more each day in that fuzzy quest, not caring about the emotional rollercoaster that the staff goes through to try and keep up nor the resources wasted in hot pursuit of the next shiny penny.

The third type of CEO works with their team to create a written plan and then runs the business from it; changing or updating as results come in from the actions taken and the results generated.

While a plan is a useful tool, the actual planning process, where the discussions, debates and time spent gaining clarity is where the true value surfaces for the CEO, the management team and employees. 

But most plans are useless. 

Why is this? First, most plans are too long. Second, most plans are not given a reality check; they are legends in the minds of those that compose them. Next, most plans cover strategy extensively, but ignore tactics. Fourth, there is often no follow up. Fifth, there is no accountability. So, sixth, once written, most plans are put on a shelf to collect dust. 

The precise identification of the desired results are often not made clear. 

Most companies try to do too much and fail at most everything they attempt. I recommend three major objectives; five at the very most.   

I also suggest creating a single-page plan summary, capturing bullet points of what the specific goals are, along with the owner, deadline and resources needed.

Often companies make no attempt to engage front line employees in the execution of the plan. This just increases the odds of failing. When you can, tell people what the company is doing, where it is going. 

The unique circumstances of this year require that CEOs take a different approach to getting through this turbulence. 

What got you here, won’t get you there and you need to not only define “there” you need a plan to make the journey a successful one.

Ken Keller is an executive coach who works with small and midsize B2B company owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs. He facilitates formal top executive peer groups for business expansion, including revenue growth, improved internal efficiencies and greater profitability. Email:[email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of the SCVBJ.

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