Effective Planning Is About What to Leave Out
Today my staff and I are taking the entire day to create a strategic plan for the coming year. The process, and its ongoing nature, is something I call Commitment Planning. This is a practice that I highly recommend, but perhaps not for the reason you may assume.
But first, the rules
- No one has a specific role today
- Let brainstorming be brainstorming – possibilities and ideas
- Be present
- Be judgmental tomorrow
- Remember, you are planning for the entire year
And, then my requirements
- Food and drink should be awesome
- Leave lots of time and space for physical movement
- Make it easy to capture everything
Lots of companies completely neglect the need for planning and some that do it consistently view it as a way to determine new things they want to address in the year ahead.
To me, the greatest benefit of any planning session is to decide what not to do.
There’s always more to do than you can possibly get done and what happens all too often is that we give a little attention to a lot of things and effectively water down what should be our priorities.
When we plan the right way, we look long and hard at what makes us money and (hopefully) find ways to focus on doing more of that better, rather than thinking up more of something to divert our attention.
I recently hired my own business coach and one of the first things we’re focused on is getting me to stop doing things that don’t make sense and start spending more concentrated time on my highest payoff activities.
This idea holds true for entire organizations as well and one of the best ways to get to the heart of what’s holding you back is planning.
The first planning principle you must embrace however, is that the goal of the process is to help you limit what you are going to do and do well. Instead of creating a laundry list of wants and dreams, your charge in the planning process is to create a very small list of objectives and goals grounded in the overriding purpose of the business. Everyone in the organization then must commit to this list. From your small list you can carve out a requisite number of strategies and tactics that support these business objectives.
In fact, your aim is to create a total plan outline that fills no more than one sheet of paper. (No 6pt type allowed.)
Note also that we’re not spending the day to make a business plan or create a marketing plan – plans aren’t the secret, planning is. It’s the continuous process of planning, acting, measuring and planning that moves the organization in the direction of its goals.
Using and teaching a continuous planning process like this is one of the ways you empower your staff to know they are taking right action on the most important things at all times and knowing this brings a confidence that in itself is a commitment generator.
Commitment planning is a management style that frees your people to be creative instead of forcing them to be bound by a process only system driven activity.
Planning is not a one-day event or even year-end activity. Sure, there may be certain time bound planning periods that occur naturally, say at the end of a quarter, but the real way to keep commitment alive is to live it through a creative process that allows everyone to focus on the things that matter most.
Ben McConnell, coauthor of the Church of the Customer Blog and principal of management consulting firm Ant’s Eye View, has written about a planning process he calls OGST (Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Tactics.)
What I love about McConnell’s framework is that he uses each of these planning words in ways so simple as to actually create a useful set of definitions for these ridiculously misused terms.
Go get this visual representation of OGST and I think you’ll see what I mean.
As you can see, a planning process like this can help the kind of simple clarity that is so often missing in the “what should we do next” business management style. We borrow heavily from McConnell’s framework add some of our own magic to help put the focus on results and bust through constraints.
No matter what exact process you use for planning, with a one page plan full of your committed priorities in hand you can analyze any idea in about two seconds and determine if you should pursue it or dismiss it. Focusing on your strengths and finding ways to turn them into even greater assets is how individuals and organizations realize their potential.