Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"A Plan is Nothing: Planning is Everything"

President Eisenhower knew what he was talking about. As a general directing European operations during World War II, he understood the power of determining a plan of action and then constantly communicating it, evolving it and refining it as information came into his camp.

Are our business situations any less mission-critical today? I understand that we aren’t in armed combat (although it does seem like it sometimes) but when you run or own a business, it sure feels like bombs are being lobbed from all corners.

Really, nothing about the fundamental importance of business strategy has changed for 65 years except:

  • Businesses don’t like to do it (“takes away from the REAL work”)
  • It takes too long (“you don’t understand, things move too fast in our world”)
  • Nobody seems to know what he or she are supposed to be doing (they got the email, the slogan and the mug but things dropped off fast after that)

I just finished a one-day strategic planning retreat for a client involving the senior team (yes, I did say one day). Part of the secret sauce in this recipe is doing work up front so I designed an online assessment that got at the heart of the strategic issues. All of the verbatim feedback was put into word clouds (www.wordle.com) so the areas of strongest commonality of thought were prominently displayed.

We used small group and large group activities to define Mission, confirm Values and design the five Big Rocks that became the positioning statement and strategy for the next 24 months. Because the word clouds so powerfully illustrated Opportunities and Challenges, we were not struggling throughout the day to agree on these items.

There is one more day to set 12-and 24-month goals and I use a simple spreadsheet that combines long- and short-term goals, action plans and metrics. It displays the Mission and Values so they never are forgotten in the planning process. This document is the North Star for the client: guiding strategy execution and ensuring that decisions are in line with Mission and Values.

The communication piece is so important -- and frequently not designed -- because everyone in the organization has to know what direction it’s going in for the foreseeable future. That is part of the second day goal-setting workshop. I believe we can boil the strategy statement down to “let’s get a man on the moon by the end of the decade” as President Kennedy did. That way, we lessen the risk of failure to execute.

Business strategy doesn’t have to be a 12-month cycle of PowerPoint presentations and number crunching. I don’t think either General Eisenhower or President Kennedy had that luxury of time. Both understood that planning is far more powerful than the plan and that communication is the trump card for execution.

What planning do you do in your organization? Is it a PowerPoint or a Word Cloud?