Planning: A Chore or an Adventure?

October 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

by Bill Fotsch


The last quarter of the year is upon us. In other words, it’s time to start planning for 2014.


At a lot of companies, planning season is a total drag. Senior managers dust off last year’s plans (most of which weren’t implemented well), think some additional great thoughts, then lay out the plan for the coming year. The expectations are similar.

But planning at some companies is completely different. It means engaging the entire organization in an ongoing exciting adventure—an adventure designed to realize the hopes and dreams of both the company and the employees. If you want your planning to be like that, here are a few tips that many of my clients have found helpful:

Go on an information-gathering spree. Good plans depend on good data. So pull out your financials for the last few years. Look for trend lines, and for variances between budget and actual—anywhere there are things to be learned. Ask your sales reps or customer-service people to speak with their customers, using a script when necessary, to gather information on the marketplace and the competition. Talk to your operations people about the company’s capabilities and capacity. You never know when you’ll turn up something you haven’t thought about.

Look for broad involvement—it produces buy-in. The more people you involve in the planning process, the better your information will be. Ask employees targeted questions about what they see as the company’s most important issues and biggest opportunities. Confidential employee surveys can often provide candid and valuable information. But that’s only one benefit of involving a lot of people. Employees who participate in planning are far more likely to understand and support the plan, and to help bring it to fruition. If you can’t include everybody, be sure to include representatives from every unit or department—and ask them to talk to their coworkers. Everyone should feel that they’re in the loop.

Remember that planning is all about winning. What will it mean for your company to win in 2014? The answer to this question will inevitably arise from the information you gathered. Your goal might be 20% more sales, successfully launching a new product line, or maybe increasing your profit margins. Here’s where the hopes and dreams come in—the goal shows where you’re going. People begin to see what it could mean, both for the company and for their own job security. Everything else in the planning process is about how you’ll reach that goal.

Finally, be sure to operationalize the plan. Once people have agreed on the goal, figure out what must happen for you to attain it. Spell out critical objectives, milestones, and performance metrics. Create scoreboards so that everyone will be able to track the company’s progress. Develop team incentive plans tied to key benchmarks, so that everyone stays focused on winning.

Planning is essential for every company that wants to drive improved results. But it’s particularly important for open-book companies. Laying out a road map is how you get people pulling in the same direction, and putting their shoulder to the wheel. The good news is that open-book companies are typically ahead of the pack with respect to employee engagement, so planning should be that much easier


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