“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight Eisenhower
I wouldn’t necessarily agree that plans are useless, but I think what Eisenhower meant was right on. Once the shooting starts (or for those of us fortunate enough not to get shot at on a regular basis, once real life starts) the plan tends to go out the window. Because that’s true, too many people view planning as useless. If the plan isn’t going to last, why go through the effort of planning?
The answer is that by going through the process, you develop a vision of what you want your organization to be, you understand the viewpoints of those around with more clarity, and you understand why you’re doing what you do. Those things matter because when the plan does change with your circumstances, understanding those things helps you adjust effectively. Understanding those things helps you be innovative. Understanding those things helps you make better decisions.
So what does effective planning look like? It must look like a lot of things because if you Google “planning” you get about 317 million hits. I could write about nothing but planning and have enough blog material for the next 50 years. But here are 3 things that pop into my head as keys to effective planning:
First, make sure your key people are involved. And in case you’re wondering, “key people” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with job title or experience. Who in your organization is a good strategic thinker? Who is particularly innovative? Maybe most important, who in your organization is willing to (constructively) challenge others honestly and directly?
Second, planning is not an event. It’s a process. You don’t have some kind of strategy session and then not get together again for a year. Planning used to be one large event and then nothing. More and more effective planning is about strategy development and then regular follow ups throughout the year. Meeting more frequently not only allows for more flexibility as circumstances change, but it also helps build accountability. If I have to report back to my peers I’m a lot more likely to do what I agreed to do.
Finally, make sure your planning process has outcomes. Yes, earlier Eisenhower & I agreed that actual plans are only relevant for a limited period of time. That said, for you to actually make change, you have to commit to specifics. What are you going to do over the next 30-60-90 days? How are you going to measure whether you were successful? If the change worked, how are you going to formalize it?
Just because the world is changing rapidly doesn’t mean that thinking about the future has become irrelevant. In fact, it’s more important than ever. If you really understand WHERE you want to be, it’s a lot easier to make the changes you’ll need to make in today’s world.
So what does your planning process look like? Are you planning for success?