“Nobody ever wrote down a plan to broke…lazy, or stupid. Those things are what happen when you don’t have a plan.” – Larry Winget
I had a very engaging conversation with someone a few weeks ago about strategy development and planning. The core question was, given the rate at which our world is currently changing, and given that rate of change doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, is there really any value in planning for the future, since everything will change before we get there anyway? Good question.
My answer, of course, was yes, it is valuable. I could make all kinds of arguments about why, but the simplest one is this: When I compare businesses we’ve been around that think about and plan for and try and shape their future, versus businesses we’ve been around that don’t do those things, the results are obvious. Those businesses that are future oriented out-perform the others by a mile.
The issue isn’t really whether planning for the future is valuable. The issue is that effective planning looks completely different than it did five years, ten years, twenty years ago. Businesses and leaders who don’t view planning as valuable generally think of planning as an event. You get together for 3 days off site, put together some kind of a narrative-driven plan, then get together in a year and do it again.
If that’s planning, then they’re probably right – there isn’t much value to be found. Fortunately, that’s not planning. Keep these two things in mind when you’re focusing on the future:
However you get started, you can’t wait a year to see how it’s going. When we work with businesses we insist on re-visiting ‘the plan’ at no more than 90-day intervals. Competitors change, markets change, people leave, new people are hired, government regulations change, etc. If you don’t check in at least quarterly you plan becomes irrelevant. Get everybody back together and look at WHERE you’re trying to be and HOW you’re trying to get there. Does it still seem like the right answer?
Your business (and you personally) have to be agile. It isn’t enough to sit down regularly and review changes in your environment. You have to be willing to adjust to what’s going on, to try new approaches, to take advantages of opportunities that didn’t exist before, to address risks that weren’t relevant in the past. Just noticing things are changing isn’t enough; you have to have the agility to change accordingly.
Just because the future seems murkier today than ever before doesn’t mean you don’t have to prepare for it. It just means that preparing for it is a continuous process that requires your constant attention as a leader, not a one-time event that you can cross off the list and then get back to the day-to-day work. The world is changing, and you and your business have to be ready to change with it.