“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight Eisenhower
One of the things I’ve heard leaders say a lot over the past two strange years is that there is so much confusion and uncertainty that it’s impossible to plan for the future. I get it. When the focal point of your day is a press conference from a local government official telling you what you’re allowed to do that day, talking about branding feels like an empty exercise.
But two things are true. One is that, whether you’ve planned for it or not, the future is coming. Just because you’re doing things you never thought you’d do or living in a way you never thought you’d live, it’s still coming. Even if it’s difficult to prepare for, it’s still easier than if you don’t prepare at all.
The other truth is that people are mixed up about what planning for the future necessarily means. Too many leaders think that if they can’t work out exactly what the world will look like and then create a strategy and action steps that exactly match that world, then why bother? If we predict X and Y happens instead, then everything is shot, so we might as well not waste time. We’ll just focus on being able to change quickly as the world changes.
Certainly we do need to be able to change quickly. And certainly we’ll never be able to predict exactly what every facet of the world will look like and then be able to perfectly execute our pre-determined plan for that world. That’s not realistic.
But that’s not what I’m talking about when I say “planning”. The point of planning isn’t a 500-step, daily calendar of action items that covers the next six years. The point is for you and your key people to think and talk through possibilities. What might happen? What different scenarios could emerge? If this were to happen, how would we handle it? In any situation, what are our priorities?
You don’t need to have a detailed plan for 26 different scenarios, but the process of analyzing and preparing for different situations is part of what makes you able to adapt quickly when things do change. If a situation arises and you’ve already planned for it, then you can just implement the plan. You don’t need to take 6 months to figure out what to do first.
If you’ve neglected planning for the future over the past few years, it’s time to get back to it. Get your best people together and think about what you want your organization to be, what might happen over the coming years, and how you’ll respond. Don’t ignore planning because it can’t be perfect. Be imperfect and get to work.