One of the most challenging tasks on any CEO’s plate is the ability to embed a simple and systematic planning process into an organization and then effectively execute upon it. All too often, planning occurs in last-minute, deadline-prompted, organizational binges and the result is goals that are not met. Either that, or the planning due dates trump the content of the plan and quality suffers.
In my experience, there are four principles that guide effective planning in the corporate world. These principles were not arrived at easily. But in concert with both a carefully thought out methodology and a detailed planning calendar, they encourage excellence.
Here are the four principles that can more effectively guide your company’s planning process:
Strategize in three key areas
The concept of strategic planning has lost some of its foundational strength in recent years as companies have abused the process and tried to strategize every aspect of their business. When you take this approach, you end up with a lot of confused employees who aren’t sure which plan they are supposed to follow.
Planning becomes more difficult, and as a result, management procrastination increases.
Great strategic thinking is really only needed in three key areas: The development of a go-to-market plan, a people plan and a financial plan. Each person, department, business unit, function and corporate entity should keep their focus on these three areas. All other plans are usually not strategic, but rather, flow naturally from these three key strategic elements.
If you keep the focus narrowed down, strategic plans are more likely to be completed in a timely manner and be well executed. These plans always outperform their labor-intensive, procrastinated, hyper-strategic alternatives.
Plan for three time periods
You should keep three time periods in mind when you’re doing strategic planning: Think about the following year, the following three years and the next 10 years. This last one is most easily expressed if you keep it simple by looking at an easy-to-remember year such as 2020 or 2025
So if you were following this schedule, your 2013 plan would have fairly precise detail, including desired activities. The 2013-2015 plan would focus on your intended three-year results. Then, as you consider your business 10 years out in 2020, you would look to focus on the very best vision for your personnel, departmental, functional, business-unit and entity futures.
Follow the natural order
There is a natural sequence to the order of planning for the future of your business. Start with the heart of your business by looking at your customer and the go-to-market plan. After reaching agreement on this stage, proceed to the people plan. Here, you’ll plan for the knowledge, skills, abilities and people needed to successfully execute your go-to-market plan. Only then should you proceed to the financial plan where financial resources and requirements must be rebalanced.
Live the planning calendar
Ask your CFO and finance team to create a calendar with specific due dates for the planning phases to serve as a timetable for the organization. This will help make planning a natural part of your year and not a binge effort as deadlines draw near.
Clearly communicate the planning process to your leaders so everyone knows what is expected of them and when. Keep this communication up throughout the process, reinforcing the importance of planning and how it is a cycle of business, not something that is ever really finished.
Every company has its own style of strategic planning. When new managers join your team and become part of the process, educate them on your specific planning calendar and budgeting methods, so they can become familiar with your expectations and deliver excellent results.
Finally, on a personal note, make sure you take time to provide encouragement and show gratitude to your people for a job well done. You can never show too much appreciation to your people.
Joseph Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world.