“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Mike Tyson World champion boxer
Consultants tell us that "if we fail to plan, we plan to fail" and we are pre-destined to wander the world in a directionless fug of confusion.
Traditionally, the structured planning approach, identifies a vision, goals and key priorities, aligns roles and responsibilities, and articulates targets, with wider communicating to the key staff. It is a well worn path that has lasted the test of time and earnt many a consultant a healthy crust. However, this approach has 4 key weaknesses which have been exposed in the modern post-recession world:
1. Out of date before it's finished. We used to say that the next competitor threat would take only 6 months to develop. It may have been true then but now with the power of social media to reach global markets within hours, 6 weeks is a more realistic timeframe. This means that as important as it is to align the business, there really isn't the time to follow an overcomplicated planning approach that eats up time and resource.
2. Comprehensive but not actionable. The approach will leave you with a plan that has considered all angles and creates multiple tasks and responsibilities. However, ultimately, unless the plan is implementable by hard-pressed staff, who are already juggling a number of balls, then it risks gathering dust on the shelf with other previously abandoned plans.
3. Structure over behaviours. The traditional planning approach purposefully follows a process that can be followed by all staff, given time and space, with careful facilitation. It does not, however, develop the capabilities of the participants helping them to respond intuitively to future business challenges.
4. Episodic. Even the best written plan has its shelf life and unless your organisation is able to support the luxury of employing people to continually update the plan (believe me - this happens, especially in public services) then it will soon be yesterday's plan.
Guess what? Further on down the road, you'll want to start again.
The ABC planning approach
This new approach requires a focus on "doing the right things, not doing things right". It accepts that speed is of the essence and that it is better to act decisively with 80% of the information not wait to collect 100%. It emphasises building staff capabilities to spot opportunities, identify competitor threats and deliver value rather than create and monitor plans. In short, it is action oriented. Finally, it focuses on excellent communication of the aim and approach, not the plan itself.
So how does it work?
It has 3 components which are the A,B, C of planning:
Compiled by the senior managers with all key staff, this is a one page document (written or drawn, it doesn't matter) that sets out in simple terms:
The approach is important but of equal value is creating a culture where all staff are the exhibiting behaviours that will support the organisation's progress. In simple terms, short term targets will achieve short term impacts but recruiting and rewarding exceptional behaviours has a longer term impact.
This requires the organisation to identify the key behaviours that staff need to exhibit to achieve the overall plan. These might be as varied as "quality focused", "delighting customers", "integrity and honesty", or "partnership driven" and each will require a lower level of descriptors that will help describe to staff what exceptional behaviours look like. The organisation also needs to develop an expertise on providing feedback to staff so they know when they are achieving these
The essential element to ensuring that the plan is adopted and cherished is ensuring that it is discussed regularly (weekly or less) as part of the organisational culture. The messaging and vocabulary needs to be consistent with those promoted by the plan and through the behaviours. The communication needs to be action-oriented, constructive and participative, encouraging all employees to have a stake in the future direction. Ideally, it should be face to face not remote so that 2 way feedback can be picked up on.
Have a go. Try it.
The ABC approach needs to be owned by you and your organisation. It can not be delegated to a consultant, the communications manager, strategy manager or anyone else.....
If you want some guidelines on how to do it, speak to me and I'll coach you to lead this change, helping your business become resilient to the next punch in the mouth...
Chris Lorimer is an
experienced consultant who has helped many organisations to grow through his unique 4 Ps approach.