Whatever Happened to that Plan?

As the summer sun gleams through your office window, it’s difficult to think back to the cold winter that passed. But, that is where we are going today. Back to December when you vowed that 2013 was the year you’d plan ahead, stick to a calendar and figure out what’s so smart about SMART goals. Back to January when you pulled an overnighter to put the finishing touches on your production calendar and optimize your new monthly tracking charts. Back to that harried day when you drove through the snow for a grueling hour hoping you wouldn’t be late for the management meeting where you were rolling out the best annual business plan you’d ever written.

So…yeah…whatever happened to that plan? If you’ve stuck to that production calendar and dutifully completed your tracking charts for the first 8 months of this year, bravo! You are as rare as the great white buffalo, a master of business to behold and applaud. Yes, we love you, we envy you, but you can stop reading now….

Okay, now that the rest of us are alone, let’s talk about why we keep finding ourselves in this empty ritual of slaving over an annual plan only to abandon it before first quarter results are in. It was, after all, a great plan. You downloaded a cool template, you asked for input from your team, you aligned your business unit’s goals with the organization’s and you delivered it passionately back on that cold, snowy morning. So, what went wrong? Chances are there is more than one answer, but here are a few of the most common causes of business plan failure:

1. The Earth isn’t flat and neither is the market.
We often write plans in our happy place. Much like New Year’s resolutions, we commit to goals that are attainable in the most perfect, static conditions. Be it your commitment to launch a new product or finally hit that next million-dollar milestone, you need to consider whether outside influences or market challenges could derail that goal. Doing the research doesn’t cloak you from failure, but it softens the fall. Picking up the pieces is infinitely easier when you have considered alternate courses of action and mitigation techniques in your plan. A few extra bullet points can be the difference between an irrelevant document and a darn good starting point to correct the course mid-year.

2. It’s always easier said than done.
Great leaders, heck even good ones, have big visions. You believe whole-heartedly that if you shoot for the moon, you’ll land among the stars. Unfortunately, you may be leaving your team wondering what planet you live on. When you write your goals and layout the strategies and tactics to achieve them, don’t forget to analyze your resources. Do you have a team dedicated to carrying out that plan, or like the rest of us, is your team going to make incremental progress between carrying out the day-to-day business? If an honest analysis proves you need to hire someone, put it in the plan. If it isn’t deemed worthy of an extra salary, it can be revised, downgraded or parked for future consideration.

3. If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.
Commitment: feared by many and lacking in boardrooms across America. Even the best-laid plans will crumble quickly without it. It isn’t enough to write the plan or make a jazzy PowerPoint explaining the plan, you have to get real buy-in. Sure, a table full of executives nodded their heads after you concluded your presentations, but I’ll bet a couple of them were thinking about their fantasy football matchup within 30 seconds of your last word. Real buy-in probably won’t happen the first day you present the plan. It will happen when you come to meetings weekly and monthly showing them the progress you are making on your goals and telling them what you need from them to get it done. Set goals, make progress, and then demonstrate results. Yes, I know…it is always easier said than done.

So, as you enjoy the end of summer and prepare for the fourth quarter, dust off your forgotten plan and figure out how you can really do it better next year. Maybe practice on that quarterly plan, speaking of which, that’s due soon…get cracking!