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Plan through uncertainty

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I’ve been working with a lot of companies on planning for three years out. A lot of them are not keen to plan that far ahead. They are worried about how things might change: If they plan too far out, their situation may end up being different. How will they know what to do? My answer to them is: Planning for what you think you need to do is way better than having no plan at all.

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Statistics show that companies who make three-year plans are much further ahead than those that do not. To just make short term plans, or maintain the status quo until the pandemic is over, can leave you far behind. The problem with this approach is that experts say COVID-19 will likely not have an “off switch”. Three years from now we may be able to look back and say “wow, when did it end?” But if we don’t create priorities and strategies now that look three years ahead, our companies may be left behind. Planning will take a little extra time now, but can save you an incredible amount of work in the future, and have your company better prepared for anything along the way.

Statistics show that the more you plan now for the future, the better off you and your company will be. And it can be hard to sit down and plan when there is so much uncertainty. So I recommend keeping it simple for now, and focus on one main thing. What is the one thing in your business that you need to work on most? Identify that and then begin to make a plan. Here are 5 simple steps you can take to begin planning proactively.

1. Review your company Vision, Mission, and Core Values, and ensure they are still on course.

If so, great, and if not, make the necessary changes with your team to ensure everyone is on the same page, going in the same direction. This can be the single most important thing you do as the leader of your company – it sets your direction and focus for the entire organization. And when you do it collaboratively with your team, they all begin to pull in the same direction.

2. Once focused on your company Vision, identify one area of focus over the next 3 years, or that one thing I mentioned that you need to work on?

What is your single main focus to work on over the next 3 years? Do you need to improve client or customer relations? Do you need to build your team? Do you need to improve operations? Do you need to improve margins? What is your focus? If you have one focus, it’s easy for the entire company to work and improve that, rather than to have too much to work on and thus, nothing gets accomplished. So remember, less is more. One focus is great, and make it count. Get yourself and your team focused on improving that one thing and you’ll be amazed what can be accomplished!

3. Now that you have a focus on what to work on, improve, or focus on, make a high level plan.

This is getting clear on what you want the outcome to be, and some of the steps, or big rocks, you’ll want to accomplish along the way. In order to make a plan, you’ll need to get your team involved. Have them create the plan, especially the people involved in the area of focus. Get clear about what you want to accomplish or improve over the next 3 years, and then map an outline with a timeline. When you collaborate with your team, the work seems easier, and when everyone has a voice, they buy in to it and will be more engaged in following through with it.

4. Now that you have a plan for your one area of focus, set up metrics and milestones to help you understand how things are progressing along the way.

For example, If your focus is to improve operations, how can you set up metrics for this? Perhaps you need to improve efficiencies and document processes. Your 3 year goal could be to be fully systemized and your milestones or metrics could be to work on improving and documenting one system per week or per month. This will help you plan as well. Or if you want to improve client or customer retention, figure out what your retention rate is now, and then set a 3 year goal, and milestones along the way. You get the idea. The main point is, if you have a strategic focus over the next three years that is important to the company, then you need to be able to not only know when you’ve accomplished it, but you need to be able to track your progress along the way, as well.

5. Set up 90 day action plans to get the process started, and then continue creating 90 day action plans every 90 days. Have your team get together and look at the area of focus, the plan, and the metrics. Then have everyone look at the high level plan, the “big rocks” and the metrics that have been decided.

Now create a 90 day action plan. The first 4 steps are meant to get clear on what you want to accomplish, plan some high level “big rocks” or priorities, and measure the progress. But none of this involves an action plan. Now’s the time to look at what the first step is in order to work towards your 3 year focus. From that first step, create an action plan for the next 90 days. I like to use the simple system from “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” where you create an action plan using: Who, Does What, By When. This simple action plan can really kick start the strategic focus and turn it into action. For example, if your area of focus over the next 3 years is to improve customer retention, then the first step may be to implement a customer survey and gain information about what your clients like or don’t like, and what they think needs improving. This survey could be the main focus for Q1 (the first 90 days). So to put it into action, You create a list of actions such as “Write the survey”, “Send out the Survey”, “gather results”, etc. Now, assign each task to a person and give deadlines. This has now gone from an area of focus of improving client retention to an action plan, and the first step is to spend Q1 on creating a survey and gathering information from a client survey.

Planning Process

These 5 steps have simplified the planning process, but a planning process shouldn’t be complicated. And when there is so much uncertainty around the pandemic, this process is not only easy to implement, it can set you up for success. When you get really clear on one thing to work on strategically while working hard and being very busy on a daily basis, that one thing will get focused on and improved along the way without causing a lot of extra work.

This simple planning process takes time to create and develop, but then with the simple action plan, implementation becomes easier as you go. If you meet every 90 days to review your progress, decide if your metrics and milestones have been met, and create a new 90 day action plan, you will reap the rewards of planning and the long-term benefits can be exponential: They can help you eliminate unnecessary tasks, wasteful steps, and distractions that keep people from doing the important things that really need to get done.

It may be hard to think about at first, but once you get started with planning your business, your company will accomplish so much more and improvements will be made that you never even thought of. Your company will reap the benefits and run much smoother in the long run. The results could be exponential!