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Why planning breaks down and fails [Key to success: The rolling 3-year plan]

Installment 9 in a 10-part series by Bruce Anderson, a business management consultant in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area.

For the past eight weeks I’ve been drawing on knowledge gained over my career seeing planning processes break down and fail. I’ve shared specific insights into where and why it happens and offered counsel around various pieces and parts in hopes of helping you experience greater planning success.

I addressed how budgeting cultures suffocate planning; showed the benefits that can accrue when a planning culture is adopted; addressed the effects of the tactical culture and what happens when tactics replace strategy; introduced the benefits of casting a clear and complete vision; presented 10 common goal-setting mistakes; tackled important truths around branding; and stressed the vital nature of managing the customer experience. Archive here.

All this to set the stage to hand you the key to business planning success: 1) Commit to building and nurturing a planning culture, and 2) Adopt a rolling 3-year planning process.

As cellular service was beginning to be introduced in the U.S. our advertising agency won the Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems account. They were one of the early pioneers in this transcendent industry and eventually joined other properties that morphed into AT&T Wireless.

At that time, I met a brilliant woman who was running the business. She was really smart and a fierce competitor who aptly carried the surname Champion. I’ve heard it said a leader is someone you choose to follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself. This lady was a leader’s leader. She taught me an important lesson about planning by preaching a very simple yet powerful acronym over, and over, and over again.

It’s “MAP/WAP” … Make a plan/Work a plan …. Make a plan/Work a plan … Make a plan/Work a plan.

Champion believed the right cultural mindset was integral to successful planning and wanted the process to be stimulating, productive and fun for people in all areas and levels of her organization. She loved seeing enthusiasm permeating the operation top to bottom; and she was energized as her staff began recognizing the true value and abundant possibilities inherent in her MAP/WAP teachings.

This leadership giant was pushing the widespread adoption of an evolved strategic mindset and had the whole place thinking horizontally as well as vertically. Each entity had a strong understanding and appreciation for how its work and performance related to and impacted each of its organizational relatives. Her staff pursued goals fervently and accepted the personal responsibility and accountability that accompanied their efforts to achieve the goals.

The very nature of a rolling 3-year plan is that it’s never finished. You’re continuously making the plan and working the plan. It’s an ongoing practice of preparation and execution of thoughtfully conceived courses of action consistent with the strategy. You’re stacking a long series of tactical victories on top of one another as you stride toward a clearly defined destination.

That destination is the vision cast by the CEO, fully supported by the executive leadership team and actively embraced throughout the organization. Right now, you’d be working on 2019, 2020 and 2021; next year, 2019 rolls off and you’re preparing for 2020-2022; etc.

I think creating smart strategy is the most important responsibility of executive leadership; and strategic planning is where leaders demonstrate their ability to guide the organization with confidence, wisdom and courage. Once the vision is set, it’s up to management to make sure everyone understands the priorities and knows that the organization will do what it takes to help them win.

There are six main components to the rolling 3-year plan: objectives, strategy, tactics, budget, timing, monitoring and measurement.

Your objectives are clearly defined, measurable goals that can be reasonably achieved. I love Warren Buffett’s approach to goal-setting. He says, “Don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars. I look around for 1-foot bars I can step over.”

Your strategy lays out the specific approaches that will be used to reach the objectives. Your tactics are the specific methods and moves that will be made consistent with the strategy and within the available budget and stated timeframes.

Your plan will address immediate short-term challenges; it will look to the mid-term to identify, define and address challenges and opportunities that require time to analyze data plus supplemental funding; and it will contemplate longer range issues such as infrastructure needs that require careful study and larger investments.

Creating rolling 3-year plans is a fluid process. Objectives are modified as indicated by performance and adjustments in tactics are made as learning is gained from monitoring and measurement. Outcomes are tracked continuously, followed weekly, reported monthly and formally reviewed quarterly with executive management.

Your guiding document will be a product of collective wisdom that charts a solid course to take your organization forward with confidence. The rolling 3-year planning process will give you a stable mechanism to help keep things from breaking down. The overall exercise will inspire imaginative, creative and resourceful thinking. Existing thoughts and ideas will be crystallized and formally expressed, fresh new discoveries will be made, and a Champion will be smiling, knowing you’ve got your team on the path to success.

More next week.

Bruce Anderson is president and CEO of Anderson Consulting. Contact him at ba@acdallas.com and @bruceadfw.

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