Much of our work is focused on helping organizations effectively plan.
We can easily chart out the steps we think are important in planning effectively. The work of planning starts with ensuring that there is clarity about the organization’s vision and mission; these are the things that define what each organization is in existence to accomplish and express what success will look like. Vision and mission are the things that do not often change, if they change at all.
What follows clarifying mission and vision is the challenging work of examining the organization’s current situation; what it does well and what it struggles to do effectively; defining its strengths and weaknesses. If there are previous plans in place, this is the time to look at how the organization has fared in their implementation and what they may have learned along the way. Included at this point would be a look at the organization’s reputation from relevant stakeholder groups. Building a good picture of the factors that are affecting or might affect the organization’s operations is important.
Good and plentiful data is the material that builds effective planning. The cost of effective planning lies heavily in the work and difficulty of collecting and analyzing the information that fuels the analytic process. For many organizations the difficulty in developing quality information is great and the effort can be painful.
But the real challenge of effective planning lies not in the quantity, quality or breadth of the data that is brought to the table. Effective planning requires an open and inquisitive organizational culture that is ready to take a dispassionate look at who they are and how they are doing. It requires the ability to step outside the day to day work in order to look at the organization from a larger and more distant perspective. When done effectively it demands being willing to look at oneself in a manner which can expose issues and ask questions that can be difficult and uncomfortable. When done effectively it will ask for choices and decisions that can be exciting and hard and which can often create significant disruption in the organization’s status quo.
Often there is a sigh of relief as a planning effort is completed. Gathering the needed data is hard; working effectively with good data is hard; and the plan that emerges may be challenging to implement.
But the results of an effective planning process can become a millstone around the organization’s neck, preventing the organization from moving forward and fulfilling its vision. How can that be?
In the real world nothing remains frozen in time. That plan that was so on target when it was completed quickly becomes outmoded. The information that was gathered as part of the planning process quickly loses its relevance. The assumptions that were made about how our internal and external realities would progress are quickly replaced by new realities. The initial steps that the Plan set out will give us new learnings to consider.
If the plan becomes the organization’s bible, if its recommendations MUST be followed under any and all circumstances, the Plan quickly becomes a real obstacle to success.
More critical that the plan itself is the process of planning!
The effectiveness of an organization will reside in its ability to balance a commitment to a strategy with an ability to change course when conditions merit. The effectiveness of an organization will rest on its ability to create a culture of question, reflection and constant challenge.
If investing in planning is to be truly beneficial it will leave behind both a plan and a culture of ongoing and continuous planning. It will it provide knowledge, data, strategy and direction AND it will strengthen the organization’s ability to be innovative, brave and nimble.