Why you shouldn't plan

Organizations that routinely use a systematic planning process dramatically outperform their counterparts that do not. Yet about four out of five companies don’t have a formal planning process. Why?

Why would a wise business owner not plan, when his company so likely would reap significant increases in ROI, ROA, ROE, stock price, market share, top-management wealth, new product introductions, etc.? In my planning practice, I’ve heard hundreds of excuses, but here are the four heard most often — and why they simply don’t work.

1. We are successful. “The company is successful, and you can’t argue with success,” they’ll say.

Well, actually, you can argue with success. Success is relative. Your competition may be more successful than you are, and the long-term result will prove disastrous. You may be driving down costs at half the rate of the industry, and in no time at all, you will not be cost competitive.

Another reason not to be lulled into not planning by your own success is that the world changes so rapidly. In industry after industry — computers, software, autos, financial services and consumer goods — environmental changes create opportunities for those prepared to act. Plans prepare organizations to act.

2. We’re too busy now. According to Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” it’s imperative to work on important but not time-sensitive tasks, because if you’re always fighting fires, you’ll never get to the important things unless they become time sensitive.

Planning is important — but never time sensitive (unless you need a document to help with a bank loan or a potential sale of the business). It’s easy to keep busy, but are you busy doing the wrong things? A plan keeps you clear about the things you should be doing.

3. I do my planning in the shower. Many leaders tell me, “But I do plan. I do it in the shower (or while shaving or driving).” Unfortunately, this doesn’t count as a formal planning process. These plans often amount to little more than setting goals for that particular day. Strategic planning requires you to systematically gather data about your industry, competition, etc., then come up with an appropriate response to the resulting beliefs created about your world.

4. Planning documents are static. There is an acronym that often applies to strategic plans — WORN, which stands for Written Once, Read Never. But good plans have a life of their own. The leader (and facilitator) needs to make sure the implementation is revisited regularly. The plan must be modified often, with changes communicated clearly to everyone involved.

Never mind your excuse. Well-constructed plans create futures that otherwise would not be. What is your dream, and how will you achieve it? Lance Kurke, Ph.D., is president of Kurke & Associates, Inc., a strategic planning and leadership development firm. He also serves on the faculty at Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon Universities. Reach him at (412) 281-2930 or at [email protected].