When Planning is the Plan
The COVID-19 pandemic is generating all manner of media coverage and with good reason. Few would argue that this unprecedented situation has overtaken just about every aspect of our “normal” way of life. One all too familiar question seems to be front and center: Where and what is the plan for dealing with this public health emergency while simultaneously addressing the crippling effect the lockdown is having on businesses of all sizes and the economy in general?
The call for a plan is understandable. However, in a highly fluid situation where new data, facts and information are being surfaced on an almost daily basis, how do we plan for what is next?
When facing a dynamic, rapidly changing operating environment, it could be argued that “creating a plan” is as difficult as it is useless. Rather, the process of planning may be the most effective way to gain traction in this environment.
In a Harvard Business Review article “The Big Lie of Strategic Planning” former Dean of the Rotman Business School Roger L. Martin makes the case that “fear and discomfort are an essential part of strategy making”. He argues that while attempting to make sense of the operating environment, both inside and outside the organization, leadership teams organize themselves around a collection of assumptions that tend to look a lot like what our most recent experience tells us. Grounding planning assumptions in what we know now is comforting and understandable. If unchallenged, these very same assumptions can be a seriously flawed foundation upon which to build a plan.
Creating a robust planning process that engages all aspects of an organization’s scanning capabilities in real time is essential to gaining focus and organizational alignment toward a common goal. Tactical execution (and most plans fail for lack of effective execution) is organized around what we call “the 90-day world”. This is where specific assignments, expected results and individual responsibilities are articulated in specific terms. These 90-day tactics are monitored against a predetermined standard and because they are reviewed and evaluated quarterly, they may be modified, adjusted, and re-aligned to fit the current circumstance and as new facts emerge. In a hyper volatile operating environment, the 90-day look may be contracted to 60 or even 30 days as needed.
The result is a plan that is fast, flexible, fluid, focused and fact-based. The strength of rigorous prioritization ensures that managers are working on those items (and only those items) which will have the most significant impact on moving the enterprise forward toward the desired aim.
Creating an effective strategy and operating plan is not about a once-a-year ceremonial exercise with a static outcome: the plan. Rather, seeing the planning process as a dynamic, continuous organizational competency sets high performers apart, especially during times of fast-paced change. Which just may describe our operating environment for the foreseeable future.
For more information including planning agenda’s and ground rules, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.