Business Planning: A Royal Pain or the Secret to Your Success?

Part of a regular series of articles for Business Matters magazine by Grey Lemon co-founder Rhonda Curliss.

Business planning. Two words that fill us all with joy. No?

Pointless, tick box exercise and a pain in the proverbial for all concerned? That sounds more like it.

The big problem with business planning is that we need to change the way we look at it. It’s not a ‘one and done’ theoretical document to be stuck in a drawer until the following year, at which point you realise you need to do another one (while recalling all the things you said you were going to achieve in the previous year but didn’t).

Business planning should, in fact, be the opposite of a tick box exercise. It should be the life blood of your organisation, an ever-evolving roadmap to help you fulfil your purpose and smash your strategic goals.

Let’s look at where we are. It’s the month of March and spring is upon us – traditionally a time for optimism and reinvigoration (if only the weather would play ball). Most importantly, from a business perspective, we’re approaching the end of the UK financial year or the end of the first quarter depending on how your strategies and budget align.  

It is, therefore, the perfect time to pause and take stock of where your organisation is at in relation to your overall purpose and objectives.

So, how do you ensure that your business plan is not just a huge waste of effort, but rather a working document to keep you on the path to success? Let’s consider these three important points:

1. The fundamentals

Ultimately, if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, no amount of planning will get you there. So let’s start there.

At the heart of every business plan or strategy must be a clearly articulated purpose and some measurable and realistic objectives to move you towards it, underpinned by action to achieve it. Sounds simple right? And it is, if these elements are clearly articulated.

Some questions to consider when developing your business plan/strategy:

- What is your company best at?

- Where do you make the most money?

- What are you most passionate about?

This forms the baseline of your company purpose. Once you’ve articulated this, you can start to outline what good measures of success might look like to move your organisation towards achieving your purpose.

2. Collaboration and accountability are key

As an organisational leader, strategic planning isn’t something you should be doing on your own. No silos in this scenario, thank you very much. Transparency is essential and your plan needs to be developed with input from all the main decision makers and those responsible for delivering any functions within what we call your ‘business ecosystem’.

If the right people aren’t part of the conversation when it comes to setting objectives, then how can you be sure that everything you’re putting down on paper is realistic and achievable?

Questions to consider when developing your objectives could include:

- What are you trying to achieve in the coming year which will move you towards your common purpose? (the SMART framework developed by George Doran, Arthur Miller and James Cunningham in 1981 can be a useful tool when creating business objectives)

- Are there any opportunities to capitalise on?

- Are there any risks you need to mitigate?

- How does each component of your business ecosystem need to support each other to achieve these objectives?

Unrealistic expectations are a surefire way to set everyone up for failure and destroy team morale, leading to bigger problems with retention and a weakened workplace culture.

3. Action and outcomes

Fundamentally, the key is in the action, not the planning. Therefore, the next step is to define the action you will take to achieve your objectives.

Running a successful business is a team sport and everybody has a part to play in supporting each other to enable your business to thrive. And without clear objectives and a tactical plan to achieve those objectives that your main players have engaged with and invested in, how can anyone in the organisation know what they’re supposed to be doing?

Whether you’re looking at your financial year end or reviewing your performance aligned to your business strategy for Q1, it’s crucial that you’re assessing and reviewing your successes, opportunities, risks, and fundamentally, your failures. Yes, sometimes you will fail; even with the best laid plans, things can get in the way (you know, global pandemics and the like) but the important thing is to swiftly recognise what is not working and pivot your plan accordingly.

While it’s true that certain roadblocks are considerably bigger than others, there are always going to be micro and macro factors which impact both your own business and the wider economy. If you’re only doing annual reviews of your business strategy and tactical plan, there’s going to be a lot more damage to your progress down the line than if you’re assessing it monthly or quarterly at a senior leadership level.  

Outside of your own senior leaders, it can also be hugely beneficial to run your business plan by someone with no ‘skin in the game’ – be it an expert or neutral third party who can assess, give a fresh perspective and help identify any elements that might be missing.

In summary

The old adage still rings true: ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’. But the real success lies in what you do with that plan. It doesn’t need to be lengthy and convoluted. What it needs is real clarity of purpose, clarity of objectives that are realistically achievable for your specific organisation within a defined timeframe, and clarity of action amongst all key players in your business ecosystem to enable you to achieve it.

Clarity and action. It’s pretty simple really. Now, what are you waiting for?

You know your business.

We help you see it through fresh eyes.


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