Once you have clarified the Purpose (vision, mission, values) of your business, the next step is figuring out the concrete actions that need to be taken to move you toward your vision by carrying out your mission in a manner consistent with your values.
Right now you are at point A. Your vision is point Z. How are you going to get from A to Z? Like any journey, it helps a whole heck of a lot if you have a roadmap to get there. Unfortunately, you can’t use Google Maps for this journey. You need to create your own roadmap. This is where Planning comes in.
I have said that Purpose saves you a ton of ENERGY because it allows for values-based decision-making. Similarly, Planning saves you a ton of TIME because it focuses you on what needs to be done and, done correctly, it keeps you from spending time and resources on things that shouldn’t be done. Estimates vary among time management experts, but general consensus is that every hour of planning saves you 3-10 hours of doing. That’s a solid ROI.
To use Brian Tracy’s famous analogy, planning helps you eat the elephant one bite at a time. It breaks down a massive undertaking into the little bites needed to accomplish it. The little bites are what your business does every single day. An effective planning process aligns what you do every single day to your big-picture vision. This involves a process of reverse engineering. You start with your vision and you work backwards.
Because it’s impossible to know when exactly your vision might be achieved, you start the planning process by picking a date on which you want to achieve certain big goals that will provide real evidence that you are making progress towards your vision (or in carrying out your mission, if you don’t have a vision statement). The standard used to be five years, but I think three years is more practical because the world, including your industry, can change so fast that anything beyond three years is probably just fishing in the dark. You can set some bigger picture five- or ten-year goals if you like, but three years is the time period I recommend to begin your planning process.
Kick off the planning process by imagining (or getting your leadership team to imagine) that it is three years from now. Looking back, what would constitute success? What would cause you to say in three years time, Wow, look where we’re at! Look at all we’ve accomplished!
Write everything down that comes to mind. Don’t think about how you’re going to accomplish these things, just what success looks like three years from now. If there are varying or contradictory things that come to mind from different members of your team, that’s ok. Write them all down.
You’ll probably have thought of things like how much revenue growth your business will have in three years, how much profit you’ll achieve, how many employees you’ll have, what office space changes you will have seen, what major projects or initiatives have been accomplished, how many customers you have, what the company culture is like, what industry recognition you have received, what technology you have implemented, what processes have been put in place, and so on.
Once you’ve had that brainstorm session for 15-20 minutes, it’s time to organize all these ideas. Fortunately, there is an easy way to do this because ultimately, the only metrics that really matter at the end of the day are profit (revenue less expenses), impact, and enjoyment. Everything else is window dressing. All of the people, customers, projects, office space, technology…these are all means of achieving your profit, impact, and enjoyment goals.
So the next step, still looking back from three years out, is to answer these three questions:
- What’s our annual profit (revenue less expenses)?
- What impact have we had in our industry and community?
- How much are we enjoying the process of running our business?
Once you have settled on the answer to these three questions, the next step is to identify the building blocks you will need to achieve these goals. Usually this will involve the following considerations:
- What changes need to be made to our product or service?
- What key resources will we need, in terms of people, financing, space, technology, etc?
- What will we need to do to market our product or service?
- What relationships will we need to develop?
- What processes will we need to put in place?
- What other problems or issues will we need to resolve?
- In what ways will we need to run our business differently than we are now?
A lot of these items will have come up in your initial brain storm session, so revert back to those notes at this stage. In considering these questions, you don’t need to have all the details figured out. Just keep it to the high-level, big ticket items you will need to accomplish to achieve your goals.
At the end of the process, your three-year plan might look something like this:
ABC ENVIRO CO. – 3-YR PLAN
- Profit: $200,000 ($1.5 million revenue less $1.3 million expenses)
- fastest-growing company in our industry in our region
- helped region reduce unrecycled hazardous waste by 15%
- overall vacation time increased 20% (including owners)
- employee Net Promoter Scores 80%+
- Close service agreements with 100 new clients
- Realize 20% more efficiency in our recycling process
- Hire a CFO and marketing director
- Expand warehouse by 50%
- Attend 3 trade shows/year
- Implement a CRM system
- Implement & track minimum paid time off
- Refinance vehicle fleet
- Annual employee engagement survey
There you go. That’s your 3-year plan. 3-5 goals, supported by 5-10 building blocks. Again, you don’t need to know how you’re going to accomplish all of these building blocks at this point. You just need to know that accomplishing them will help you achieve your goals, and that achieving the goals will provide solid evidence that you are carrying out your mission and progressing towards your vision.
The next step is to repeat the same process for a 1-year time frame; to create your annual plan. Based on your 3-year plan, you will set the profit, impact, and enjoyment goals you want to achieve 12 months from now, followed by the building blocks that will help you achieve those goals.
Then, you repeat the process for the first quarter (three months) of your annual plan, and then each quarter thereafter.
From then on, your business operates in 90-day intervals that successively and methodically lead your business toward its vision. Every week you work on your quarterly building blocks, which are tied to your annual building blocks, which are tied to your 3-year plan, which is tied to your vision. The result is complete alignment between what you do every single day and where you want to go. Planning is the indispensable GPS that will guide you all the way to your vision.
In the next article, I’ll discuss the accountability structure you will need to ensure that all the planning you have done is worth the effort; to make sure the building blocks you have set actually get accomplished.