Lately I’m enjoying more and more my plan-as-you-go approach to business planning, which means doing what you can use, and only that much, and leaving the big formal plan for when you need to have it. The benefit of planning in your business, for people in the real world, is that the plan becomes the first step towards management. You can track your progress towards goals.
With that in mind, I find myself recommending what might seem like an odd first step. Set up your review schedule first. Then do the plan.
I have several reasons:
Planning isn’t complete unless you’ve planned for review. People in management should know that initiating any plan is only one part of managing that plan. Much like steering a car, you also need to make necessary course corrections every now and then without losing track of the long-term goals. Without plan reviewing, your business is like a car with a locked steering wheel. To establish consistent review meetings, schedule a particular day for it, like the third Friday of every month. Make sure the main people involved are invited to those review meetings.
When you set the schedule in advance, it is harder for key team members to come up with reasons not to be there. Sure, occasionally there is some command performance that can’t be helped, necessary business travel, people sick, or whatever; but having the dates ahead of time makes the plan review more likely to happen.
And if you’re running your business alone, or there’s just two or three of you, it’s still a good idea to set the review schedule. People need reminders. It’ll also help you to remember to review key points, your main assumptions, and where you want to go with your plan. We all forget sometimes, so we need a reminder to take a step back, and look at the larger picture.
Here are some tips for making your plan review as useful as possible:
Start your review meetings by discussing key assumptions. This is why it’s so important to list those assumptions so they’re fresh in your mind.
Keeping changes in strategy and changes in assumptions related to one another.
Keep review meetings as short as possible. One of the biggest threats to an effective planning process is spending too much time in meetings discussing the same things.
Emphasize metrics. How do actual metrics compare to plan metrics? Discuss variances, the differences between the planned and the actual numbers. The obvious metrics are the financial results, but don’t let those be the only metrics.
Be aware of the “crystal ball and chain” phenomenon. Don’t let planning become a no-win game in which people commit to future metrics that come back to bite them. Make sure planning is collaborative, so that it’s always understood that change can happen and when managed, is good. Planning helps us manage change; it doesn’t keep track of how bad we are at predicting the future.