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The Failure of Planning
By Rick Riebesell

Despite readily available research and experience concerning the benefits of planning, few business managers use the planning process effectively. Nowhere is this better seen than in the business that has evolved from startup to profitability. In this situation it is typical that the founders of the business are struggling with the transition from being the productive element of the business (the doers) to being the managers of the business (supervisors). Often the roles and duties are confused, and planning, both strategic and operative, is not effectively communicated.

If the virtues of planning are well-known and constantly endorsed, why is the planning process is not more frequently effective?

The initial reason for ineffectual implementation is there is an overemphasis on creating the writing. It is essential that the plan be written and distributed. Too often, too much time and too many resources are allocated to the creation of the writing. The writing need not be many pages with spreadsheets and graphs in a notebook and need not take months to produce. The communication of the plan cannot be awkward and difficult. The plan must be in an accessible form and distributed to all levels of the business. The goals, actions, milestones, and reviews must be something shared throughout the business in a convenient format.

Even if the writing is distributed throughout the business, execution by taking the described actions must result in a revision of the writing, the most important part of the planning process. Revision is rarely implemented as a part of the experience of executing the actions described by the writing. The revision of the writing should occur immediately after action occurs. Revision of the writing is a manifestation of the decision-making and communication process of the business. The decision to change must result in a written revision immediately available to all involved parties.

Successful National Football League teams go into a game with a game plan. This is a writing the head coach has devised and then has distributed to the coaching staff to implement. The players are informed about the game plan as it relates to the various positions they play and actions they must take. Rarely is the game plan sufficient to win the game. What it does is provide is a communication structure that allows an immediate revision of the writing when the opposing team reacts effectively to the ways the game plan is working. The winning team will be the team to have most efficiently reacted to adjustments of the opposing team to the initial game plan. The initial writing in a distributable format provides a structure for quick revision and immediate implementation of action. Coaches on the sideline can be seen looking at illustrations of the game plan and conferring about what revisions will be made. They do not have to conceive of a complete new courses of action, they have to correct an existing description and communicate it to the players. Losing teams often comment about how they got away from the game plan. What this frequently means is that the revisions to the game plan necessary to win were not effectively communicated to players and coaches. Usually adhering to the original game plan with a competent opponent will result in the loss of the game. Knowing the game plan and being able to revise it and immediately communicate and execute the revision will enable the victory.

An indication of an ineffective planning process is the need to revise the writing as a separate step. This is tantamount to recreating the writing and takes too much from the business in time and other resources. A business in a competitive market must revise the writing (strategic less often, marketing frequently, and operative constantly) to appropriately react to market changes. If the revision is immediately documented as decisions are made, then actions are quickly changed and identified mileposts are reached or not. As mileposts are missed, the writing is quickly revised as new decisions are made. The business that cannot immediately change its game plan will not compete as effectively. Therefore, once the planning process is initiated with the creation of the writing, the writing is revised as it is executed.

Planning is not a discrete process to be performed at retreats. Planning is the communication of the decision-making process of the business. The effective business planning process is one where the creation of the writing is sufficient to provide a written basis for corrections. The constant questioning of goals, selection of actions, identification of mileposts, and determining revisions all will be a series of seamless, constant activity. Do not spend too much time or devote too many resources to getting the writing in effect. Constantly question goals, change actions, identify new mileposts, and get it all in writing distributed to all charged with execution of the plan. Once this process starts, planning is not a separate activity, but the way in which communication is accomplished throughout the business.

Rick Riebesell is a consultant at Business Transition Consulting LLC. Resource information on business planning and transition are available at the Business Transition Consulting LLC website,

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