Most organizations have what they call a business plan. The problem is that too often the people who are expected to execute the plan either don’t have any idea what the plan is or else they aren’t told how to actually achieve it.
Time and again objectives are drawn up but little or no thought is given to how the plan will be communicated, managed and measured. It’s like trying to take a vacation with 10 people but only one person knows the destination — hard to pack, hard to be prepared and hard to cover the distance if there’s only one driver.
The result: most companies don’t meet their goals or they waste enormous amounts of time, money and energy because there’s no alignment between corporate and to individual objectives.
The business planning process is essentially comprised of three equally important components: creation, communication and management. Unfortunately, many plans aren’t plans at all so much as sales strategies that have little to with the rest of the company. And let’s face it, it isn’t easy getting employees passionate around a sales plan or another increase in shareholder value.
Another problem is that many plans are developed and executed in functional silos. This ignores the fact that work must be done across functions. Sales may want to increase revenue by 10 per cent but that will likely require assistance from HR to find some great new sales people and IT will be called upon to provide the systems the sales people need to do their work. A good business plan must recognize that each strategic goal can have one owner but the actual work itself will only get done through cross-functional input and support.
If this reality isn’t factored into the process, groups will compete against each other for scarce resources further diminishing the probabilities of meeting the corporate goals.
Also problematic is the creation of a strategic plan that is so big picture it doesn’t make sense to people lower down in the organization. This is disastrous and where communication, the second part of good business planning comes in.
Employees need to see how they are connected to the strategic goals, to clearly see how they make a difference. This calls for a timely and relevant communication program — one that explains the company direction in the context of each department’s role and each employee’s personal role.
This requires the department head to meet with all staff once or twice face to face, supported by overheads or hand outs or other visual materials. It also may take followup one-on-one sessions so details can be worked out and questions addressed.
Following plan communication comes plan management. Once employees understand what is expected of them and why, it is essential they actually do it. This means a formal process — usually pre-scheduled meetings — to ensure staff are on track, aligned and issues are addressed proactively — waiting for the annual performance review isn’t nearly enough.
Typically, regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees are ideal. These meetings don’t have to be time consuming; in most cases 20 minutes should be enough every few weeks. The important thing is to make sure that any deviations from the individual’s plan are brought to the attention of the manager so that steps can be taken to get the specific objective back on track.
For some managers with a large group reporting to them, it may be difficult to find time to meet as often. In these cases, employees need to know that their manager has an open door if problems arise in between regular updates.
Business planning is critical. It aligns resources, energy and time against the goals that matter most to the business.
For planning to work well, it must be approached as a process — one that encompasses development, communication and management. Taking this approach will help create a committed and focused culture with a workforce ready to meet any of the challenges put before it.
Sandy French is the president of Northern Lights, a leading Canadian internal communication agency. He can be contacted at (416) 593-6104 ext. 222 or Sfrench@northernlights.ca.