Updated: Aug 10, 2021
“An idiot with a plan can beat a genius without a plan.” - Warren Buffett
For many people “Plan” is a word that occupies space among other, more colorful, four-letter words. Planning asks us to make decisions with limited information, to look into the future and come up with a way to deal with a variety of scenarios. This isn’t always easy!
Nevertheless, effective planning is a core competency for impactful leadership. It is a skill you must develop or delegate if you want to found, grow, and lead a successful business. Jeff Bezos of Amazon creates plans that span three-years, and regularly makes space for planning.
Without a plan, you are leaving your business to chance. This is not how to run a business. A failure to plan is a plan to fail. The quote from Mr. Buffett above says it all.
Effective business planning is forward-looking and strategic. A solid plan evaluates, analyzes, and synthesizes a broad range of perspectives and scenarios into a specific actions designed to deliver a desired outcome.
So how do we reduce the frustrations we experience when trying to create a solid plan?
Two examples I love from this HBR article are: "Find Systems that Work" & "Borrow Other People’s Brains." I’ll add one more to this list myself: "There is No Perfect Plan”.
Let’s tackle these in order.
1. Find Systems that Work
We have discussed this many times before. There are apps, planners, and gurus by the dozen that claim to make you more organized and a better planner. But these are only tools. If you lack the skills to effectively use the tools, they aren’t going to be the quick fix that was promised to you.
As the article says, find systems that work for you. Tools like apps and planners can be a PART of that system, but they are not systems by themselves. An app or a planner combined with a specific behaviors designed to help you improve your scheduling, organizational, and time management skills is a system that will create a foundation for effective new habits.
[Personally, I use a combination of whiteboards, notebooks, and a “main” calendar to help keep me on track. Zero apps involved.]
2. Borrow Other People’s Brains
The article suggests to seek advice from people with highly developed organizational and planning skills to help guide your own development.
This is an excellent strategic plank for your system, but you might not have the luxury of time to practice and hone your skills.
In that case, hire talent with strong planning, time management, and organizational skills. One of my favorite business books, Rocket Fuel, calls these people “Integrators”.
Integrators are the people who bring your vision to life. They know how to take that vision and create the action plans that will get there.
Countless times in my career, I’ve helped leaders develop and integrate strategic plans that helped to turn their visions into reality and addressed complex issues facing their businesses, including:
Managing a successful statewide political campaign
Crafting strategies for multi-party, complex commercial lawsuits
Managing 7- and 8-figure dollar projects for oil and gas and pipeline companies
Managing and forecasting inventory for a 9-figure top-line B2B and B2C distribution company
So, if your skills are not as developed, or you're simply needed elsewhere, consider carving out space in your Organizational Chart for an “Integrator”, “Chief of Staff” or similar role who can help develop a game plan for your organization.
3. There is No Perfect Plan
Planning for the future is uncertain by definition. If we could know with 100% certainty what will happen in the future, then planning would be crazy simple.
Our brains don’t want to deal with complexity. Often times, this means we approach problems with an “either / or” mindset. But in a business context, decisions are rarely that simple.
So, rather than getting hung up on finding the “perfect” plan, create one that identifies as many unknowns and options as possible, and can be adjusted quickly to address each one as you execute and get feedback. This will help you from fixating on a single course of action or from falling into “paralysis by analysis”.
Two excellent strategy building tools for this are “If / Then” Scenario Planning and Decision Trees.
[Huge amounts of risk management philosophy are based on these concepts.]
These exercises are great for identifying blind spots in your strategy and helping you to think through obstacles that might arise in each step in your plan. This ability to anticipate and create responsive actions is vastly superior to reacting 'in the moment'.
The ability to plan is a skill that anyone can develop, and an essential skill for anyone in a leadership role. Like any other new habit, start small and use low-risk situations to test your skills at first to gain confidence. From there, you can deal with more and more complexity.
And if you reach the limits of your planning abilities, or simply don’t have the time to devote to a thorough strategic plan, consider outside help like coaching or consulting from Ascent.
About the Author:
Matt Beckmann is the Founder & Managing Director of Ascent Consultants. In addition to experience as a former Chief of Staff to the Missouri Auditor and as a Corporate Vice President and General Counsel, he has advanced training and certifications in law, business, coaching, athletics, and leadership. His blog content, inspired by his deep passion for unlocking his reader's best potential, consistently equips business owners and individuals with the knowledge and resources to overcome obstacles that may be hindering growth.
Ascent Consultants provides business and strategy consulting, executive and leadership coaching, and leadership assessments. By converting client growth goals into an actionable "game plan," we help companies and individuals unlock their full potential.