Plan Less, Do More
April 5, 2016
Why are so many managers obsessed with building and writing plans? I am sure you - like I - have found yourself in some laborious strategic planning meetings. You know the meetings I'm talking about... those business plan meetings where as slide 103 flicks up onto the screen you begin to question what you're doing with your life (congratulations for still paying attention at slide 103 though!). Some managers seem infatuated with having a plan. I understand why; writing a plan makes people feel in control. Being in control is comforting for many people. It makes them feel safe knowing there is a map guiding them. There is a problem with this thinking though - you're trying to control things that simply can't be controlled!
Long term planning is simply guessing. Planning for the future requires you to predict what will happen in the future, and unless you're a physic I doubt you'll be successful at that. Looking to the future encourages you to make assumptions and often you build plans around what you've imagined and wished for. If you have ever looked back at a strategic planning document from a few years ago I bet you'll find it reads more like a fairytale than a true reflection of the reality you are now in. You simply can't predict what may or may not happen and that is why planning is flawed. There are too many factors beyond your control; you have to correctly foresee the future moves of your competitors, your customers, your employees, the economy...
Now, I'm not advocating to ignore the future and simply burying your head in the sand. That would be foolish. I recognize that considering what your business needs to do now in order to advance your position in the future is an essential component of sustainability. You should be contemplating the many obstacles that could hold you back from success, and do something to navigate around them. Just stop with the cumbersome and long-range planning. Instead focus on what you can do right now - in this moment - to move you towards a more promising future.
Successful businesses focus less on what they can't control and more on what they can control. Today's world is changing quicker than any of us can fully comprehend, and that has created a need for you to be adaptable. Competitors will change. Customers will change. The market will change. Nothing will stay the same. You need to be ready - and willing - to embrace these changes. You need to be able to improvise. As the right opportunities appear you need to pounce on them. As the competitive situation changes, be prepared to rip up the plan and do something completely different. Today it's ok to change direction and chart a new path. Plans often get in the way of flexibility. Managers cling to their plans tightly like their life depends upon them and decision making becomes ineffective,"...but it isn't in the plan!"
To be more successful with planning, shift your focus to what you can control and what you can do. The best way to plan is to answer one question; what is the single most important thing we can do right now? Then once you have answered that question, go do it. Once you've done it, ask the question again, and go do that. Of course, you need to have an understanding of where your business sits in relation to the market, the competition and your customers to effectively answer the question. You need access to reliable insights that will inform your answer, but the trick is to plan less and do more. Taking hold of what you can control in this moment that will advance your business and then repeating the process is far better than drawing out a lengthy plan that is already out of date by the time it's completed. Put more of your energy into the present rather than the future.
"Any plan won't survive its first encounter with reality. The reality will always be different. It will never be the plan." - Jeff Bezos (Amazon)