The challenge of business planning preparation

The fast pace of business today requires rapid decision making, with business planning in particular being challenged by ever-changing competition, technology and regulations.

The challenge for management is to keep to their strategic intent, formulating plans that take into account these external factors and setting the pace in their market. Achieving this balance can require change at all levels of an organisation, something quite difficult for many companies that are generally resistant to change and those companies with long lead times for infrastructure installation or product design and development.

If you are a business decision maker involved in planning at any level, you may feel personally challenged by issues such as:

  • the large magnitude of some decisions (and their consequences) that are made with limited data,
  • the speed of major decisions required
  • that lessons have not been learnt from past decisions

The fact is, that sometimes decisions must be made quickly with limited information and sometimes the objective evidence is unavailable (e.g. without precedent), too time consuming to collect, or it exists, but is too complex or voluminous and will take too long to analyse and summarise.

With these type of decisions, experienced managers may recognise a pattern in the available information, or may simply take a risk-based approach to the plan, to achieve what they believe will be an acceptable outcome. In reality, the personality traits of each manager will often be reflected in the nature of their decision making.

To master the challenges of planning, preparation is key. Despite planning activities being at regular intervals in many companies, it is always surprising to me that many managers arrive at the planning session under-prepared.

It’s all about planning preparation

Today, most companies have their performance dashboard with key performance metrics that are commonly understood. The understanding of company performance based on this information alone is insufficient preparation for planning meetings.

The best managers have spent time collecting and analysing information that may be of use in a planning session, whether that is from internal data, or external data such as reviewing the regulation changes and possible company impacts. Senior managers will have others do this but will be fully briefed ahead of the meeting. Bringing new, relevant information into a meeting, with your ideas or recommendations can open up new possibilities, and increase your contribution.

In some cases, new information is less about hard data and more about recent experiences or observations within the company or specific business functions. Many companies have embraced social media style tools to improve collaboration around a special interest or for problem solving.  This is a powerful contribution to planning sessions. (see our App).

When piecing together your ideas or recommendations, keep in mind that the best plans deliver at least something back early. If a project is required, consider whether it is likely to meet company hurdle rates (e.g. ROI, NPV, capital).

Ahead of the meeting, socialise your ideas or recommendations with a few of your peers and use their feedback to improve your ideas. Of course acknowledge their contribution in the meeting.

Finally, always remember that a plan itself achieves nothing.

“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”
― Peter F. Drucker