Practical Planning 101

I recently had the pleasure and privilege to conduct an intensive 2 day training session with 42 CGA's in Toronto. The topic, of course, was business planning. I love these sessions, because any time I put myself in a room with that many smart business people, I'm bound to learn a few things.

This was a very experienced bunch, and represented an impressive cross section of corporate Canada. Most had some first hand accountability for business planning, and many were CFO's and Controllers. Everyone came with a thirst for information that could be applied quickly and practically to help their companies gain some measurable benefits from business planning.

Everything That is Wrong with Business Planning
The first thing we did as a group was to create a list of the expectations everyone had for learning in the two days ahead. Groups of 5 came up with a handful of expectations and wrote them on giant sticky notes. As a big group, we arranged the stickies on a wall and discussed the primary learning expectations for the course. As the main ideas emerged, we realized that we had a fairly comprehensive picture of all that is wrong with business planning today.

There was no doubt that the common theme was implementing practical solutions to create and execute better business plans. As I think about the underlying concepts, it came down to a key handful:

  • Building and maintaining a better link between strategic, operational, and tactical plans
  • Creating a vision statement that is more practical, compelling, and that inspires a sense of urgency
  • Identifying key indicators that are highly relevant to the organization, and actually measure the success of a plan
  • Going beyond buy-in to get real engagement from staff and management in the strategy of the organization and the execution of its plans
  • Achieving meaningful sign-offs at all the significant stages of business planning
  • Establishing timelines and planning cycles that actually stick, quarter after quarter
  • Introducing a practical model to an organization as a basis for formalizing the planning process, without creating a monster
  • Understanding why companies miss targets, and how to instill discipline and urgency to get back on track
  • Going beyond lip service, to employ effective communication to dramatically improve business planning outcomes
  • Implementing basic tools and templates that are practical and effective
  • Keeping everyone in the organization motivated during the planning process

Most of the issues that surfaced can be addressed through basic discipline and stick-to-it-ness, but only with serious support from senior levels to implement a carefully defined, practical, integrated process. If I had written a list of the reasons I created the Planning Bootcamp, it would have been nearly identical to the list of learning expectations above.

I think we did a good job of addressing many of the issues that were raised at the beginning of the course, and will address many of them in greater detail in coming newsletters.