When business gurus and management experts talk about building and growing a business, one topic that usually comes to the top of the list is planning.
It seems self-evident that every business needs a plan to achieve growth and the goals it has set for itself.
The idea of planning is very comforting.
It makes employees feel safe and secure to know that company leadership has a plan to guide business activities in the "right" way--and a cogent, comprehensive plan makes company leaders feel safer, too, no doubt.
But the kind of planning you'll need to do in the 21st century is not the same kind of planning you're probably used to.
The rapid pace of change in today's world, which will be even faster tomorrow, makes traditional planning virtually meaningless.
The forces of technology and social change, among others, and their reach into our lives, call into question everything we do in business and everything we believe to be true about the way business operates.
What we accept as reality today changes in the blink of an eye.
So it's time to dispel the most common and dangerous myth about planning: Plans do not insure that what is planned will actually come to pass; plans do not predict the future.
How does one lead when the future is so uncertain?
How does one plan when the outcomes of what we envision today and begin implementing tomorrow are so unpredictable?
In this mass of uncertainty, one thing is--or, at least, should be--certain.
And that is your Vision.
So that's where you start.
Your business plan will be a statement of your Vision, supported by a description of the main strategies and tactics you'll use to make that Vision come true.
From the strategies and tactics discussed in your plan, each department and position will be able to develop the additional strategies, tactics, and systems to achieve their results.
Here are some new ways to approach planning in this 21st century business environment:
Start with what's important to you. A mediocre plan that people feel passionately about will serve you better than a technically superior plan that you don't' feel strongly about.
Approach planning as more of an art than a science. Don't be taken in by plans with copious facts and figures that give a false impression of certainty. Use your best thinking when you plan, but don't forget that even the best thinking involves educated guesswork. Just be sure to document all the planning assumptions that underlie the content of your plan.
Create a planning framework that accommodates change. Your plan is not a rigid prescription with every detail pinned down. Think of it more as a series of guideposts to focus on and targets to aim for. Don't follow through with activities simply because they're "in the plan." And don't forego promising and exciting opportunities that arise simply because they aren't.
Treat the plan as a living, growing document. Review, evaluate and revise your plan periodically. Keep questioning and reevaluating your assumptions. Stay flexible and open to change.
Remember that a business without a Vision is directionless.
But a Vision without a plan is only a hope.
Your Vision needs a plan--a 21st century plan--to make it a reality.