The First Commandment Of Strategic Planning: Don't Fail To Plan
Most people don't plan to fail, they fail to plan.
According to authors and historians, strategic planning has roots in the military. It's understood that you cannot invade or protect a country without proper planning to the umpteenth degree. Picture generals poring over maps, meeting with their troops to discuss the plan, and then evaluating what went wrong or right. They will never assume that troops know what the plan is if they don't share.
The same goes for business. Why should a business assume that their "troops" know the plan if they haven't shared it in detail?
I often hear business owners push back on this, saying, "Isn't it easier to just shoot from the hip or lip?" Can't we just make it up as we go along? Who has the time to do this not-so-exciting, tedious work anyway? It's so much more fun to 'just do it.'"
In Stephen Covey's must-read book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he tells the story of a fellow who was in San Francisco but with a map of Los Angeles. No matter how hard he tried and how fast he went, he just went in circles. Not only do you need a map, you need the right map.
The same is true for any person or business trying to achieve success: If you don't have the right mental map or plan, you will be going around in circles.
Mental creation comes before physical creation.
Here is a great story to illustrate what I mean.
Charles was a successful entrepreneur who grew his business by double digits. He had hundreds of people in his employ but suffered from what I call "project ADD," meaning that he quickly got excited by "shiny" ideas that only took him off course, mostly because he didn't have a clear and focused road map of where he wanted to go.
My introduction to Charles was through a mutual friend, as Charles was interested in acquiring another company and wanted me to meet with the sellers to help him negotiate a "good deal." (I very much discouraged him from the deal, as it didn't make sense financially, but more importantly, it was a pure distraction from his core business.) Later, he asked me to evaluate the new business because things weren't going in the direction he intended. In addition, his financials were pretty bad. After a full evaluation, where I interviewed his direct reports in the various entities, I found that he was doing exactly what he intended not to do when he entered the deal. He jumped after shiny objects, he didn't carefully plan how he was going to afford it, and oftentimes, it was a significant distraction from his core model.
I asked him to define his "why," his mission, vision and goals.
This is the mental map that precedes the physical map. He tried implementing different "tool sets," such as elaborate reporting structures and long ongoing meetings, but they were both ineffective because projects that aren't necessarily aligned with the goals of the organization are just pet projects.
If the plan isn't there, tool sets will only exacerbate the problem, not solve it!
Being and staying laser-focused is a discipline that needs to be learned and practiced. It's part of the mental map.