Post Top Ad

So Many Goals; So Little Time

The Annual Planning Meeting

The Lobster Shift enters the month of December today. And for organizational managers that means one thing: It’s the time to plan for next year.

I have planning sessions scheduled for two clients over the next two weeks. That amounts to approximately four days out of the next ten when I’ll be assaulted by every corporate buzz phrase in the business. Mission statements. Monetize. Roadmaps. By Wednesday the only roadmap I’ll be interested in is the one that can get me home quickly.

Don’t get the idea I’m anti-planning. Just the opposite. Chaddsford Planning Associates is all about planning. It’s just that so many organizations do it so poorly. Their business plans are either too vague to be of any real use or too inflexible to react to changes in their marketplace.

As the boxer Mike Tyson was famous for saying, everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.

So if you’re headed to the corporate planning retreat, the war room or the big conference room at the end of the hall, here are some tips from us to help you develop a “flexible focus” in your business planning.

Dial Back on Those Mission Statements

Probably the biggest piece of advice I can give is to avoid endless hours revising your mission statement. If you scroll down you’ll see our very first Lobster Shift post where we explain our contrarian approach to things. And we’re very contrarian on mission statements. 

We think organizations spend far too much time hammering out long, run-on sentences that are supposed to concisely describe their mission.

The problem—beside the grammar—is that once you get something that everyone can support it doesn’t really say anything. You waste precious planning time coming up with something that is 1) overly inclusive; 2) inoffensive; and 3) nothing anyone would really like if they had the honesty to admit it.

If you’re a company your mission is is pretty simple: to make money. The planning meeting should provide a strategy for doing that. Period. If you’re a non-profit or a government agency your mission is to deliver great service to whomever you serve. It’s not that hard, and you don’t need an MBA to figure it out.

I once had a CFO explain it to me. “We’re a small company,” he said. “We make a little money, we spend a little money. Hopefully we make more than we spend.” When we planned our session focused on that last sentence. And we always made money for our shareholders.

Avoid the Orators

Invariably there is one person in the planning meeting who loves the sound of his own voice. His mission at the meeting is to make you think that he's the smartest person invited to the meeting. My second piece of advice is to not invite him in the first place.

Folks like him usually have no operational or financial experience. All of their contributions are theoretical, with no thought as to how you would ever implement or pay for them. It is important to ensure that these actors don't play the lead and relegate everyone else to the chorus.

People like this will suck the oxygen right out of the room if you let them. Keep the discussion on a practical level and away from the bloviators.

Know Thyself

There is always a temptation in planning to bite off more than you can chew. By that I mean a temptation to “over goal.” Goals and objectives are mandatory planning outcomes. But your goals for the following year have to align with your resources. Don't set more goals than you have the resources to accomplish.

If you’re a non-profit running a string of health clinics don’t plan to open more clinics if you have operational problems in your existing clinics. A more realistic goal for the upcoming year is to set a timetable for resolving those operational issues, rather than replicating them in new facilities.

As Clint Eastwood’s rogue detective Harry Callahan observed in the movie Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

If Your Mother Says She Loves You…

There is an old Chicago newspaperman's saying that goes something like this: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. The point is to make sure you can verify everything in your story. It’s the same in planning.

One of the biggest problems in organizational planning is setting goals without a way to verify that the company or organization has reached those goals.

The way to avoid this problem is to make sure your objectives can be objectively verified. That means that the organization or whoever owns a particular objective, must exhibit some behavior that lets everyone know the objective has been accomplished.

Take our simple example at the beginning of this post: “Hopefully we make more than we spend.” A behavior objective for the company might have been to make more money than we spend.” Admittedly, this is an oversimplification. But at its most elementary level if we finish the fiscal year in the black, that's a behavior that let's us know we’ve accomplished our goal.

Always express the objective in the infinitive form of the verb: to save, to open, to develop, etc.

That’s about it. Keep your mission simple. Focus on the practical. Don't over goal. Verify. There are a lot of rules for successful planning. These are just four that have worked for us.

And know your limitations...