As we approach a new year we tend to go into planning mode – automatically. We contemplate what the new year holds for us, or more to the point what we would like to achieve in the new year.
The focus of this note is on the planning process itself. The principles apply to any planning situation – business, career or personal.
I have assumed that you have already worked out broadly what you want to achieve next year and how to get there. If not, you should consider using the services of a coach to help you clarify your thinking and build your energy and resolve – both key to success.
Planning is the process of setting goals, developing strategies and outlining tasks and schedules. Forecasting, implicitly or explicitly in every plan, is the prediction or estimation of future events or conditions and is our way coping with the inherent uncertainty associated with the future. We have to make some assumptions about future outcomes in our plans.
If we want to bring about change planning is an essential part of the process of making it happen. It is our way of articulating the steps we intend to take to achieve our objectives. If you look back on the last year and reflect on what you had hoped to achieve at the start of the year versus what you actually achieved you will see that the quality of your planning was a key influence on outcomes achieved.
Some points to bear in mind when planning are as follows:
1. Write it down. The act of writing builds commitment, sharpens your focus and shows you areas where you need to do more work to figure out what you want to achieve.
2. Be ambitious, but a good plan will also be realistic with as clear a path as possible from today to your goal. Not everything will be clear and don’t use the existence of significant unknowns as an excuse not to plan.
3. Build in early wins – clear short term goals that are actionable and achievable. These should be things that you can do yourself without undue reliance on the support of others.
4. Ground the plan. Do research to validate your assumptions AND be influenced by the outcome of this research. There can be a tendency to ignore inconvenient facts. A research phase can be part of the plan and if it shows that you need to change direction be prepared to do so.
5. Build in regular reviews of your plan. This is critical as detailed action steps will normally only be possible for say the first 3 months and therefore need to be developed on a rolling basis as you get further into the year. Also, in order to keep the plan ‘alive’ in your mind you need to regularly revisit it to confirm it’s relevance.
6.Be flexible. Don’t be a slave to the plan. The future is full of unknowns and as soon as new information comes to light incorporate it in your plan. Be flexible in particular about timelines. Much of what you hope to achieve will depend on the response of others over which you have no control.
7. Forecasts are fallible. Business planning invariably includes forecasts, financial and otherwise based on assumptions about future conditions. The problem with financial forecasts is that they can carry with them the illusion of certainty because numbers once set out in writing can seem more real than is the case. Forecasts can be heavily influenced by wishful thinking as desired outcomes are unknowingly substituted for what is achievable! Even if all elements of a plan are fully implemented the future remains uncertain and there should not be undue reliance on achieving a particular set of financial outcomes. Even when a plan has different forecast scenarios e.g. ‘ Best case ‘, Worst case’, ‘Realistic’ etc there is no guarantee that any of this analysis will prove to be accurate.
8. Stay positive and nurture a resilient mindset. Be prepared, even expect, that things will not go to plan. The purpose in having a plan is to focus your energy and effort on where you want to go. Success is not determined by the achievement of your plan, in every detail, but more that it moves you directionally where you want to go.
So make a commitment today to have a ‘ready to go’ plan for the next 12 months. New Years resolutions are well and good, but a failure to support with a plan of action is the reason most ‘resolutions’ have been abandoned or forgotten by the end of January.