The Invisible Plan

In the novel by H.G. Wells entitled, The Invisible Man, a scientist by the name of Griffin works on a process to become invisible by changing the body so that it neither absorbs nor reflects light. Interestingly, the same phenomenon occurs when a leader does not have a plan. The leader neither absorbs insights about the business nor reflects on the business in any meaningful way. Instead, they appear as a bumper car, continually bouncing from one opportunity or fire drill to the next.

A man the represents a business with out a plan. This is an image of a man with bandages wrapping his face and dark welding goggles over his eyes. The invisble man.

A startling 81 percent of managers say their company does not have a process for developing strategy and 50 percent said their teams lack the ability to develop a good strategic plan. This is alarming because research shows that planning is the number one generative source of successful businesses. When you see companies that are struggling to differentiate themselves, unable to increase their profit margin or lacking a unified direction, it’s often due to the fact that they’re “winging it” and don’t have a plan.

Some without a plan rationalize that planning is too cumbersome and requires too much time. From what I understand, so does filing for bankruptcy. The number one cause of business failure and bankruptcy has been shown to be bad or nonexistent strategy. However, a plan need not be overly complex, and the process to develop it can actually be energizing and an excellent catalyst for team building.

At its core, a plan answers two questions:

1. What are you trying to achieve?

2. How will you achieve it?

To find out if you have a plan that will drive success, answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the following questions (or take the interactive version):

1. The plan is updated with new insights throughout the year to remain relevant. Yes No

2. The plan clearly identifies a limited number of priorities so we have extreme focus and are not spreading our resources too thin. Yes No

3. The plan drives my daily activities. Yes No

4. The plan is a concise summary of the factors that will make or break the business. Yes No

5. The plan includes insights in all four key areas: market, customers, competitors and company. Yes No

6. The plan includes input from people in other relevant functional areas. Yes No

7. The plan provides a clear roadmap for reaching our goals. Yes No

8. The plan shows time frames, metrics and accountabilities. Yes No

9. The plan is reviewed at least once a month by the team and modified accordingly. Yes No

10. The plan includes clearly stated goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. Yes No

11. The plan is distilled into 1-2 pages so it is useable. Yes No

12. The plan shows how we will achieve competitive advantage in our market. Yes No

13. The plan has helped us profitably grow the business. Yes No

14. The plan clearly links our goals with our strategies. Yes No

15. The plan includes our purpose (mission, vision, values). Yes No

16. The plan is developed after strategic thinking and planning sessions so it includes new strategies and tactics, not just ones recycled from the previous year. Yes No

17. The plan includes a thorough assessment of our competitor’s strategies, not just their products and services. Yes No

18. The plan communicates the strategies in a simple way that is easy for others to understand. Yes No

19. The plan has been an important part of our business success in the past. Yes No

20. The plan clearly identifies a winning and differentiated value proposition. Yes No

How does your plan rate? Typically, a score below 15 yeses would represent an opportunity to develop a plan that can drive greater profits, set a unified strategic direction, and create the foundation for competitive advantage.

A professional football coach has a thorough and detailed game plan each week. I’ve had friends that coach Pee Wee football who watch hours of video and have comprehensive game plans for their team’s nine-year old opponents each and every Saturday. A professional pilot would never operate a plane without a flight plan. Professional tennis player Roger Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam Tennis champion, had this to say about the importance of a plan, “I have to be very thoughtful in my planning, really decide beforehand, what are my goals, what are my priorities? I think that’s what’s going to determine how successful I will be.”

Professionals have plans. Amateurs don’t. They wing it and hope for the best. Is your organization filled with professionals, or are Pee Wee football coaches better prepared? If your strategic direction is not recorded in a document, then you don’t have a plan. And if you don’t have a plan, research shows that sooner or later, you’ll get beat. The number one cause of business failure is bad, or non-existent strategy. Think. Plan. Act. Repeat.

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