One of the lesser-known benefits of good business planning is collaboration. And it comes from the three r-words: review and revise regularly.
What’s collaboration? In business it’s about dividing tasks, optimizing use of resources, sharing information, and working together. Collaboration includes agreeing about what’s supposed to happen and then making it happen. It also includes tracking and sharing information about results, understanding and sharing what went right or wrong, and agreeing on course corrections.
And where does that show up in business planning? Here are some specifics that might help you improve the planning process in your business and achieve those three important r-words.
1. Coordinating strategy
Strategy in the real world of small business is about focus. You look carefully at your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, goals, and market situation, and focus on specific types of products or services (or both) and specific types of buyers or users. Strategy is as much about what you don’t do as it is about what you do. While you don’t necessarily do strategy by committee, as soon as you have two or more people working together, making strategy real requires communicating strategy to all the people involved in implementing it.
You should keep it simple and on your computer, in bullet points and pictures, unless you have to polish it up and show it to an outsider.
2. Setting milestones
After strategy, your business plan defines the steps to implementation. Strategy looks up at the horizon, and the rest of the plan looks at the immediate right in front of you. If the strategy is the heart of the plan, then the responsibilities, tasks, budgets, dates, deadlines, and cash planning are the flesh and bones.
As you do it, think about what’s supposed to happen, when, and who’s responsible, not about writing nice text. Keep it in bullets and summary form, with lists and tables until, for whatever reason, you need to polish and share with outsiders. And think about metrics. Ask yourself as you develop the plan, with every point: How will I know if we’re on track? How will I measure results? That’s what I mean by the word metrics. It might be sales, costs, or expenses. It might also be page views, conversion rate, visits, leads, presentations, trips, units, minutes, or some other unit of measurement.
3. The 3 Words: Review and Revise Regularly
In the real world, every business plan needs to be a planning process with a regular review schedule. Think of the third Thursday or fourth Tuesday of the month, after you close the monthly books. Set up a regular monthly meeting. Invite the key players.
The meeting starts with a review of assumptions, new developments, and surprises. From there it goes to reviewing actual results against the plan, for sales, costs, expenses, and the important metrics.
As you work with key team members, make sure everybody understands that setting metrics and tracking results is all within the context of collaboration, not threat. The planning process is to help everybody do his or her job better, so that performance is set against the background of expectations, and when assumptions change, metrics should change as well.
So if the March meeting turns up a problem with January sales, you look at why and what happened, together, and either revise the goals or solve the problem. Was the plan off, or was performance off? Deal with it as a team.
The results, regular review and revision, goes to the core of what business planning is supposed to do for your company: It helps you manage, optimize, and steer. The plan is about managing change, not avoiding change.