“On s'engage et puis on voit”

[“You commit yourself, then you see” was a favorite principle for Napoleon, and later Lenin…and now, you?]

So, It’s that time of year again when many of you will be starting or in the midst of your annual business planning.

For some of you, it will be energising process, full of possibilities and expectations of what can be achieved in the next 12 months.

For others, it’s an endurance, something that needs to be done to please management or the finance director or funders or the Board or anyone else who has a say in what the organisation does.

And for a few, sadly, the organisation’s business planning feels like something out of a Shakespeare tragedy - “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

It doesn’t have to be that way. When business planning is used to bring your strategy (assuming you have one!) to life (though conversations and by involving staff), it can be the single best springboard to getting the things done that are most important to you.

Here are some simple principles for making the most of your planning:

  1. Keep a clear line of sight to the strategy - everything can ultimately be linked back to delivering the strategic goals.
  2. Set overarching budget principles early and tie these to the business planning - the growth you’re aiming for, where you’ll get your income, level of margins, how much profit and surplus you’re targeting, asset or people utilisation, overhead ratios, etc. Don’t let the budget numbers be a separate ‘behind closed doors’ process to the rest of the business planning.
  3. Have enough conversations - planning is more about talking than about creating documents. At any one point in the process, the role of the draft documents is to cover what you have agreed with others (so you don’t have to keep revisiting the same issues over and over again). The documents also capture what is still critical to sort out. In this way the documentation focuses the agenda of what gets talked about. Oh, and in every planning conversation, try to have 3 or more perspectives represented at a time – look for dialogue rather than dialectic or debate.
  4. Keep it meaningful - the business planning is seen as the main vehicle for allocating resources, with priorities agreed and trade-offs clear. You need to have enough detail on the use of resources so that everyone can see how it will affect what they will or can do (and is linked directly to budget numbers). Senior managers and those at the next level down need to see it as critical to be involved to make sure their ideas and opinions are heard.
  5. Seek out the critical disagreements – don’t expect or try to make the process smooth. Agreement on everything probably means nothing will change or people are not taking it seriously. As one of our clients puts it “I look for healthy dissatisfaction”. Encourage people to challenge each other on thorny issues’.
  6. Articulate “what not do” - spell out what the organisation will not be doing over the period of the plan. Aim to spot the (eg 5-20%) wasted effort that is not directed to goals and transfer this to more productive activities (BUT also be comfortable that some things happen off plan which are leading to innovations or opening up new opportunities)
  7. Tell everyone everything - have as a default that everyone in the organisation should be able to know everything that is happening in the planning process. Only keep things back by exception. Ask “is it really necessary to keep this from people?” Use the ‘8x rule’ of comms and communicate the same thing 8 times in 8 different ways. Don’t just rely on cascading down through the management layers.

And don’t feel you have to have a plan that looks like a plan you’d find in any other organisation. You only need four components:

  1. Financials – aims for income and expenditure, principles for budgeting
  2. The other things we have to get right to do all this – IT, HR, legal, etc.

Finally, remember that planning should be about ‘out learning’ the competition. Keep the conversations going all year, keep reflecting on how things are going and keep adapting as necessary. In this, there is a lot to be learned from Napoleon’s emergent approach to tactics. Deploy your resources initially to give you as much flexibility as possible. Then “on s'engage et puis on voit” – get started and see what happens. Plan but be able to improvise. That way leads to both resilience and innovation. It’s a lesson the longest-lived companies have known for a long time.

For an idea of the things that idenk can do to bring your strategy and business planning alive and help it make a real difference, contact Phil (phil.hadridge@idenk.com). He also has a wide range of other resources which he is happy to share.

And a few of our recent blogs

Here are some of our recent blogs available from the idenk Blog.

– good film?

What is a ‘good film’?

A feature or fact?

Positive or challenging?

Some can cover all bases….this one links nicely to my concern for developing counties, the role of women and carbon (despite the flights involved).

Will be a great film when they have finished it and it is released next year.

I would like to see more high quality documentaries next year – resolution #1!

Planes, Trains etc = Happy Thanksgiving

At this time of economic anxiety and woe, there are still, in the words of Ian Dury, reasons to be cheerful.

Recalling the seminal John Candy and Steve Martin film “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, yesterday, on Thanksgiving eve, I travelled back from a client event and in just over 10 hours travelled by

- Taxi
- Train
- Underground
- Plane (two)
- Bus
- Car

I needed to manage a tram and ferry to travel by pretty much every sort of public transport!
The reason to be cheerful?

Unlike the film, how smoothly everything went – other than one escalator and one lift failure. I even managed to board an earlier plane for my second leg from Frankfurt airport.

It is easy to forget just how much goes right in the modern world, for those of us with more than minimal resources and who live in stable, developed counties.

Our productive bandwidth

What is the surest way to fulfilment?

Broadly there are two schools of thought. Many aspire to idleness: planning the quiet weekend, hoping for an easy early retirement, keeping working hours low. Others argue that reasonable levels of stress keep us mentally alert and physically fit – and calming down gives us more time to fret and get fat.

It probably won’t surprise, that as part of our thinking about living a ‘front foot’ life, we see it as a question of balance!

Most independently wealthy people, emeritus academics or aged social entrepreneurs, have a few projects on the go at any one time – even in late retirement (if they have one!). But also, it is good to be able to sit still and listen – to early morning birdsong, meditatively, to yourself or nothing at all. And it is good to be able to calmly watch – what is going on in the relationships around you, noticing people going by from a café.

Reflecting why you have an aversion to sitting still or taking on lots is probably a good question for a therapy session!

So the challenge is to discover the best route to create and sustain positive emotions. Achieving the balance between activity and idleness – projects and chilling – is an important element. It can be a difficult balance to strike, with the risk of overreaching and it’s associated stress or under activity with the resulting lethargy. Getting the balance right gets us into the ‘flow’ and allows us to be our most productive in work and play.

To memorise or not to….um…

I have a new passport. With a nine digit number. With a date of issue. And expiry.

Thinking ahead to those online visa applications and the many landing cards to be completed over the next 10 years, is it worth memorising all those details so I don’t need to dive into the document draw or retrieve my jacket from the overhead locker or cupboard?

Broadly there are two schools of thought on this one.

The first (epitomized by Dave Allen author of Getting things Done), argues to supplement our minds as much as we can – with lists, data banks – creating the space for attention on important tasks. On the other hand, some (such as the Brain Gym movement) argue that exercising our ‘mental muscle’ with simple memory activities improves the functioning of our minds.
Whilst I quite like numbers, am good at recalling upcoming diary dates and can remember many phone numbers (mainly those from years ago before the era of mobile phones and digital landlines with rapid dial), I do find numbers over 7 digits hard going.

But on this occasion, I have decided and already learnt those passport details. I think. 54…Or is it 45… Hum

Listening with our eyes (and ears)

Regular readers will know we make a big deal of listening in our blogs – and the links to note taking.

I am just back from the Cambridge River Festival. I was watching a guy teach some kids djembe drumming. He asked them what are the most important parts of our body in group drumming. The answer? Our ears and eyes – so we can pay attention to what others are doing.

Occasionally we teach a bit of percussion or rhythm in our workshops – like that man, we too emphasise the importance of listening to the contribution of others…watching for the cues they make.

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Best wishes

Phil and Ross
November 2011

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