Yes, it’s that time of year again — October is upon us. As the month progresses, we will be inundated with the images we have become accustomed to seeing this time of year. And while witches, monsters, ghouls and mummies are common sights for the month of October, the images I am referring to are those of despondent management and employees.

You see, the month of October is associated with horror not only because it includes Halloween. It also includes one of the most frightening of all business activities; an activity that while necessary, can often cause one’s eyes to glaze over in a zombie-like appearance. It is an activity that is dreaded even more than announcing poor quarterly earnings; an exercise that causes even the bravest of souls to run for the exits.

Still perplexed?  Of course, I’m speaking about next year’s strategic business planning process.

Strategic business planning is one of the most important actions conducted by any business. It’s unfortunate then that a significant number of businesses, both large and small, don’t have a defined process for driving this activity, and in many cases treat business planning as an informal, ad hoc exercise. They then wonder why the achievement of business success is so fleeting and why it is so challenging to gain alignment across their organizations in relation to established objectives.

Don’t believe me? Take a stroll through your organization and ask employees to articulate the company’s key strategic objectives. Better yet, ask them to explain their role and how they individually can contribute to value creation and the achievement of business results. You might be in for a rude awakening; a frightening realization of sorts. The truth is, most strategic business planning activities are not strategic at all. Most lack formal process and structure, are conducted primarily, if not solely, by management, and lack the level of communication needed to gain organization alignment.

What are the results of such a planning scenario?  The results are quite damning:

  • Misaligned business priorities
  • Misapplied resources in the form of personnel and budgets
  • A reactionary approach to the business
  • Personnel going in different, sometimes conflicting directions
  • An inability to deliver consistent business performance

Most business leaders recognize these issues but continue to take the same approach to strategic business planning year after year. Maybe business leaders like meandering through their daily business lives, reacting to situations as they arise. Maybe these same business leaders view business planning as boring. Maybe they don’t have the time to dedicate to this activity given their daily workload and the typical pace of business. Or, maybe they’re just afraid to do something different. Whatever the reason, a lack of effective planning has a direct impact on business performance.

Any good leader recognizes that there is a direct link between effective business planning and successful business performance. They realize that by allocating the time to plan and by involving a wide array of personnel in the process they can focus their organization on those activities that are most meaningful to success while ensuring that their personnel are on board and ready to execute. They can also ensure that they are applying human resources and budget in the most effective manner instead of chasing the flavor of the day.

A quick study of businesses who have achieved sustained success will show that the vast majority have well defined strategic planning processes that are consistently driven across their business units. Planning is not an exercise to be feared; it needs to be ingrained in corporate culture. It is not an ad hoc process, but one that should be governed by a standard methodology with the delivery of a work product that can be easily shared across the organization and thereby more effectively executed.

Most importantly, it is a process that is directly linked to results and one that should be improved upon with each new iteration.

For those leaders and organizations who are not yet engaging in an effective strategic business planning process, the task may seem daunting. Like many new tasks, the most difficult part is often just beginning. For those that do make the effort, you ultimately want a process that will deliver the following business outcomes:

  1. An understanding of the addressable market including your organization’s value versus that of the competition
  2. A set of achievable objectives with strategies related to each objective (remember, less is more)
  3. A set of defined tactical actions for all key strategies (these are the things you plan to do)
  4. A plan of record indicating when each tactical action should be completed
  5. Key Performance Indicators (quantitative and qualitative) to measure business performance
  6. Industry benchmark data (helps to put performance into context)
  7. Initial and ongoing communications to ensure employees understand the plan, how they can contribute to its success and progress being made toward achievement of stated objectives.

While no business plan can ultimately guarantee success, planning without direction is an invitation to poor performance. You’ve heard of the five Ps of marketing? Well, planning has its own five Ps: Poor Planning leads to Piss Poor Performance.

But don’t fret, because with the right focus and approach, you can achieve a better chance of establishing sustained business success and return life to your organization’s planning zombies!

Dennis Amorosano is the president and founder of Dendog Strategy Insights LLC, a management consulting firm focused on strategic planning, new business development and go to market execution. Providing services in the areas of strategic business planning/execution, new business development, content creation/marketing automation and technology sourcing support, Dendog Strategy Insights brings 30 years of technology marketing, sales, product planning, software engineering, and professional service experience to help clients implement strategies that yield success.