Business Planning: Charting
Your Course to Success
By Bob Garrow
pirates, such as Sir Francis Drake, generated phenomenal wealth while
unsuccessful pirates faced a long swim home. Successful pirates always
had a plan, which they had committed to follow. The existence of a
plan did not guarantee success, but pirates who had not committed
whole-heartedly to a plan had little chance of succeeding.
same is true today. We have to chart, then stick to, a course that
will build our success. The unexpected happens. We may be diverted off
course by sudden storms, but the stronger our commitment to our plan,
the quicker we get back on course and continue our journey to success.
It is the planning process, rather than the plan itself that is most
important. The pirate planning process involved three steps:
Step #1: Build Commitment: Everything else being equal, commitment wins every time. The business
planning process is a valuable, but all too often overlooked
opportunity to build commitment. Early pirates were an unruly,
quarrelsome and lazy bunch. They quickly learned that they got
nowhere, until they had generated a solid commitment to work together
to steal and share treasures!
captains were the first to discover that people best implemented
decisions that they helped to make. Bearing this in mind, pirates made
a point of ‘getting everyone on board” before sailing, by
discussing and voting on the following key factors:
agreement on these points, pirates elected their captain and held them
accountable for following their plan.
pirate practice of ‘getting everyone on board’ before sailing is
still a great idea. People today, like the pirates of yesteryear, best
implement decisions that they helped to make.
involving your colleagues in your planning sessions will lead to
better decisions. Two heads are better than one; three are better than
two, especially when they bring different perspectives to the issues
to be dealt with and the decisions to be made.
larger organizations, senior management will usually develop its
purpose, objectives and corporate strategies. The next step, but one
that is often overlooked, is to then assign responsibilities and
accountabilities throughout the organization. Each team at every level
is asked to develop its own game plan for achieving its goals, which
in turn dovetail into the corporate goals. Properly done, this process
will strengthen the sense of ownership of, and commitment to,
Step #2: Discover Your Best Opportunities:
Pirates found that the world’s oceans were huge, that they would
rapidly wear out their sails and rigging, and go a long time between
captured treasures, if they chose to chase ships all over the world.
To succeed, they had to choose what areas of the world’s oceans to
cover in their pursuit of treasures.
was true of pirates and it’s still true today. You cannot be all
things to all people and need to focus on what we do best as part of
our business planning process. This involves two steps.
review your core skills (what you like doing, do best, and do on a
daily basis, that is of benefit to your targeted customers).
identify your best marketplace opportunities. Start with emerging
future opportunities and threats that you need to consider in your
decision-making. Match up emerging opportunities with your cores
skills. Where do you see your best fits? Pick your most promising one
or two opportunities. Proceed to develop a game plan to successfully
develop and serve those markets.
Step #3: Innovate to Succeed:
Only a very small percentage of businesses make a lot of money. Most
businesses fall into the trap of matching competitive pricing that
squeezes profit margins. Faced with such intense competition, pirates
would innovate sufficiently to outsmart their opponents or sail away
to find another situation where they could be successful. What they
would never do is stay in a situation where they could not thrive.
leaders have similar choices. They can craft innovative strategies to
serve customers so well that they leave their competitors behind, or
find new and more profitable markets to serve.
competition was not a big factor for pirates, battles at sea were.
Such battles were extremely risky. Any ship could be hit and sunk by a
few lucky shots. To avoid battles, successful pirates became
innovators, appearing when and where least expected to capture ships
the challenge is intense price competition, or the need to avoid
battles at sea, the solution is usually found through innovative
thinking. In each case, what is needed is a unique game plan that
opponents cannot quickly respond to successfully. Having generated a
head start, the best innovators continue to innovate, leaving
competitors to continually play catch up. To
maximize your crew’s innovative thinking capacity do the following:
your business planning session off site. Rent a meeting room, or
someone else’s boardroom.
time for people to shift their way of thinking away from their own
position in the company to look at issues from a purely corporate
adequate time for discussions.
in a skilled facilitator who can energize your sessions, stimulate
innovative ideas and manage discussions.
proactively to each and every suggestion. Strive to truly
understand the possibilities behind each suggestion before ever
rejecting any idea.
humor and comic relieve to keep the energy level high and the
innovative thinking flowing.
Shiver me timbers mates, learn to plan like pirates. Build greater
commitment through shared decision making. Focus on your best
opportunities. Innovate to create bold, successful strategies. Then
set sail for your best year ever.
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