posted on September 30, 2010 13:57
Since it’s summer vacation season, I will rely on one of my favorite metaphors to describe how I like to get things done. If you hate traffic, as I do, drives to the beach are done late at night or before sunrise. In the dark I can only see as far as the farthest end of my headlights – about 75 to 100 feet. At highway speed those 75 feet come up pretty fast! But since I am sure that the road continues beyond my headlights, I drive without hesitation. In fact, I know the road continues beyond my headlights for many reasons: there is no indication of a dead end from the highway signs; the roadmap illustrates plenty of miles ahead; and I have traveled this road before. Therefore, I have a good sense of how long it will be before the next turn. After about two and a half hours – following my plan – I know that I will arrive at the beach.
The same process of driving on a long road trip at night can be applied to running a business, managing a project, or proactively managing your career. Below are some reflections in preparing for and keeping the course during tough times.
Write Your Plan: It might seem pretty obvious that a first step in the planning process is to “write your plan.” But if it’s so obvious then why are so many businesses or business people without a written business or career plan? For that matter, how many of you know people who begin retirement without a written retirement plan; are mid-career without a written career plan; or start a backyard landscaping project without a written blueprint?
Those of you who work with me day-to-day know I have a written business plan and status reports for every aspect of my business. My monthly business plan is based on my overall business strategy: serve our clients, employees, and company – in that order. For each item on the plan, I know who is responsible, when it’s due and specifically what its completion will look like. I consider this my roadmap.
Execute Your Plan: Although I do keep my eyes open and read the road signs during the month, I purposely do not re-evaluate the current month’s plan while in route. During the month, I only look for Danger Signs, execute the plan, and help make sure the rest of the team is executing efficiently. Just as there are familiar signs on the road, it is important to define these ahead of time, in the plan. Examples of warning signs for a business plan include revenue dropping too low, costs jumping too high, employees or clients becoming unhappy. If one of these warning signs appears in the headlights, it’s time to pull over and reevaluate the plan.
The mistake that I see more often than any other is folks misreading road signs and changing their plan. The single characteristic of a great business leader is someone that not only creates an elegant plan but one who continues to execute on that plan even in the presence of great adversity. As in road trips, there will be adversity: closed roads, bad weather, car malfunctions. And similar to a road trip, there are time-tested ways of dealing with business adversity.
Modify Your Plan as Necessary: But as in the previous step I don’t reevaluate the plan mid-journey, each month I schedule time to evaluate the plan and modify it as necessary. One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”. In the context of a business plan, it is critical to regularly reevaluate and modify it as necessary in order to avoid doing the same thing month after month, expecting a different outcome.
Sometimes the underlying assumptions of your plan may change; for example the recession may be longer than originally planned. Alternatively, a parameter within the plan may have been wrong. In either case it is critical to modify the plan.
Stay on Plan: The final and most important step is to stay on plan. Although I say this with the reality that nothing goes according to plan, the most critical aspect in execution is to do anything it takes to stay on plan – including walking through walls if necessary. And frankly, most of a good plan is the willingness to do what it takes to get things done.