We all need the ability to plan ahead, but we don’t have psychic powers – unless (or even) if you’re Mystic Meg. Planning though is not just about predicting the future, or even about being prepared for the future. It’s about creating a future – bringing about a result that you want to see happen through being proactive, not reactive. Not leaving things to the fickle finger of fate and then firefighting!
Whether it’s business or personal, we need to plan to give ourselves a logical framework for what we need to do and when, in order to achieve our goals. This way we know whether we are on track or not, we can assess resource and support requirements, prioritise what we’re doing and monitor our progress. Seeing how much we’ve achieved so far can be a real motivator!
I have a dream…
The place to start is in your mind’s eye– what is your vision or dream? It could be to go on foreign holiday every year, to get fit, to be successful in a particular field, to get a professional qualification, or to have a night of passion with Michael Bublé. Whatever it is, use this to define your overall goal.
So you know your intended destination, but will you know the best route to get there, the most effective methods to use, how close you are to it or even when you’ve arrived? This is where a strategy comes in – big picture planning, the overall framework of how to reach your vision. Your strategy is how and why your plan will work, and it should be broken down into stages. And stage 1 is objectives – practical, measurable expressions of steps you propose to take within a defined time period to advance you towards your Vision. You will probably need a few to get you to where you want to be.
Get SMARTER with your objectives!
We all know about SMART objectives – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic… but hang on a minute, aren’t Achievable and Realistic pretty much the same thing? That’s a waste of a good ‘A’, in my view! I’d suggest A for Aligned – making sure that your objectives are complementary, rather than acting against each other, or worse still, mutually exclusive. For example, raising a young family or running a successful business may not sit too comfortably alongside backpacking and bungee-jumping your way around the Southern hemisphere. But don’t stop at Timed – remember you should Evaluate and Review your objectives, to check that you’re still on track and see if you need to make any adjustments. A much SMARTER idea!
Stand and Deliver
Now you have your objectives, what needs to be produced or delivered in order to meet them? These are your targets, outputs or deliverables, and again there may well be several within one objective. So make sure you know what your outputs are, and when you need to deliver them by!
Shake your tictacs
Your tactics are the tasks, activities or actions that need to be undertaken to deliver those outputs. Quite simply, what has to be done! Remember, you can’t ‘do’ a project, you can only ‘do’ a task or action. So whatever your objective is, you will need to complete various activities to achieve it.
A milestone is a key progress point when a sub-objective or interim output is ticked off. It could mark a significant achievement or completion of a particular part of your plan – so it’s a cause for celebration! Setting yourself a few milestones along the way can be a great way to remind yourself of how well you’re doing, especially if your overall vision still seems a long way off (and always a good excuse to open something bubbly, even if it’s just an Aero bar).
Are we there yet?
How you define success is an integral part of the process – just having your Mum telling you how proud she is probably won’t cut it. So have a think about how you will measure how well you’re doing, e.g. financial, productivity, customer feedback, error rates, complaints, marketing coverage, Google analytics etc.
So here’s a short and sweet example of what a basic planned strategy may look like:
- Vision –
to sell your business and retire to the seaside by the age of 50
- Objectives –
By certain dates, to make £XXX,XXX turnover or profit; to have XXXX customers; to have X branches of the business
- Deliverables –
XXX more new customers, X% repeat business, XXX followers on Twitter, updated website, reduction in service delivery time, getting a new product to market, finding a new premises to buy etc.
- Tactics –
could be anything from marketing activity, to customer incentives, to launching new products or services, to developing your sales skills – get creative!
- Milestones –
first 500 customers, first year’s birthday of the business, first £100,000 made etc.
All of this can be captured in detail in an action plan – combining all of the above into a structured, practical and coherent way to advance. Bear in mind that depending on how complex your plan is, some of your tactics could be upgraded to objectives in themselves!
You are not alone
Unless you’re Superwomen, you’ll need some help and support So when planning how you’ll achieve your goals, consider what you’ll need in the way of advice and guidance, financial support, information, equipment and facilities and even personal emotional support (for those times when you just want to chuck the Blackberry down the toilet and pull the duvet over your head.)
The good news is there are plenty of resources out there. As well as your business networking contacts, you can use libraries, business support organisations, professional organisations, colleagues, jobcentres, friends and family, the Internet, education providers etc. So include all of that in your planning process!
Put a Value on it
Your plans should be encompassed by your personal values. Your vision may be to make pots of cash, but presumably you wouldn’t do it by mugging little old ladies! So consider the principles and ethics you live your life by – as these drive your behaviour, decisions, choices etc. Ask yourself what is important to you and why; it is family, independence, money, security, status? Eventually you will get to the value that drives it, such as honesty, community contribution, fun, efficiency, quality, respect, adventure, loyalty, generosity, creativity… plenty to choose from!
And finally, don’t be afraid to dream big, or at least a bit bigger that you think you could. To use a gender-adapted quote from Robert Browning, “A woman’s reach must be further than her grasp – or what is Heaven for?”