The Value of Planning

I talk with people nearly every week who tell me that they can’t plan because “things” change. The thing is, that’s exactly why you need a plan. The greatest value of the planning process may not be the actual plan, it may just be the fact that you stopped long enough to do some planning. 

Plans may not always work but planning always does.

In order to plan we need to think and thinking is always good. We need to think about where we are, where we want to be, and how we can get from here to there. A good planning process will include decision making on how much we are willing to invest to get there. Good planners remember to think of investment in terms of BOTH financial and time investments. 

Good plans of course include timelines for goal achievement to help build a little accountability into the plan and any plan worth the time it took to put it together includes periodic follow-up built into the plan to ensure it’s still on track.

That follow-up is where most planners miss the mark. 

German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke is credited with first saying that “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” In business it’s fair to say that no plan survives contact with reality. In sales it’s safe to say that there has never been a marketing plan that fully survived first contact with a customer. 

Yet many “planners” assume once the plan is complete that the planning is done. The most successful people, from any walk of life, will tell you that planning is never “done.”

All good plans begin with a clear view of the “as is” or current situation and many of those plans fail because they are never adjusted, even though the “as is” will often change.

That’s the biggest reason why what got you where you are will likely NOT get you to where you want to be. Things change, circumstances change, technology changes, customers change, everything changes… and so must your plans.

It’s a great idea to stop on your journey to success once and a while to see where you’re actually at. Look around, see what’s different from the day your initial plan was developed. Determine if where you are at is still aligned with where you want to be. 

If the plan is still aligned with your goals and objectives then perhaps a few tweaks to your plan will suffice. If the alignment is way off perhaps a blank piece of paper is the best place to begin again. 

Most importantly, when reviewing your plan is this: Don’t attempt this alone! If it’s “your” plan, if you developed it, it’s very likely that you’re to close to really see it for what it is. Get help, if you’re a leader then task your people with a review of the plan. If you’re an entrepreneur and just starting out then ask your mentor or someone you trust to periodically review your plan. 

However you choose to review your plan the key is to actually review it, at least a couple of times a year. Things change, if your plan isn’t changing with them then what got you where you are most certainly will NOT get you to where you want to go next.

The Murderous Nature of The Status Quo

Are you a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kind of leader? Do you believe in “leaving well enough alone?” Have you ever looked at your organization, your team or your processes and said confidently “we’re good, no need to reinvent the wheel?”

Consider that last statement for a moment. Imagine if the wheel really had never been reinvented. History tells us that the first wheels were apparently made from stone. They were as round as they could make them but I’ve yet to see an image of a perfectly round wheel from the days of the first wheels.

Think about a brand new shiny car with GPS and bluetooth and all the comforts of home… with stone wheels. I’ll bet that would do a number on the gas mileage, not to mention how it could kill the drive though business at Starbucks. Can you imagine trying to drink a hot cup of coffee while riding around on “almost” round stone wheels.

Now aren’t we glad that somebody ignored the advice and actually did reinvent the wheel!

Nothing kills progress like the status quo. Leaders who are satisfied with the “as is” will never experience the accomplishment of achieving the “should be.” Authentic leaders are constantly looking for a better way. Their goal isn’t necessarily perfection; it’s simply to be better tomorrow than they are today. It has nothing to do with how good they are, even the best are always striving to be better.

Being better tomorrow than you are today will require change. Improvement and growth requires that someone or something change. The reason that some leaders get comfortable with the status quo is that change also comes with risk and some leaders will do anything to avoid risk.

The problem is that businesses that attempt to avoid all risks likely avoid continued success at the same time. Leaders of any type of organization who are too risk adverse lose the opportunity to achieve all that they could.

In their attempt to avoid risk and keep everything just as it is they almost guarantee that what they have they won’t have for long. If you disagree with that then just travel to Canada and talk with the well-meaning team at Blackberry. Blackberry, formerly known as Research in Motion, is the perfect case study of an organization hanging on to the “as is” at the expense of the “should be.”

The world today allows no person and no organization seeking continued success to sit still.  A business satisfied with the status quo most likely has stakeholders that aren’t satisfied at all.

As a leader it is imperative that you know that if you’re not moving up then you’re most assuredly moving down.

The status quo is a murderer; it kills progress while providing the illusion of comfort and success. Don’t however, attempt to hold the status quo accountable for the death of your success, the status quo means no harm, death is just it’s nature.

Leaders who consort with the status quo and hold it dear, well now, their accountability for the death of success is a whole different matter.

How to Build Real Business Relationships 

In many businesses, customers often become more than customers. They become friends…not necessarily the kind you would invite to non-business gatherings, but people you truly care about and who care about you.

You may think you are in the business of selling, providing customer service, the legal profession, the restaurant business or whatever, but you are not. Even if your products are sold or purchased only to other businesses, the business doesn’t make the buying decision. A person does. Whatever business you’re in you’re also in the people business.  Learning to make people feel important and cared about will help you make both the initial sale and long-term sales over the course of time.

No matter what your business, every customer should receive your best care during the sales process and after. During the initial sale, get them talking and take good notes. Enter the information into your customer database. 

A Minneapolis business legend, Harvey Mackay, has a long list of details he requires his salespeople to gather about customers over a certain time period. This includes not just information required to do business, but a few personal details such as birthdays, whether or not they’re married, children’s names, and whether or not they have pets. That information is used to make contacts and to start conversations with customers after the initial sale.

People like to do business with people who are like them, who demonstrate that they care about them beyond making the sale and who keep them in mind when something new that might be of interest to them arises. That type of treatment shows them that you know they are important. They come to rely on businesses and salespeople they know they can trust to have their needs and interests at heart.

Here is the real trick to building real, long lasting relationships – there is no trick. You must truly have the other person’s interests at heart. If you do not, he or she will eventually figure that out and you will quickly become just another product peddler or company that they will try to avoid.

Only when you truly care about people will those people truly care about doing business with you.

How to Develop Your People – Part Two

Most, yes, sadly most, organizations get so busy doing the urgent things that they forget to do the truly important ones. Sometimes they even forget to do the most important thing of all – develop their people. 

I believe it’s most important because when it comes right down to it organizations, companies and teams are about the PEOPLE who make them up. Your company can have the best technology, the best systems and the best process but if it is staffed by overwhelmed and under-appreciated people it will struggle to succeed.

Great companies and great leaders are intentional in developing their people. They build the whole developmental concept right into their business plan. They know that success rarely happens by accident and neither does people development. 

Pull out the plan for your business or organization right now. Go to the section on developing your people….can’t find it? Then get yourself a new plan and get it immediately before you waste anymore time struggling in areas that you don’t need to.

Developing your people begins with an understanding that most people simply don’t know how to be successful. A very few people can succeed by being told what to do but almost all people need to be shown. Most people need a model of success. They need to see successful behaviors in action. They need to see that if they put in the effort that they too might succeed.

How conscious are you of your role as a model for your people? How do you make certain that you are the model they need?

Great companies and leaders know that most people are naturally motivated. YES, you read that right. Most people are motivated until somebody comes along and de-motivates them.

Clearly, no leader in their right mind would do that intentionally but they do it all the same. The number one way to de-motivate a member of your team or organization is to micro-manage them. Micro-managing sends the message that they can’t be trusted. It says they just aren’t good enough to do the job on their own. 

People have a built in need to be valued and trusted; micro-managing sends the message that they are neither. If you feel the need to micro-manage your people there can really only be two possibilities: either you hired the wrong people or you’re not giving them the skills they require to succeed. Micro-managing exposes the weakness of the leader, not the weakness of their people.

Great companies and leaders know that developing their people takes time. There are two types of mindsets in business; one says that we “spend time on” our people and the other says we “invest time with” our people. 

If you see your people as a time “expense” you’ll likely never do what it takes to develop them. If you see your people as an “investment” then you have a chance to develop them into your organization’s leaders of tomorrow. 

Let me be clear about this; if you really want your business to thrive, if you want to build a world class organization then you simply MUST develop your people. It really isn’t optional. 

The most current research available shows that less than 25% of employees describe themselves as “fully engaged” and nearly a third say they are “completely disengaged.” Some may even be “actively disengaged” meaning they actually look for ways to damage the organization.  

Employees who believe they don’t matter and employees who believe they are not trusted tend to disengage pretty quickly. 

Do you really think you can grow your business and be successful when 75% of your people are at best just sort of engaged? 

Do you still think developing your people is optional? 

I didn’t think so!

How to Develop Your People – Part One

I could go into almost any company in the world and ask the leadership of that company  what their greatest asset is. Almost without exception they would say their people.

They would say their people make the difference. They would say their people are their “strategic advantage” and they would say developing their people is critical for their long term success. 

They say all the right things. 

Unfortunately saying it doesn’t get it done. Merely saying it doesn’t accomplish much at all. Companies that want to be good say the right things. Good companies do the right things. Great companies know why they do them and they do them intentionally.

Great companies know that their people NEED to feel worthwhile. They know that even their top performers need positive feedback from time to time. Great companies provide their people with constant and consistent recognition. They don’t recognize their people in their “free time” or “when the have a chance.” They are incredibly intentional about it, they plan for it and they make recognition part of every company gathering.

How do you feed your team’s need for significance?

Great companies regularly offer encouragement to their people. They coach constantly and they coach with a spirt of approval. They make mistakes seem easy to correct and they offer real suggestions on how to do better next time. Companies that develop their people don’t criticize their people without using compassion to soften the blow. They know there is no reason, ever, to tear their people down. 

Do you coach your people with an attitude of approval or criticism?

Great companies know that people don’t follow leadership, they follow a leader. Authentic leadership is a “person to person” kind of thing. If the leader doesn’t care about the people they lead then the people they lead won’t care to follow that leader. Authentic leaders never just say they care, they show it and they show it intentionally. Frequently!

How do you show your followers that you care about them?

We’ll continue this topic in the next post. Until then ponder these questions and remember, if your people don’t think you’re a leader then you’re most likely not.

It’s Hardly Simple

20120712-201818.jpg

The more complicated you make your business the more complicated your business will be. The more complicated you make your business, the less business you will do.

Seems simple enough doesn’t it? But the reality is that way too many businesses lose sight of that fact and it costs them customers because of it. Almost everyone is familiar with the age old acronym KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid – but in our drive to be “better” or “improved” keeping it simple isn’t that simple at all.

Smart business people know that complicated is often not better. We can make it so hard for a customer to do business with us that they won’t. We develop “policies” and “procedures” to improve our service but to many customers these are just barriers and hoops they need to jump through if they want to do business with us.

The fewer policies we have, the less rules to follow, the easier it is for a customer to do business with us.

Never implement a rule or policy without knowing exactly why that policy is needed and without knowing exactly how it impacts a customer. You should also know that YOU have no real idea how it impacts a customer until you ask them. No matter how hard we try, we’ll never really see our business the same way a customer does so ask them.

If you’re hoping for a long life for your business then here’s one more important point: never, never, never assume a post like this was intended for someone other than you.
The moment you think “our policies are all good, all useful, all well thought out” you are in trouble. I would encourage you to reexamine each and every one of your policies and procedures and ask yourself why they are there and if they help or hinder a customer trying to do business with you.

By the way, policies don’t just sometimes make it hard for customers to do business with us, they can also make it hard for people to work for us. The most innovative companies in the world also tend to have the smallest policy manuals around. Remember, the more you limit your people in some ways, the more you limit your people in every way.

Get that policy handbook, HR manual, whatever your company calls it, get it out and shrink it today. Once it’s shrunk it will work hard to grow again so review it often, it like a bush, it always looks better right after it’s trimmed!