Why the act of planning is as important as the plan itself

Foresight and experience are always a guarantee of successful plans

The world continues to grow and change, presenting new growth opportunities and challenges to organisations at an ever-increasing pace. The past year being just one example.

To capitalise on a changing environment, organisations themselves need to evolve in what and how they deliver to the market. As sentient entities, organisations can accelerate and short-cut much of the evolutionary process thanks to the benefit of conscious assessment of the situation they are in and the foresight of potential consequences of their actions.

Planning actions before committing to them enables this conscious benefit to take effect and enhance chances of success. But despite the benefit of foresight and experience, strategies and plans too often fail leading to lost resources and even the demise of organisations big and small. I still miss Nokia.

Here I will explore why this is the case and how it can be overcome.

Even great strategies and plans can fail, due to a poor planning process

This is a harsh reality and one we endeavour to address.

A challenge that we all face in planning is being too focused on the plan itself. Throughout the planning process – when creating a brand strategy, marketing plan or product concept, we are too focused on the output. We anticipate that the success of an activity is dependent only on the quality of the plan that informed it. This is a mistake.

Yes, great plans can help us but, as Christopher Nolan wrote, “it is what we do that defines us”. What organisations do is dependent on a galvanised team of people, collaboratively working towards a common goal in an effective and efficient way. This is often not the case because it is hard to get people and teams working well together and it is hard to find a strategic thought partner that is able to galvanise and activate large groups of people.

The act of planning presents a rich opportunity to galvanise and enable effective teams, who can go on to successfully deliver growth, if the right planning process is engaged. Specifically, one that recognises and embraces this opportunity and is not focused only on the plan it seeks to create.

A more human-centric planning approach

At Incite, we believe that effective strategies and plans need to be grounded in a deep understanding of the humans that the business will touch, both internally and externally.

There are three key components of this that we implore all planners to employ:

1 / Engage all stakeholder groups at every stage of the planning process.

Including the sponsors who hold the resources and are accountable for the organisation’s success, the change-makers who will be executing the plan and the end consumer or customer who is the target of the organisations’ activities.

If planning is done in isolation by those responsible for creating the plan, it will fail to inspire and enable the wider stakeholder group. Engaging representatives of each of these stakeholder groups is especially important at the initial preparation stages, before starting to create the plan and is where some stakeholders are too often left out.

2 / Embrace uniquely human traits, in balance with pragmatism, when creating the plan.

A great plan naturally needs to embrace and consider the growth ambitions against which it needs to deliver and the resource and logistical constraints within which it needs to operate. To create the most powerful plan and to inspire and activate the people involved, the planning process also needs to purposefully embrace ambition, courage and creativity. Only this will enable the team to take risks, break conventions and collaboratively create something truly great.

3 / Don’t stop once the plan is created.

A great planning process does not end once the plan is created. We need to continue engaging all the stakeholder groups, in the right way. Too often a plan is created and handed over to those who are executing it, with the creator of the plan moving on. Those accountable for the success of the plan need to be core to the team creating it and then continue to be accountable for its success throughout its execution. Empowering, enabling and galvanising the local and specialist teams who are executing their part of the plan.

Embracing these three ideas will make the planning process feel different and better enable organisations to deliver on their growth ambitions.

Discover how we made marketing planning more customer-focused for a global fuels retailer here.