Prepare, Plan, then Pivot

Two hundred and thirty years ago, Robert Burns was plowing his field when he destroyed a mouse’s nest that was meant to protect it through the winter. Feeling for the mouse, Burns wrote a poem, To a Mouse, including the infamous line:

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley

Or as often translated:

The best-laid plans of mice and men
Often go awry

But why is this the case? What universal truth had Burns stumbled upon that wintry day? That planning is not worth the effort because no matter how great your attention to detail, someone’s bound to come along and stomp out your plans?

In business, there is certainly an anti-planning movement brewing. Proponents of this idea argue that if you took all the time that goes into planning, dreaming, spreadsheeting, meeting, revising, etc and instead spent that time actually running your business, you would have created so much more value for yourself than the ‘dreamed up’ idea of what you will do this year.

That’s not how the EMyth Perspective would see it. Plans are an important part of achieving results. It’s not that things won’t change for you along the way, or that you can’t adapt to new learnings. But think about it this way: Imagine you are a miniature figure on a map. The greatest likelihood of you travelling the furthest away from where you started is to pick a general direction and head toward it. You might have to zig and zag slightly along the way, but you know the general idea of what you’re after. Alternatively, if you pick a random direction every 10 steps, you’re much more likely to walk in circles, pace back and forth, or otherwise not travel too far.

What does that look like in your business? Without a plan governing what you want to accomplish this year, every new good idea seems worth exploring. Before long, you realize that you’ve been following each new distraction and have completely lost sight of your goals. Have you ever experienced what I’m talking about?

EMyth is in a round of planning for 2016 right now. Working with our ownership and a coach of our own, we’re taking a hard look at next year and what we feel are the most important things to accomplish. As the CEO, it was important for me that the Leadership and several key stakeholders were all fully ‘bought-in’ to our goals—and more importantly, our strategy. You see, a good strategic plan not only incorporates what you aim to do each quarter, but also how you intend to do it. Even roughly. Without taking it that critical second step, the ‘how’, it’s impossible to understand the resources required to accomplish your goals. What people are needed? What tools? What investments? How much time?

Our Strategic Planning Committee began its work by taking a hard look at the goals we set in our company’s three-year vision document. Seeing that destination—knowing the direction we wanted to go—we were able to determine goals for next year that would start us off in the right direction. The Committee was then given a singular mission: to identify the one most important thing that would help the company reach that goal. Only once we understood what we needed to do to accomplish could we name a second most important thing. There could be no more than three in the year. That’s right, only three objectives in the year. Because for this Leadership Team, we are committing to doing fewer things and doing them better. That’s part of our larger strategy, and it informs how we plan out our year to come.

So what is core to the way your company does business? How does that inform how you plan? What are those most important things for your business to accomplish next year? And most importantly, what’s needed to do each of them? If you get specific with yourself, you’ve just given yourself the best chance at a successful year to come.

Burns’ poem ends with him envying the mouse, for as much as his winter home had just been destroyed, at least the mouse can really only worry about the present moment. When Burns looks ahead to the future, he’s riddled with the uncertainty and fear of it. The key to dismantling fear about the future is thoughtful preparation. With that, no matter what curveballs come your way, you’ll be in a much better place to adapt—and get right back on your path.

Topics: Strategic Planning

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Martin Kamenski

Written by Martin Kamenski

Martin is our President and CEO. He's a CPA and former business owner whose passion for small business began with childhood memories of Al’s Carpet Cleaning—his grandfather’s business. Martin writes about leadership, strategy, finance, and entrepreneurship.

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