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Planning for the year ahead.

Hello and, if it’s not too late, a very Happy New Year to you and yours  

Your planning cycle can be driven by factors such as your organisation’s financial year, your “four quarters” or even simply using a relatively quiet time of year to look ahead. 

As we enter this new year, I thought it might be helpful to pick out a few useful tips I have picked up in over 20 years working in planning, especially if you now have a role that requires you to delve into our ‘dark arts’.  

Simple is best. 

Whether you plan on a monthly/quarterly or full yearly basis, remember to make the outcomes clear and easy to digest. There is little point in the whole exercise if no-one ever uses the data, measures the outcomes or refers to your plan as a benchmark, so summarise what you have concluded in a way people can access and understand.  The more people that understand and, importantly, buy in to the plan and take ownership for elements, the more likely they will succeed. 

Start with the end in mind. 

Your main strategic goals should shine through your plan. Even if you are drilling down to the operational level, every action should add value to the overall goal of meeting your strategic aims. Consolidation, growth, geographic expansion or introducing a new line to your service. Make sure you clearly see these aims in each section of the plan.  I always check back throughout the process, looking for the golden thread that should be traceable from strategy, through departmental plans right through to being reflected in individual objectives. 

Pick your main targets (and be stretching, yet realistic). 

It is rarely possible to achieve every new goal you dream of, however I have always liked the saying ‘aim for the starts and if you fail you may still land on the moon’. Planning sessions can seem quite daunting when you whiteboard all potential achievements. In fact, it can be easier to pick 3 or 4 main, achievable goals. What a massive difference focusing on a specific group of achievable targets can make.  

Measure, monitor and control. 

Regardless of whether a plan ends up as a pretty pdf or a very technical word document, it is useless if it isn’t reviewed and, if necessary, amended during the year. Planning shouldn’t be a “tick box” exercise that show you have a plan in case anyone asks.  

Note important dates and deadlines that, when they pass, trigger regular reviews. See your business plan is a 12-month live project which should always be open and regularly discussed.   

But also, don’t feel that everything is set in stone. External factors hugely influence targets and deadlines (who saw Covid 19?). It’s how agile you are in responding when deadlines slip, or goals are not achieved that makes businesses a success. 

Look back before you start again. 

The best plans give you learning lessons. If your planning document carries notes about success and failures last year, you can start the next cycle factoring in some of the issues you faced and make the next plan even better. 

Inclusion is everything 

The saying ‘many hands make light work’ has always been a mantra I have stood by and when it comes to business planning involving colleagues from the outset has always worked well for me.  Getting all important buy-in right from the start undoubtedly gleans better results.  I love empowering people and setting wide boundaries as I am always amazed with the ideas this generates.  This also filters though into the challenges people are prepared to set for themselves using the intrinsic motivation that is linked to feeling part of the plan. 

I’m trying to make this sound simple and, in truth, it will be far more complex than this. But if a business gets lost in the complexities and details of planning, it can lose the internal audience who the actual plan is aimed at. 

If I can offer you any help with your forthcoming plans, I am always delighted to have a chat or meet me on LinkedIn.

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