The Leader’s Role in Planning

[See additional blog posts on planning]

When I talk about “leading the planning process”, I have some very specific things in mind that leaders need to do.

Set the foundation by reviewing the mission, values and vision of the company, as well as the developing the goals and strategies to be pursued this year.

Communicate this to the whole company.  Your company can’t grow if the plan stays in the heads or a few people. It’s essential to get it out of your heads and on paper. When people understand where you want to go, amazing things happen. They begin to think about how to get there, they help you assess the risks, the costs and benefits, the trade-offs and begin to “buy in” to making it happen.

Engaging employees is critical. They need to understand where you want to take the company, how all the parts work together, how their individual performance contributes to the company’s success.

Set quantitative goals, then measure, in other words, “inspect” what you “expect” and then communicate progress.  Saying something like “In September we outsold August by a country mile.” is good.  But saying “It’s the beginning of Q4 and we’ve achieved 90% of our revenue goal.  We only need $3.2M more by Dec. 31, and I am confident we can do that.” is even better.

Expect people to perform at high levels.  I once heard a very successful CEO say people will live up to your expectations, and if you have none, they will live down to them. Leaders should expect, exhort, cajole, use tough love, do whatever’s necessary to get managers and employees to understand that you’re very serious about achieving the goals that are laid out in the plan.

Leaders have to provide feedback to people who aren’t performing, and they must “walk the talk” themselves. I worked with one company whose managers weren’t doing performance reviews on time – some not at all. While the CEO had approved the performance review process we designed, he wasn’t following the process.  Instead, he was writing individual letters to his direct reports about all the wonderful things they had done and how lucky the company was to have them.  He was no role model for how to do performance reviews.  Although his direct reports liked hearing what they did right – they wanted feedback on “areas for development”.  Once he began following the process, other managers did too, and the company soon had a successful performance review process in place – and performance improved across the board.

Finally, take time to communicate achievement and celebrate success. If you’ve done your planning, you have goals and clear definitions of success. Take time to call out individual performance. Hold up people as role models. Celebrate departmental and company performance. As one CEO said, “Bring your family, party hat, dancing shoes and big time stories – it’s time to celebrate a great quarter.” And don’t forget to share the financial rewards with those who produce.