Published - June 2003

By Dave Jakielo, CHBME

Plan Now or Pay Later

During the month of June it is hard to drive through two consecutive intersections without seeing a sign posted on a pole announcing a graduation party. Graduation festivities are a great way to celebrate the accomplishments of the past, but graduates barely get time to rest on their laurels. No sooner do they remove their cap and gown than ten people are in their faces saying, "What are you going to do next?"

Some will have a plan-be it a job, college, or the Armed Forces. Others will drift, falling into the rut of living one day at a time without any additional goals or roadmap for the future.

This same phenomenon exists in many of the companies I work with. It is surprising how many companies have become successful without a Strategic or Business Plan in place. I think this occurs because when things are going well we just let them happen. We get caught up in daily activity-in the business of it all-and it isn't until we hit a bump in the road, such as losing a major client or seeing profitability decline year after year, that we blink. We suddenly notice that something must be done to stop the ship from sinking or at least free it from the sandbar it is resting upon.

Developing a Strategic Plan isn't a difficult process. It just takes some thinking. Have you asked yourself lately where your company is going? Do you have long-term goals for the company (other than selling it for a gazabillion dollars and retiring ASAP)? By long-term plan I don't mean simply "to be successful." I mean specifics. Are you well positioned in the market? Do you want to specialize? Do you want to expand? Do you want to downsize? Do you want to change your client list? Do you want to reorganize your staff?

A plan doesn't need to be complex. It just needs to look forward. As you go about your daily business, the very existence of the plan will focus your activities. Is doing such-and-such an activity something that supports the plan, or should it be changed or jettisoned? Are you spending too much time in areas that don't further your goals?

Robert W. Bradford and J. Peter Duncan, authors of Simplified Strategic Planning, provide three key questions in thinking about a strategic plan:

  • What are you going to sell?
  • Who are your target customers?
  • How can you beat or avoid the competition?

    If you don't have the answers to the above three questions, it's doubtful that you'll continue on the road of success. But don't go for the obvious fast answer. Take your time, noodle a little. Brainstorm. Get creative. You may discover a whole new direction and enthusiasm for your business and what it can be.

    Once you have the answers, you need to move to the next step, which is to determine the what, who, how, when, where and why's that will lead you to your goals.

    This responsibility need not fall on your shoulders alone. The more quality input you have in developing a plan the more likely it will be successful. That means involving others in the planning process. The reasons are simple:

  • People buy into plans when they have input into them. It becomes their plan and you'll find mid-managment more willing to work for the plan if they have taken part in it.
  • You need to involve people who are in the trenches doing the work. They have the day-to-day know-how to make the plan work.
  • The more ideas you and the team discuss, the more solutions you'll find. Five heads are better than one.

    You don't need to be a genius to develop a successful strategic plan, you just need to devote time and resources to the planning process just like any other business activity you perform on a regular basis.

    Many people say that they don't have time to plan. I counter that you don't have time because you didn't plan. Being reactive is so much more time consuming than being proactive. The choice is yours. Plan now or pay later.

    If you have any questions or comments please contact me at Seminars and Consulting 412-921-0976 or email - For past articles check out my website at

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