It’s the time of year your thoughts should turn to planning, but if you’re like most executives or business owners, you have competing priorities. You’re trying to finish the current year on a high note. You have family obligations for holidays. And you’re trying to make plans for next year.
I’m guessing that when you look at your long to-do list for the last six weeks of the year, the item that you continually push off is marketing planning. Everything else is important and urgent, whereas planning is just important.
So when you get to January 1st and don’t have a plan, it’s time for a different approach, and we have two recommendations for you: change when you do your planning and change who you do your planning with.
Recommendation one: Change when you do your planning
Instead of waiting until the end of the year or the end of a quarter to see how your marketing (and other initiatives) are working, try an after-action review at the completion of every program to dive into what worked and what didn’t. When you’ve defined success and measured against it, it’s easier to get rid of things that aren’t bringing in results, no matter who really wants to keep them.
Ed Kless and Ron Baker of the VeraSage Institute did an entire episode about after-action reviews (AAR) on their podcast, The Soul of Enterprise. The U.S. Army’s use of AARs began in 1973, not as a knowledge management tool but as a method to restore the values, integrity, and accountability that had diminished during the Vietnam War.
An after-action review includes the following questions:
- What was supposed to happen?
- Why actually happened (the ‘ground truth’)?
- What were the positive and negative factors?
- What have we learned and how can we do better next time?
The Army suggests dividing your time in answering the AAR’s questions into 25-25-50: 25% reviewing what happened, 25% percent reviewing why it happened, and the remaining 50 percent on what to do about it and how can you learn from it to improve.
Imagine how much more effective planning would be if you reviewed each program or campaign at the conclusion and made the decision right then to keep it, modify it, or ditch it.
This approach means that when planning and budgeting time comes around, you’ve already done the hard work – thinking about what’s no longer working and what to do next.
Recommendation two: Change who you do your planning with
Many small and midsized businesses don’t have a plan for planning; if they do, it’s based on internal knowledge and experience.
I know I’m biased, but what a third-party brings to the planning process is perspective. When we work with our clients to help them strategize and plan their marketing, we’re bringing in the experience of working with fifteen or twenty companies in the past year, running hundreds of programs. We understand what’s working, what’s out of date, what’s trending, and what’s a complete waste of money.
Think about it. Using an agency to help you plan your marketing, an accountant or fractional CFO to help with your financial plan, a managed services provider to help with your technology infrastructure plan, etc. – it just makes sense. These firms specialize in areas your team has to plan for only on an infrequent basis; as outsourced providers, we plan for them all the time. We have a clear grasp of the best practices, trends, costs, and effort involved in any initiative.
The other benefit that comes from working with an outside firm is accountability. When your company hires another firm to help get the job done, there needs to be a schedule of meetings, research, and findings. In this way, planning shifts to being important and urgent because now there are deadlines – you have a company (or a person) to hold you accountable for getting your part done.
Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said, “The plan is worthless, but planning is essential.” On the battlefield, he is undoubtedly correct, but for the business planning process, I think he’s wrong. Planning is essential, and when the right expertise, experience, and accountability are brought to the planning process, the plan itself can be extremely beneficial. The right plan, properly executed, can change the arc of your business success.
Can we help you plan to make next year better than this year? If so, contact us by email, form, phone, messenger or text.