The King in Alice in Wonderland said, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” For strategic planning, I agree with the first part, but vehemently disagree with the second. Don’t stop! Keep looking, moving, and revising as needed. The world changes; your business changes. Why shouldn’t your plan?
“If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there.”
Your plan needs to be flexible, but it is still a plan. It isn’t a windsock showing every change in the wind. It just needs to change if the wind pattern changes long term. It is a balance, and it is tempting to sway towards the poles of constant change or never deviating. However, if you are always changing, it is like not even having a plan. You are simply reacting, and likely in a knee-jerk way. That is not the way to achieve a goal. When running a race, you may have to go around potholes, but you should always be aiming towards the finish line. Not meandering around like a character in the Family Circus cartoon. Know where you are going and choose the appropriate roads.
But you can’t refuse to change and shut your eyes to things that truly impact your business. That’s a good way to plow right into a brick wall and get zero progress. Or worse, off a cliff and a setback. So what do you do? When is a change of plan needed and when do you stay the course?
“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.”
Identify indicators of a substantial change in the environment that should cause a change in your plan. These indicators should be things that will truly impact your business, whether that is an opportunity or a threat, if it will hurt or help. Is your company now significantly bigger or smaller than when you created your plan? Did a new competitor take the industry by storm? Did a new law or regulation get enacted that impacts you or your customers? That’s when you need to change. But don’t change because you replaced your head of sales. In fact, that replacement may have happened because of your plan.
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
Set your indicators ahead of time, and check in with them. It may be monthly, quarterly, yearly or whatever. It varies by indicator and goal. The absolute longest time gap should be yearly. It doesn’t have to be January, especially if that doesn’t fit your business.
So while stopping made sense for Alice, it does not make sense for your business and your strategic plan. Check in with your indicators and your progress towards your stated goals. Adjust your goals and actions steps accordingly. Rinse and repeat as needed.
And finally, one last bit from the Cheshire Cat:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”