Align teams through closed-loop planning

Insight shared by Paul Anson, Katy Tuncer and Jo Roberts

Are you anti-planning?

“No time to plan, we are doers around here.”

“No plan survives contact with the enemy anyway!”

“Everyone already knows what we need to do in our business!” 

“Planning” gets bad press. It’s boring, time-consuming and unfashionable. It looks a bit like this, right?

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Newsflash: Proper planning in innovation scale-ups can get people aligned, prioritising, reacting to the unexpected, and collaborating… achieving their results.

Photo by James Thomas on Unsplash

But what is this mystical “proper planning”? Oh please, don’t make it onerous.  

“Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.

Sir John Harvey Jones

A successful and innovative business leader who didn’t follow the rules set by others, Sir John Harvey Jones was Chairman of ICI, which he turned from loss making to £1bn profit in 30 months in the 1980’s. 

So what can we take from his words?

Many innovation businesses are operated through passion and short term goal setting. Dropping long term planning is not just common now but has been around for generations.

A mistake made by many people is to think of plans, models and forecasts as a predictor of the future – your personal crystal ball. Unsupportive investors use future predictors to beat us with – “you said you would achieve X and you only managed half-X”. But actually, business tools related to planning are best thought of as dashboards and road maps. They help us understand the implications of where we are, compared to where we wanted to be, and allow us to make good decisions to correct course. 

At Horizon37, we work with customers to kick start their journey to incorporate better planning and alignment into the business – not around product development where they may already have great approaches – but around the business itself. 

How to plan and align

Let’s use this diagram as your starting point:

In order to shift the culture across the whole company at all levels and drive common purpose, it is important that we recognise how the different components work together and ensure they are used and updated appropriately. 

Your Vision is the anchor – it describes the state that will be achieved – not a journey – anchoring all aspects of management review.

Your Mission statement describes your purpose and what must be done to achieve the vision – if you successfully execute the mission you are most likely to create the vision. 

Vision and Mission statements can remain fit for purpose for a long time – years even – but they only last if used, and they only remain valid if they are reviewed.  How this happens varies but most companies will have some form of strategic review periodically – this is illustrated in the centre of the left hand loop.  

The right hand side of the diagram has two key elements:  

Role and SMART objectives define what people and teams should be doing. Objectives can exist at multiple levels – company, team, or individual. 

Performance Management and Personal Development processes help team members deliver objectives – they are intimately linked. They are used and reviewed more frequently than your Vision and Mission as part of routine management review in a variety of meeting formats. 

The centrepiece is the Balanced Scorecard (originally developed by Dr. Robert Kaplan of Harvard University and Dr. David Norton). This is the dashboard that enables everybody to see how the company is performing against plan. 

The Balanced Scorecard   

To provide a really strong kick-off to an upgraded way of aligning the business around common plans, focus on your Balanced Scorecard and SMART objectives 

Your Balanced Scorecard is dynamic with metrics reported broadly and very regularly – weekly, monthly or or even ‘live’. However, the elements that make up the dashboard are reviewed rarely as part of strategic or annual reviews. 

If you measure and report on things that could be detrimental to your business when used in isolation, then real damage can be done. E.g. If you just measure time based metrics, then quality, safety and customer satisfaction could all suffer. 

This is where the concept of the Balanced Scorecard comes in.  If metrics balance the business from different perspectives, then the danger of negative unintended consequences is reduced. 

The Balanced Scorecard should be a set of metrics that represent the company’s key SMART objectives covering four linked themes – all connected to the vision and mission.  Think of it as a dashboard that measures performance across the business simultaneously. 

The four themes are:

  • Financial Perspective – how do we look to shareholders?
  • Customer perspective – how do customers see us?
  • Innovation and Learning Perspective – how can we continue to improve and create value
  • Internal Process Perspective – What must we excel at? 

Don’t get sucked into the metric first – think about the vision and what outcomes you need to achieve to build it. 

If these tools are used effectively and transparently, in a joined up manner, teams should not be confused about the business plan and their common purpose. When used consistently throughout your business, team members should be clear exactly where they fit and have understandable transparency about the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’. The strength of a truly shared focus enables your business to be robust to disturbances and effectively deliver on the mission and achieve the vision – your guiding star. 

To learn more about the HorizonMethod and our programmes, get in touch.

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