LAYING OUT THE COURSE FOR YOUR AGENCY
We are once again in the midst of the Fall “Planning” Season. We are gratified by the number of agencies now involved in active Strategic and Tactical Planning processes. We participate and facilitate an ever-growing number of agency planning sessions and we assist and monitor an even larger number of internal planning sessions for agencies throughout the U.S.
Some common themes arise in every agency, small and large. One is the inevitable desire of the owner(s) to concentrate on the immediate needs and objectives of the company. Most owners have to be reminded that, in order for the process to make sense in the long run, the Plan must begin with “the end in mind” (stealing a phrase from the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People). You must know your goal before casting intermediate and short term objectives in the effort to reach that goal. Seneca, the Roman philosopher, once said, “When a man does not know what harbor he is headed for, no wind is a good wind.”
Many years ago, a client (an insurance agent, of course) was given the opportunity to take over the operation of a bowling alley at virtually no cost, with the result being his ownership of the facility within a few years. This was a going, money-making bowling alley in a solid Mid-West blue-collar area in which bowling was one of the few pastimes available during the winter months. The agent called me as his Strategic Planning counselor for my advice. I asked him to pull out his Plan and read me his Mission Statement and his Vision Statement. As you might imagine, no where in his vision for the future was his participation in a bowling alley. When reminded of his success as an agent (growing by double-digit percentages every year with expansion into regional and state-wide status a reality within a few years), he quickly understood that the bowling alley, as good as it sounded, would be a distraction from his “real” job and was not a part of his long-term goal. He gave the opportunity to a child who was not destined for the agency business and paid attention to the course the agent had developed for himself, for his family and for his business.
This is what Seneca (and Steven Covey, author of the “7 Habits…”) had in mind. If you develop your target and course in the long run, and if you are successfully progressing toward that end, don’t take your eye off the ball – stay the course and do what you know will result in your inevitable success. That’s why we follow the formula of Recap, Refocus, and Refine in the course of Strategic Planning with our clients.
The first part of the planning process must be devoted to recapping the current year. Don’t limit yourself to the partial year that has already passed. This is too easy. You MUST cast projections of your results to the end of the year in order to put your current position in perspective of the long term plan. Review each of the objectives you had for this year and project the year-end result of each. Certainly predict the revenue, expense and profit picture of the departments and the agency for year-end, as well.
Recapping provides you with your company’s current position. This is your anchor for the future. Whether the results are as you expected, above your expectations or below, the recapping permits you to step back from the forest and view the trees to determine how to attack the problems most efficiently.
Once you are properly grounded in the present (your Recap), you should now look at your Mission, Vision and Strategies (assuming that you created them during the Planning process in the past), validate or change them to reflect your current vision of your future and progress them to the end of the next five years. If you have created and managed your long-term plan in the past, your five-year Plan is now four years away. At least progress the Plan another year. Each year that you do this, it should become more realistic since over-shooting or under-shooting your Plan adds reality to your observations of the future. Believe it or not, most people don’t believe the Planning process is REAL until they enter it and realize that if you do the things that will assure your success and do them consistently, success itself is the end result. Every year we have one or two agencies that are astounded at the levels of success they achieve when they pursue a Plan with purposeful and measurable Action Plans. For a few years they still mark their success as “luck” until they realize that luck is simply hard work applied to smart application. Thomas Jefferson said, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more of it I have.”
So are Planning agencies lucky? You bet! Expanding Jefferson’s quote, “The smarter and harder they work, the more luck they seem to have.” Imagine that!!!
If you have not yet designed your Mission and Vision and think that your annual planning process is sufficient to meet your needs, please call me (800-779-2430) and let’s talk.
Here’s where all the owners and managers like to concentrate – the Tactical Plan for the next year.
Hopefully, you are planning a month or more before the beginning of your fiscal year. If not, consider changing your Planning cycle next year. The month or two lead time in planning allows you to set up your assets and personnel to permit you to be ready to implement the Plan at the start of the year. Establish Objectives (with an owner for each) stating the position of that goal at the end of the planning year. Action Plans are the most important part of the Plan since they determine “how” the objectives can logically be implemented. While both objectives and action plans are ‘reality tested’ by the participants, the key is not to permit yourselves to pursue unrealistic action plans with the expectation that performing far beyond your realistic capabilities will yield the desired results at the end of the year. You won’t perform beyond what you are capable of doing (without changes in your methods or assets) and will probably not make the goals you set. That’s not the fault of the objectives. That’s the result of faulty action planning.
Remember that Action Planning and Objectives are not the only components of the Plan. You must have monthly Benchmarks for every Objective and every Action Plan. This is your method of adding discipline to the process and making your Plan the working document of the agency on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. You will have a meeting shortly after each month end with the agenda pre-set as the reporting of the Benchmarks of every Action Plan and Objective. You are NOT to edit, analyze or criticize any benchmark result during the three months of a quarter. Every Action Plan deserves at least a quarter to prove its success or need for refinement. At the quarterly meeting, each objective owner whose results of action plans or benchmarks are more than 10% deviant from plan (in either direction) must either a) rationalize to the management team why the Action Plan should remain the same (how will it yield different results?), b) what should be changed in the Action Plan to permit the objective to be reached by the end of the year, or c) how the objective must be changed to accommodate the changed Action Plans and the realities of the year (good or bad).
Beyond the Action Planning and Benchmarking, we must remind ourselves that the entire process is driven for (and by) the agency’s budget. Create one during the planning cycle that represents expense trends and known expense events and the retention and new business objectives that are presented by the plan participants for the agency. Each month of the year, your Operating Statement should be compared to budget. At the quarter, the financial forecast can be changed to respond to the realities of the year, permitting you to realize as early in the year as possible the financial results of the agency.
As always, we stand ready to assist any agency in the creation and implementation of a Strategic and Tactical Plan. Simply call and let’s discuss how best to implement the planning process for your agency. Don’t consider size an issue. We assist in planning for small agencies of $500,000 and less and for agencies of $25 Million in revenues.