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” (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, his vision for the future did not mention 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 on 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.