As we close the books on the year nearly over, and before we open a new chapter in the upcoming year, it is a good time to pause and take stock. It is a time to consider “what might have been” in terms of accomplishments in the year that is ending as well as what “could be” in the year ahead. Did we plan well, and, if so, did we execute the plan to the best of our ability? Honesty with ourselves is important, for without it the current year will be a precursor to just more of the same next year.
There are many “how to” articles and books on planning and organizing a life or an organization, but that is not the purpose of this article. I would simply like to address some of the philosophical aspects of various types of planning.
A quote that I have found to be particularly meaningful was made more than 60 years ago by Mahatma Gandhi. He said, “People should plan their life as if they would live forever, but they should live their life as if they might die tomorrow.” Not only are these great words to live by, but they also, in a very succinct way, capture the essence of life insurance as an essential part of most everyone’s life. Or, as we often say in the business–protection if you live, die or quit.
Planning comes in many forms, but they all have a common goal, which is progress. Progress itself also has different meanings in various settings. But Will Durant, the noted historian, in his book “Lessons From History,” said the universal definition of progress is “increasing control of the environment by life, a test that holds for all life forms including man.”
A popular from of planning today, particularly for organizations, is strategic planning, which is supposed to be more focused than what we used to call long-range planning. Since the time horizon has shrunk for many organizations, long-range may only be a few months.
Strategic planning, unfortunately, sometimes arises when no one can think of something else to do. It involves lots of delving into operations and setting goals and may even require an outside consultant. Such consultants know all the right words and phrases to secure a client, but more often than not, deep down they know nothing about what really makes your business tick. That may sound harsh, but I have seen too many examples where this has been true.
But in the end the plan is adopted, everybody feels good and breathes a sigh of relief knowing that now things will get better. But then comes the important part–implementation. One of the dangers about thinking long-term is that often it does not answer the question, “What do I do tomorrow?” and sometimes, tomorrow never comes. I have been told by consultants and others that many, if not most, strategic plans wind up on the shelf gathering dust because the enthusiasm for implementation is not as great as it was for the planning.