Business plans – worth the paper they’re written on?

At an event we attended recently, the subject of business plans got one of its periodic airings, as a speaker reiterated their importance in the grand scheme of things. All the usual sayings were there: ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do’, then again ‘How will you know when you’ve got there?’, not forgetting the daddy of them all, ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’.

imageThese were people who saw business plans as essential to doing business, not merely as something, say, to impress a potential investor. While broadly agreeing, we still thought there was far too much emphasis placed on the notion of getting things ‘down on paper’. Like a small piece of processed tree ever achieved anything …

For us, as for many others, the overwhelming benefit of any business plan is the activity that creates it. Planning is the fundamental activity of business. All that other stuff – producing, fulfilling, advising and so on – that’s just being an employee. Sitting down and actually making decisions about what we’re capable of and what we’re going to do about it – what’s our strategy, in other words – that’s doing business.

And therein lies the issue with emphasising the documentation side of planning. It invites people to breathe a sigh of relief and carry on like nothing happened. It’s the old SPOTS – Strategic Plans On Top Shelves – syndrome. ‘Plus now we’ve got that chore out the way, we don’t have to worry about it for a while either!’ For most of us, it seems, business planning won’t be winning any to-do list popularity contests anytime soon.

imageOne very possible reason for that may be the mystique that’s now built up around what planning should entail. Brainstorming, ideation, post-it notes, starting with why … No wonder most of us mentally run for the hills at the mere mention of it. It’s largely because of all this jargon stuff that we feel this way!

Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, for instance. Sinek fans look away now but has there ever been a more naff question to constructively open a conversation? Like, why? Why anything? Well, why not anything? .. SWW might, with hindsight, appear to fit the story of Apple, but the rest of us?

At Thesis we believe the fundamental purpose of any business is to grow. That’s the real Why. Planning is the ongoing process surrounding the steps we take to achieve that. Who’s going to do what with what? Once we’ve worked that out, only then can we decide what activities need to be removed, added, reallocated or amended (RA-RA) It’s a simple model but all the more effective for that.

It might even yield some fairly impressive documentation, but really, that’s no more than a bi-product.

As ever, the journey’s the thing, not the destination.