The Importance of Planning

Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a talent for setting goals and working with focus and determination to achieve them. I have always known that a company needs not only a vision but a clear plan to reach its goals. Without a plan, your company will do little more than survive and tread water. Surviving on a hope and a prayer is no way to start or run a business.

I learned early on that for your goals to become a reality, you have to write them down. Your goals shouldn’t be floating around in the atmosphere. It’s best to put them on paper. During the infancy of MassMedia when I was a team of one, I would buy a fancy journal, spend time alone and write down all that I wanted to accomplish. Whether it’s a journal, note pad or whatever, make it your own, and make it something you review every day. And don’t over-think it. Your list of goals can be very simple and limited to one page.

When I got to the point of hiring employees, it felt right to bring them into the action. They helped me set goals and also got the benefit of compensation benefits if we met those goals. I’ve always believed in going the extra mile in rewarding the people who contribute to the company’s success.

My early planning didn’t follow a complex or expensive process. In fact, quite the opposite. We simply gathered in a room, did some productive brainstorming, articulated our goals and met weekly in our efforts to achieve them. As the company grew, I was introduced to a more sophisticated structure known as MAP Consulting, which helped us align a large team and our five distinct departments.

Today, with 30-plus employees and over $10 million in annual revenue, here’s the five-step process our team follows to ensure the success of our company:

Gather and analyze industry information: When I was leading MassMedia, as CEO I felt a duty to keep my finger on the pulse of what was happening in our industry. I paid close attention to large national advertising and marketing agencies, regularly reviewing their websites and annual reports. I also received half a dozen newsletters from companies like AdAge, E-Marketer and 4A’s. This research was vital to my company in that it helped me assess trends and market conditions in real-time. But there was more. I also gathered and analyzed information related to constraints and frustrations that were holding our company back, and then worked to see what our priorities should be for the upcoming year. For example, we often looked at things like company culture and operational technology, in terms of their impact on our success. Nowadays we hold our annual goal setting and planning sessions about three months before the start of our fiscal year.

Clarify the vision as the CEO: After reaching an understanding of where we needed to go as a company, I would determine the critical priorities and develop two to three goals the company would work to meet in that coming year.

Formulate the goals: After solidifying the company goals from my perspective, I would call our top managers and department heads into a retreat — usually out of town — for a weekend of brainstorming and planning in a relaxed and fun atmosphere. We reviewed my primary goals and brainstormed ways to reach them. Then, as a team, we would come up with another two or three specific goals that we wanted to reach together. These goals focused on things like company priorities, financial targets, issues for concerns and solutions around our strengths and weaknesses. At the end of our retreat, we would have five to six finalized goals that we would take into the next year.

Implement: At the start of our fiscal year, we would hold an all-hands company meeting to announce our company goals to all team members. We would then develop a written one-page plan and a spreadsheet of KPIs to track, and feed these into our goals. We would then hold a mandatory monthly management meeting for a discussion and review of all our work thus far. Over time, I also developed a system that allowed me to review the goals on a daily basis, to help ensure that I was aligning the team to stay on track and ultimately reach those goals.

Measure: At our monthly management meetings, we would come together as a team and review the KPI spreadsheet. If for some reason we were not tracking to meet a certain goal, our team would dig deep to understand the reasons for this and then brainstorm our tactics and redirects in order to meet our goals.

There’s a great quote from Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger (1900-1944), a French writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist and aviator. He said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” As someone who started with a plan and built a thriving business from scratch, I urge you to stop wishing and start planning. Get yourself a journal or notebook and make a plan. Stick with it through good times and bad and you’ll find that planning and perseverance will win the day.