A Fresh Approach to Business Planning

Business Planning

Emergence of a New Approach

“Goals are out for me. Systems over goals. Process over outcomes,” remarked Karina Inkster, one of my favourite personal strength trainers, vegan and host of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast. I couldn’t agree with her more. Having a good process in place makes work and life easier and more enjoyable.

Most owners of small- and many medium-sized companies tell me they do not have enough time to do what they want and don’t have a solid business plan they turn to, nor do they have a good system or process in place. They might scrape together a business plan from their bookkeeping once a year at tax reporting time, but it never rises to the top of their to-do list.

While there is no standard format for a business plan, Business Development Canada (BDC) notes that the main elements are company profile, sales and marketing, operations and financials. While the BDC offers a lot of good solid advice and resources, which they have been doing since 1944, there are still few businesses with active, dynamic, and enjoyable business plan processes in place. This has always intrigued me.

I had the opportunity to work in an organization that was deliberate about its systems and processes. It started with the leadership sharing a big audacious vision and outlining their plans to get there. Every working unit within the organization, from marketing to financing to insurance to communications, had conversations about how each person contributed. This may sound like typical business planning, but FCC achieved a high level of individual contribution and commitment to the organization. Most importantly, what I observed and experienced was how management works to achieve a level of energetic alignment to the projects and plans.

The organization was Farm Credit Canada. In 2011-2013 when I worked there, they had already achieved their big audacious vision of becoming the lender of choice for Canadian farmers, instead of the lender of last resort. They called it their cultural practices to ensure every employee knew the company, how to contribute to it, and how to engage in dialogue about it with colleagues, managers, and communities. There was an open-door policy to talk to the CEO with ideas and concerns. He made time for them and was genuinely interested in hearing from his staff. There was a high level of emotional alignment with outcomes before anyone started working on a project. Everyone was encouraged to contribute their unique skills and talents to the organization, and everyone gave 100% effort, every day. Everyone was rewarded with annual bonuses when the organization achieved their goals. While the bonuses were nice, it was not sufficient motivation for what I observed about how each employee showed up every day.

Few companies are able to achieve the level of success and reputation of FCC. They had a solid and enjoyable planning and communication process that worked for their business. They spent a significant amount of time on their cultural practices. Today, their leadership has diversity with women strongly represented on both their board of directors and management team. Their vision and their impact have evolved. The most important takeaways from my time at FCC about how business planning contributes to an organization thriving are:

  1. Have a big audacious vision and get alignment with each member of your team.
  2. Invest in your communication systems and processes.
  3. Failure is an opportunity for growth.
  4. Honour and be authentic with each other including your customers.

To me, this represents the emergence of a fresh new approach. It begs the question: If it is so beneficial, why do so few companies have effective business planning processes in place? One reason may be the purpose of the business plan. Usually, they are written to secure a bank or lender loan, and sometimes to comply with a regulatory requirement.

Active, dynamic, and enjoyable business plans are clearly linked to the vision and have engagement processes in place. The theories about the importance of having business planning systems or processes in place are not new. Including energetic or emotional connections to the efforts of the business offers a fresh perspective on traditional business planning approaches.

Cynthia Owen Business Coach

Leverage Good Fortune

Another way to characterize the FCC approach is through the lens of connections and strengths. Why is it even more important today that connections- and strengths-based business planning become common protocols for businesses? Given the environmental, and political polarization challenges of today’s world, doing things the old way will not get us to where we need to be—back in balance with the environment and each other. As the saying goes you can’t expect a different outcome by doing the same thing. We need fresh ideas, practices, and collaboration to level up the impact we want to make and to evolve in positive ways. Thomas Edison (1847-1931) explained it well, “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.”

The traditional approach to business planning has often been characterized by more of a masculine energy, focusing on competition and individual success. However, the emergence of a more feminine approach challenges this notion by emphasizing meaningful connections with customers and suppliers, aligning with values, and creating a new level of respect for the environment. In this era of rapid change, it’s essential to stay ahead of the curve and explore new business models and standards of professionalism. As we move forward, let’s embrace the potential of connections-based marketing and pave the way for a more inclusive and effective approach to reaching our target audience.

Experiment and Learn

Recently, I asked the Bing A.I. search engine to give me some professional ideas to better explain connections-based and feminine approaches to marketing. It responded that it was not possible because it would be misleading. “Feminine” and “connections” are not concise or professional. I have to admit, I was offended at first, but I know that any fresh new approaches won’t be generated by A.I. Creating connections based on a wide range of information is a powerful tool. A.I. cannot see the world the way I do. It sees the world in the narrow way others have already. It is limited by the quality of data you provide; the algorithmic bias is “black box” in nature and A.I. has no emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence, according to Wikipedia, is the ability to perceive, use, understand, manage, and handle emotions. The groundbreaking research of Dr. Claire Zammit offers a perspective that the feminine approach is in part being in relationship to your emotional world. These are new ways forward that A.I. cannot fathom. How does this relate to creating a fresh new way to do business planning? You, as a business owner, have an opportunity to be in the fresh and innovative world by looking at your business through a new lens of relationships that matter to your world.

No one would claim that Thomas Edison was not concise or unprofessional. What we may not see or fully appreciate from his professional experience is the failures or unsuccessful experiments through which he generated good fortune. “I have not failed 10,000 times,” he said, “I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

What if business planning became more like an experimentation process? Set a 13-week plan and try things out. An experimentation and learning orientation to your business plan might result in greater interest and conversation about how to get to where you want to go.  This would make for a dynamic business plan process, improving engagement and management.

In my work with business owners, I encourage a 13-week time horizon as the business planning path with periodic evaluations along the way. Quarterly refreshing of processes and outcomes and annual reviews of organizational systems, to ensure healthy functioning of the whole organization, has been a best practice for most successful businesses. A fresh approach to add to the 13-week and annual reviews is to incorporate an orientation or mindset that failure is an interesting data point. Learn from it, adjust in new ways, and empower growth from learning.

Find Reciprocity and Mutuality

Big visions, energetic alignment, experimentation, and growth are all scary ideas when you have to make payroll and keep the lights on. How do you make the shift when there isn’t enough cash flow for your business to succeed? This is a lynchpin for creating a fresh new approach to business planning. Once you have pulled the pin, an abundance mindset and orientation can take over.

In The Soul of Money, Lynn Twist writes about the lies of scarcity and surprising truths of sufficiency and proposes new ways forward. Timothy C. Johnson at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh proposes to reorient financial economics to emphasize the objectives of cooperation and social cohesion. These are fresh approaches. Creating a business plan with this orientation will help you make different decisions as you review your Profit and Loss Statement.

The Environment as Shareholder

Another aspect of an emerging new approach to business planning is including the environment as a shareholder. Increasingly, consumers are demanding products and services with a small environmental footprint or net zero CO2 emissions, and companies are rising to the challenge. Many businesses have been in that space for a number of years now. They are seeing opportunities to tell their stories and share their messages in new ways. They are finding new venues to communicate and reach the awakening consumer.

Some exciting local BC examples range from brick-and-mortar stores like Great Balls of Wool, selling local sustainable yarns and unique creations while empowering knitters, and clothing manufacturers such as Ecologyst—sustainably made here in Canada. There’s also financial services firm Genus Capital Management, which makes it possible to invest in alignment with your values of sustainability and social betterment. They all have business models aligned with values and are impacting the future today.

These businesses make significant contributions to the Canadian economy and include the environment as a shareholder. They went beyond the old story of what a business should be by offering products and services aligned with their values, which in turn attract customers and clients who want to support these efforts. These companies have big visions and big impact business models. They also have dynamic business planning aligned with their vision. They are certified B Corporations which is a measure of a company’s entire social and environmental impact. The opportunity to have a sustainability focus is real. There are emerging tools to tell your story of becoming a certified B corporation.

The Promise of the New Approach

The emerging approach to business planning is fresh and, without doubt, full of great promise. Companies large and small are committed to seeing their big visions come to life. Allowing space for energetic alignment to their vision and plans empowers teams to help the organization realize good fortune. In other words, more success than they may have expected. Customers are better served as a result.

The connections-based, strength-based business planning processes I offer incorporate these approaches and explore new ways of getting there. Business owners sometimes ask me to write their business plans for them. I always answer with “What’s the purpose of your business plan?” Usually, they want to raise capital or get a bank loan. Sometimes, they are looking to comply with some regulatory requirements. If they are looking to grow a sustainability vision, I offer to coach and support them with appropriate supplemental pieces as needed, such as supplier templates, comparative market analysis, and agendas for board meetings.

If you want to create a sustainable business that reflects your values and goals, take some time to articulate your vision—don’t worry about the how; your connections-based, strength-based business plan is your how. It is the story of how you will transform your vision into reality. Here are seven benefits of incorporating a planning process into your business cycles:

  1. It helps you articulate your vision and communicate it to others. A business plan helps you express what makes your business unique and how others can help you have a positive impact.
  2. It guides your actions and decisions. A business plan helps you set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals and objectives for each quarter and year. It also helps you track your progress and adjust your strategies as needed. You can celebrate your achievements and learn from your experiences.
  3. It motivates you to pursue new opportunities and projects. A business plan helps you identify areas where you can grow and amplify your impact. You can include descriptions of the projects you want to undertake and how they will benefit your business and your customers. Writing them down or articulating them in other ways increases your commitment and likelihood of success.
  4. It leverages your network and resources. A business plan helps you identify who can help you with your business, such as mentors, partners, suppliers, and customers. You can use your connections to get feedback, advice, referrals, support, etc. You can also use your network to spread the word about your business and attract more customers.
  5. It empowers your decision-making. As you review your financials, you can analyze what’s working and what’s not. There are always risks and there are always opportunities. You can use this information to manage cash flow and decide what aligns most with realizing your quarterly goals and vision.
  6. It aligns your energy with your vision. A reflection and planning process helps you make your vision more concrete and tangible. It also helps you create a positive energy around your business that attracts more success. You can use your business plan as a tool to manifest your vision and create the business of your dreams.
  7. A regular planning process sets you up to have a strong financial position and be ready to leverage opportunities as they arise. It is easier to apply for government grants and contributions when you know where you are and where you want to go. Accepting support from others is how our dreams become bigger than we imagined.

Many new businesses fail because they failed to plan. This nod to planning has been recognized by several famous, and impactful individuals like Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, and others. Join me in creating a new, more meaningful way to do business using planning that is dynamic, fun, and generative. It might unlock and release the magic of good fortune for you.

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