How will you keep your business plan off the shelf?

By Ernest Falkner III

Zillion Dollar Thinking


After reading and being involved in the development of scores of business and marketing plans, there is a glaring trend that is both disturbing and worrisome. It also presents a great opportunity.

Generally, a substantial amount of time and talent is invested in the architecture of any plan. It is usually in proportion to the size and scope of the organization. Larger organizations generally have complete departments and in-house specialists who are involved (with significant self-interest) in the development, tracking and execution of their company's plans. Therefore, we will focus on the small to medium-size organizations for purposes of this review and consideration.

The glaring omission in the plans from smaller organizations is that they lack accountability mechanisms and tracking devices. Today, with all the new disclosure rules required by Wall Street and/or the government (e.g. Sarbanes Oxley), the larger the organization, the more accountability has become mandatory. But, what about the average small business that makes up the bulk of our capitalistic economy?

Experts say that the lack of accountability inherent in a business or marketing plan can seal the fate of the document and its goals right up front. Why? It's like any other scenario where laws or rules are broken but there is no threat of penalty. Examples: Constantly driving 120 mph and never having a fear of being caught and questioned or fined. Or being a Congressman.

And yet, especially in smaller companies where the company is the owner's "baby," the idea that someone or something would dare hold them or their plan performance accountable is unthinkable and really hard to sell. But just imagine the zillions that will be wasted from the lack of execution of plans that will remain on the shelf.

In reality, accountability at this stage is exactly what is needed. Objectivity and accountability go hand-in-hand. The same "shoot from the hip" entrepreneurs are the very ones who are so close to the issue (or business) that they simply cannot see their operation or plan from an objective perspective. Maybe that is why so many of them fail. Many reports and the Small Business Administration cite an 80 percent or higher failure rate in the first five years.

To further compound the problem, the other stakeholders (affected employees) can also suffer from this faulty setup. They can fall victim as a consequence of planning that has no accountability features or mechanisms. Yet ironically, and without buy-in, these very same stakeholders are often the ones who are charged with the ultimate responsibility and execution of the business and marketing plans.

When business owners or principles solely purchase the latest and greatest business and marketing planning software and proceed to fill in the blanks, they probably feel that they have achieved adequate planning once the final summary is completed. But, without the accountability factor built into the plan structure, (not always addressed in template plan software) this purely mechanical approach is flawed from the beginning.

There has probably never been a more important time for small- to medium-dsize organizations to seek the help of outside specialists in the design, formulation and accountability factor in the execution of their plans. Accountability can come in many forms, but a tracking system and teamwork that is monitored on a routine and consistent basis is generally the best format.

Action points for practitioners:
First, with your small business clients, probe about the importance of this subject (maybe give them this article). Next, consider taking the time to develop professional relationships with those who specialize in objectivity and accountability through their methodology and software solutions. Then, become a value-added resource who could potentially be a member of an accountability team, board, or initiative. Remember, the goal here is to keep the plan off the shelf.