Last weekend and this are always the prime leaf peeping periods of the year in Vermont. Up in the Northeast Kingdom, it's probably snowing by now, but down near Stratton (Did I say "best snow making and grooming in the East!"?), this week is what Vermont foliage is all about.
The Boys on the Bench down at the Winhall General Store are already forecasting that it's going to be a really tough winta'. As if last year wasn't enough! To the Boys, it means extra pay for extra plowing, so they're out counting the number of squirrels burying nuts, the flocks of geese flying south and of course, the size of the Woolly Bear Caterpillars.
I actually watched a couple of woolly, brown and black caterpillars crossing in front of my wood tent last Saturday, but then couldn't remember whether I was supposed to time how long it took them to move an inch, or did I need to measure the distance betwen their first brown stripe and the next black one.
After trying to Google the answer to the question from my iPhone, I finally gave up since the much- smarter WoollyBear had-by the time I found the answer-moved on.
As with everything in business and in nature, some things just change, whether we plan for them or not. Tom the Wood Guy, who worked with me for 10 years, finally gave up cutting and delivering his 100 cords a year, so I've had to move on. But what doesn't change are the transitions of the seasons, the coming of another Vermont winta' along with all of its demands, and the fact that, in most companies, the month of October starts the annual dance of business and budget planning.
Here's 5 tips that might help for this planning season:
- Engage Everyone
Don't try to move through this business planning process by yourself or even with just your senior team. Engage as many of your employees as you can. In that way, you provide both a framework for how the business will organize itself in 2015 while you're also building a platform against which you will measure and explain your monthly and quarterly results during the year. Without a framework of having all of your supervisors and managers engaged in the planning, you simply won't build a consensus, nor will you be educating the next level of managers as to how the process works.
- The Time is Now
It's the beginning of October, the perfect time to kick this process off. Try to get rough drafts and the initial numbers done by the end of this month. Don't try to make these pretty; in fact, I always recommend that you just look for an ugly first draft of all of the plans as quickly as is practical. The impetus should be to just get something down in writing since you're going to use this initial document as a foundation for bringing your team together and involving them in numerous discussions during the balance of the fall.
Over a process between now and mid-November, you'll be handing out assignments, reviewing drafts and redrafts and finally passing "a pretty good" draft to your boss or your board for their comments so that you can have a final approved plan no later than mid-December.
- Your Job is to Quarterback
No matter what your title, your primary job in this process is to demonstrate leadership, to quarterback the plays, to assemble the team and finally to pull everything together.
Nowhere here does it state that you need to be the smartest person in the room. You just may have more experience, but this process is about building consensus and motivating the team to take strong direction.
- Build 3 Plans
The end result is to build a 2015 business plan that is neither conservative nor aggressive. It's just simply "practical" because it embodies all of the combined thinking of your entire team. It balances both a conservative and an aggressive outlook, and builds that on the basis of the critical assumptions which are core to the solid footings which are at the foundation of your plan.
You're submitting your Company Business Plan to your boss or your board, and this is what will be approved, and...of course...you and the team will be measured against.
You will also assemble a Stretch Plan which will potentially be 10-15% more aggressive in revenue or in net income. This plan will also be the basis for defining an aggressive bonus plan for the team. Both the theory (and the practicality) here is that if the Business Plan provides an acceptable net income, then the additional margin provided by the Stretch Plan, should just fall directly to the bottom line, and some of that should end up in the pockets of the individuals who created that extra revenue.
Then there is the Bank Plan which should be another 10 to 15% more conservative than the Business Plan, and be more conservative still in its use of cash.
Our rule of thumb is that we would like to see 15-20% deltas in revenue between each of these plans. That's a big variance, and, as a result, in a complex business, the process of creating these various plans takes a fair amount of time, but the rewards (and the resulting lack of pain) are substantial when done correctly.
- Review, Review & Review
While you're working out your business planning timeline, take a couple of more minutes and set in silicon the dates for your quarterly 2015 review meetings. Plan on day-long reviews for these meetings, and, more importantly, create an environment that leads to robust discussions about cementing in place the company's best practices going forward.
Good Selling...and Good Planning!