Planning Is a Waste of Time … but Please Keep Doing It


Planning Is a Waste of Time … but Please Keep Doing It

As a business coach, a lot of what I do with my clients is to devise plans. Plans for the direction of the business, plans for marketing and for recruiting. Plans for cashflow optimisation; and even plans for taking time out each week to be with family.

But we often scrap those plans … and start from scratch.

Why Planning is Useful

Let me tell you a quick story: I‘m working with a client (let’s call him John) who owns a gym in Sydney. “John’s Gym” is two and a half years old, in many respects very different to all other gyms out there, and the business is going gangbusters.

John has built a great reputation in weightlifting and strength conditioning. His profile is further bolstered by the work he does with some high-profile national athletes. So life is looking damn good and we are busily developing detailed strategic, business and marketing plans for the growth and expansion of the business.

John‘s also started training his front-office manager to become his deputy throughout the gym, to allow him to start looking for the best opportunities to open a second gym in Sydney.

Why Plans are a Waste of Time

But then, out of the blue, two things happened a mere day apart.

Firstly, John received a phone call from someone in California. One of the athletes he’s worked with had raved enthusiastically about John to the wealthy owner of a sports nutrition company in San Francisco. The company wants to expand into specialist strength gyms on the West Coast of the USA – and now the owner is keen to talk to John about licensing his gym model in the States.

He’s asked John to come over to the States for six months and set up his model – all in return for a most generous compensation and licensing deal; money being no object. An offer seemingly too good to be true, but true it was.

The second thing that happened, a day later, was his front office manager resigning out of the blue. That’s the person he’d spent so much time training and relied on to keep the ship steaming ahead while John developed his empire.

Suddenly the world had shifted on its axis.

Planning is Guessing

The opportunity in the USA was beyond anything John had ever dreamed of. But it was scary and out of his comfort zone in many respects. Pursuing San Francisco meant putting his growth plans in Sydney and Australia on hold, risking that a competitor might jump into the gap. And without a good deputy in place it was inconceivable that he’d be able to move to America for six months.

Planning is guessing”, as someone clever once said. Or as a general famously put it: “No battle plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy”.

The plans that John and I had worked on so hard in the previous months had to be scrapped … So what next?

When Things Change, Change your Thinking … and your Plans

John is in San Francisco as I write this – and he is putting everything he can into the USA opportunity.

  1. A chance conversation at a family BBQ led to John’s brother Bill taking on the role of deputy at the Sydney gym. Bill had been looking for a new challenge in his career and the opportunity for the brothers to work together came at the perfect moment.
  2. John and I are now working on a new business plan for the coming years, integrating the changed circumstances and opportunities.

Undoubtedly, this plan will also prove to be a guess and John’s business will not develop along the lines of the plan we are currently writing.

Does that mean that planning is a waste of time? Far from it.

John was able to respond quickly and decisively to the changing landscape because of the time and thinking that was put into the original plans. John knew what was important, what his critical priorities and challenges were. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of his business when the big changes arrived – and he realised that the opportunity in America was too good to miss out on. Importantly, he knew what had to happen to make it work.

A Happy Ending

I spoke to John yesterday and he’s like a kid in a candy store, so excited. The San Francisco experience is going to put him and his business on the map in a way he’d never dreamt of he could achieve with his business.

Plan, Action, Plan

Planning is a verb, describing an action; planning never stops. The plans that get cast in concrete are those you’ll find living up on a shelf, collecting dust. For a business to thrive and survive, we must be planning continually: as soon as we’ve finished our latest plan, we must be ready and willing to start again – and create a new one.

I promise you.

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  • Caroline Kennedy

    Roland, excellent article. Planning is critical for business growth and most importantly to provide clarity around the action required to grow and reach your goals. But sometimes opportunities come when you least expect them, and you re-evaluate your plans. Then you start again, as you say. Successful businesses are agile.

  • Roland Hanekroot

    Thank you Caroline… There is nothing more useless than a static plan in my experience, cheers, Roland

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