Future of Work

Any Plan That Fits into Your Business is Already Too Small

Leanne Hughes

When I started my consulting business in February 2019, I created a business plan outlining ideal projects and potential clients I thought I’d work with; but what happened was completely unanticipated and, thankfully, so much bigger and better than the plans I’d laid out. 

One of my biggest fears was that I would not continue to work internationally. In just a few months client work took me to Hong Kong, India, and Singapore, working with construction managers. In the same year, my favorite author flew me to Paris to run a series of sessions for a famous French fashion house. I did not forecast these events in my annual planning process.

I used to promote statements like, “Plan the work, work the plan”, but now realize that holding plans and objectives close to your heart can limit your achievements. Management By Objectives (MBO) as originated by Peter Drucker and perpetuated by George Odiorne was quite radical when General Motors introduced it more than one hundred years ago, but it’s how all companies operate these days. MBO is about imposing your will on the environment around you, relentlessly pursuing your KPIs, no matter what. 

Yet, no one at 3M Company set out to invent sticky notes. Instead, in 1968, Dr Spencer Silver, was trying to develop a super-strong adhesive but came up with a super-weak one instead. That wasn’t part of the plan. Valium was also an accidental discovery by Leo Sternbach, who was trying to create new dyes. It’s now the most prescribed drug in the US. Gmail was born after Google encouraged employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20 per cent of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google.

Poet David Whyte wrote, “That which you can plan, is too small for you to live”. When we assign metrics and tasks to specific teams and accountability to drive those plans, employees motivated to achieve these KPIs might miss the unintended value that exists through a side door.

Here’s your call to action: Stop planning. 

“What, stop planning? That’s absurd!” Hear me out. 

Your time is better spent by:

Unearthing and exploiting existing value in your business

Instead of creating more initiatives, consider: Where is the magic already happening? What value is already being created here? How can you leverage and repurpose existing initiatives, into something of value?

For example, your Marketing department’s objective is to exploit your highest-value business opportunities. To do that, you must find the opportunities. Your account managers and frontline operators engage with clients daily. How can they start sharing more of the feedback they’re hearing from clients with the Marketing department organically, rather than planning more focus groups, or customer surveys? 

At a tactical level, your customer service team are already responding to questions from their clients. How can you pull these responses from their Sent items and repurpose their answers as FAQ on your website? There is value being created every day, it just may need to be dug up and looked at from a different perspective.

Revolutionize your strategy

To avoid planning yourself out of opportunities, you need a clear strategy. Rather than forecast five years out, your strategy should only look a year out. It shouldn’t be a set piece. 

The old way of strategic planning creates lengthy discussions that take weeks to produce a strategy. The investment is huge: Executive teams spend three days off-site leading discussions, trying to form a consensus. However, once the strategy is formulated, it’s obsolete by the time it’s communicated to the business. 

I can see you nodding your head. Change is dramatically increasing, and the best organizations are using disruption as an offensive weapon. To do that, your strategy needs to serve as a dynamic framework that serves as an ongoing daily template for decision-making. Your strategy, rather than imposing itself on the environment supports your business direction by creating boundaries” or a “playing field” for moving toward the future, within which key decisions are made. 

When you have a living strategy, you’re able to exploit side-door opportunities and changes in your environment, whether that be an internal or external disruption.


Written by Leanne Hughes.
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Leanne Hughes
Leanne Hughes is an Australian businesswoman, entrepreneur, and high-performance business consultant. She advises clients worldwide on creating dynamic work environments and organizational cultures that improve business performance. She’s a 2022 Inductee in the Million Dollar Consulting® Hall of Fame and hosts the Leanne Hughes’ Work and Live Large podcast and the First Time Facilitator podcasts.


Leanne Hughes is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.