4 Reasons Long-Term Planning is More Important Than Ever


By Wayne Rivers, Family Business Institute

Near the end of Dwight Eisenhower’s second presidential term, he reflected on his military career and offered a paradoxical statement: "Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." That's pretty confusing; what could he have meant? 

Even the most thoughtfully considered plan can't anticipate everything. Emergencies, by definition, are things which are unexpected. The pandemic has thrown a kink into how all of us do business. Even if you had elaborate and well-thought-out plans, conditions are suddenly different. If plans are useless, but planning is indispensable, how do we reconcile Eisenhower’s statement? 

Here is an analogy: I have a friend who was interested in MMA-style fighting before MMA was a phenomenon. He talked about having pre-fight plans, but once you get popped in the mouth a couple of times, the cobwebs get pretty thick and the plan goes out the window. Getting hit, therefore, had to be part of the training. He said that only through training would you know how to react when feeling physical pain and what to do in that event.

It is impossible to explain to somebody what it's like to feel the shock of physical pain from getting punched, so you must live through it via practice so your body and brain will know how to react. In a crisis like the current one, the analogy makes perfect sense.

Can you imagine entering this or any other crisis without a plan? Where would one begin? How would one adjust and adapt? Would every day just be a new “hair on fire” type of experience? Let's examine four benefits of planning which will pay off for every contractor – especially in times of crisis. 

  1. Take Eisenhower’s wisdom. "The details of a plan which was designed years in advance are often incorrect, but the planning process demands the thorough exploration of options and contingencies. The knowledge gained during this probing is crucial to the selection of appropriate actions as future events unfold." This is why the most successful contractors do planning. It provides insight into yourself, your team, your customers, your new business pipeline, etc., and you learn how to plan so that when there is an emergency you can easily come together, reformulate, and re-calibrate. 
  2. Planning gives you a place to start. I can't even imagine how a contractor would work intelligently in the current situation without having a plan in place first. It is much, much easier to adapt to changing circumstances if you already have a plan in place. No one would undertake a coast-to-coast drive without a plan, a map, a planned route. Sure, there might be detours during the journey, but you’d never start without a plan. 
  3. Planning provides clarity, vision, and direction for your team. It aligns the people on your team. Simon Sinek says, "it sets the image of the future" in the minds of your people, and that's a very valuable thing.
  4. Planning provides vital practice for your team. This is the most important point; planning gives your team practice collaborating, working and thinking together, challenging each other, debating, and requiring each other to defend ideas. It's the PROCESS of planning that creates value. It's not the three-ring binder filled with graphs, charts, and diagrams; it's not that at all! It is the process of getting the best minds in your company together working as a team in preparation for both good times and bad. If practice is important for success in golf, tennis, or any other sport, why isn't practice important in long-term business planning? If you've never practiced planning together as a team, can you imagine how disjointed and ineffective the process would be once you finally did? 

After 30 years of working with contractors, one of the great ironies is that they don't do anything without a plan; a contractor would hardly walk onto a job site and turn the first spade full of dirt without a comprehensive plan. And yet the biggest project, the most important project contractors have, is the long-term health and success of their businesses.

Why do they so rarely have overarching, long-term plans for their companies?

In adverse conditions, that’s when you need planning the most. The good news: It's never too late to start!