Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: You’re mid-way through the fiscal year when you’re presented with a fantastic opportunity to help your team learn something new. “If only we could take on this project, we might be able to affect real change,” you say. Unfortunately, you’re forced to pass it up because it wasn’t in the budget.
This probably sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
If your company is like most others, you spend seemingly endless hours in annual planning meetings discussing spreadsheets, crunching numbers, prioritizing line items, trying to predict what opportunities might arise and estimate just how much the year ahead will cost.
Usually we look at our work history in an attempt to plan for the future. How many courses did we build last year? How many will we make this year? What work will we complete in-house? Will we need to contract out certain projects? What’s the priority for our resources? This is traditional strategic planning. We use the past to inform the future, tweak the percentages up or down, and then we’ve locked in our plan for the year.
That may be the way things have been done in businesses around the world for generations, but in a world where technology moves faster than business (hint: right now), annual planning is becoming archaic.
It’s static planning for a dynamic world.
It’s time to step away from tradition and into a new way of planning—one that invests more time in maximizing productivity and flexibility.
One that doesn’t make you waste time trying to pin down every little detail only to pin yourself down by a plan that doesn’t allow any breathing room.
An article in the Wall Street Journal puts it this way, “Organizations need to blow apart the traditional budgeting process, become more dynamic and refocus on crucial management functions individually.”
So turn your back on static annual planning. Begin dynamic planning.
What is dynamic planning?
It’s planning with a balance of strategy and flexibility.
It attempts to take the big picture into account in order to make a broad, responsible plan for the year ahead. But it also requires you to revisit that plan regularly—perhaps quarterly—to ensure it’s where it needs to be right now.
This isn’t just budget related. If there’s a shift in organizational learning priorities, you’ll want to be able to revisit those to adapt for your team’s learning needs, as well.
A dynamic plan allows employees to take intelligent risks, pursue unforeseen opportunities, respond swiftly to threats, adopt new technology, and carry out new ideas—all for the betterment of the business.
If you haven’t made the shift yet, here are some tips to get you started.
Set clear goals
Having clear, big-picture goals is just as important in dynamic planning as it was in static planning. When goals are in place, they can serve as the measuring stick for whether or not an opportunity is worth investing the required resources.
For example, let’s say that your company’s primary goal for the year is to increase its percent of market share.
A couple of weeks into the new year your competition launches a new product, stirring up buzz in your industry.
After researching the competition, you find that with a few key talking points your sales team can defend your market position and maybe even gain market share with key differentiators.
The question now becomes: How can I quickly train my sales team to contest our competitors’ new product? Time is of the essence! Every day that goes by you risk losing market share.
Thankfully, your organization believes in dynamic planning and is able to successfully allocate the resources to create new sales collateral, host a well produced webinar, and create an asynchronous training curriculum for your sales team.
You were able to get the resources for the project because this training directly supported your goal of increasing market share.
What if you were stuck in static planning? You would’ve had to wait until the next planning cycle and by then it might’ve been too late. You might’ve lost market share and then you’re a cycle behind your competition.
Minimize your outlook
Static planning tries to predict what things will be like a year from now or even more. Dynamic planning shifts your mindset to more immediate concerns, but in the best way possible.
Try to scale down your thinking to just 90 days. Focus on one quarter, major milestone, or product launch at a time.
With those big-picture goals in place for the long haul, you’re freed up to focus on the short-term. By focusing on the here and now, allowing yourself and your team to take risks and pounce on new opportunities, you could drastically change what the next short-term window of time will look like.
Let’s say that with static planning, your company predicts Q3 of next year to be relatively slow. Let’s be real, it’s always slow.
Your customers are vacationing and thinking about getting their kids back to school. They’re not buying from you. So, you plan for a slow Q3. You bake it into the annual strategy. You inadvertently prepare your reps for a slow Q3. And what do you know? After all is said and done, it’s a slow Q3.
Now rewind for a second.
With dynamic planning, you’re free to focus more on the short-term and the flexibility to do whatever it takes to move the needle closer and closer to your primary goals. Maybe you identify asynchronous training opportunities for your team members that could really improve their overall job competency and satisfaction.
So in Q2 you implement it.
With that investment, your team is able to dedicate far more time and energy to actually performing their jobs well, and the company’s productivity increases substantially. As a result, Q3 turns out to be a record-breaking quarter for your company.
Focus on the short-term (which should always ladder up to a long term goal) while actively analyzing the results of your efforts. Be nimble and change what’s not working while also maximizing what is. Seek every opportunity to be better immediately. Don’t wait until your next planning meeting.
One advantage of a static annual plan is that it can serve as an unwavering playbook for your company. Everyone receives it at the beginning of the year and does their part to see it through to the end.
Not so much with dynamic planning. Things change. Strategies take twists and turns. Priorities are rearranged. This can be frustrating on the individual level if it’s not all accompanied by strong communication on the company’s part.
Everyone involved should communicate regularly—both within teams and among departments—about what they’re doing to move the company forward. This way, everyone can flex together to help achieve common goals.
Now, you don’t need to replace your annual static planning meetings with regular dynamic planning meetings. You just need to be responsible for keeping others in-the-know about what you’re up to.
Send emails. Mention it at team meetings. Do what works for you. Just don’t do it in secret.
Measure what matters
What might you communicate to help get decision maker buy-in? Data related to the learning project or initiative can be one of the most convincing talking points.
To build on the example from above, if you’ve just released a new course to help train the sales team, how many people have completed the course? Is there any correlation to sales numbers changing?
Another example—if you’re building a new feature in your learning platform, perhaps the most important measure is % increase of users, % increase in user happiness, or % increase in time in the app.
If you’re looking to update an existing course, is the behavior change still happening? Is the learner’s satisfaction going up?
It’s important to measure and track the results of each initiative as you move through them. This helps establish a baseline to compare all future projects with.
Being able to tell the story about what’s working and what’s not, and understanding why things worked out the way they did, is what helps inform your next pivot. It tells leadership you’re paying attention to what matters and you know how to steer the team in the right direction, and how to change course quickly if it’s not working.
Dynamic planning gives you and your team the freedom to be strategic more than once a year.
Actually, it encourages strategic thinking as often as possible. And with the world changing as quickly as it is today, who doesn’t need a little more freedom and encouragement to keep up with it all?
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