Planning – Where Do I Start?

Make 2019 your best and brightest year ever.

business plan 2019
Kickstart 2019 with a plan

If you’re wanting to have your best and brightest year yet – you’re going to need a plan. If you don’t, you’ll be like the 85% of businesses that drift from one year to the next, and from day to day – never really kicking into gear.

Yes, you heard right – only 15% of businesses have a plan, and of those that do, more than 60% fail to communicate that plan to their people. That means that 90% of people turning up to work each day are simply “reacting”.

If you’re happy drifting from one day to the next that’s fine. But if you’d rather make an impact – then now is the perfect time to make a plan.

The First Step To Planning

Successful business planning hinges on the key question of “What are you trying to achieve?

‘Clarity of purpose’ is central to being able to get your people and other stakeholders supporting you, your initiatives, and the outlook you have for the organisation.

Be clear on where you want to get to.
Be clear on where you want to get to.

It can often take a lot of time to get everyone clear about what the key objectives are. And that’s okay. It’s worth taking the time because unanimous agreement about the answers to this question is so important that it will drive many other decisions that you’ll make in your business.

Being clear about your core purpose and key objectives provides you with a backbone against which to measure your strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately to make decisions. It will help you to define the type of people you need, what new products to stock, or the location of your premises.

It will help you to determine what’s going well, and what’s not.

As is the case in so many aspects of leadership, clarity of purpose is the key to creating and implementing a successful planning regime.

Ask Questions – A Lot Of Questions

I’m often asked to help organisations to develop their business plans. And I’m not one of the new age consultants who think that a plan can fit on one page. But equally, I like to keep it simple.

To do that, I ask a lot of questions. The process helps me clearly establish the objectives and the business aspirations of the shareholders and senior executives. Good questions will also highlight where the issues are as well as where the opportunities might lie.

Ask a lot of questions
Ask a lot of questions

So while I ask many questions, the one that’s more important than all the others combined is, as I keep stating: “So, what are you trying to achieve?”

I recently asked this question to one of the senior executives in one of Australia’s ‘big four’ banks. He boldly started to answer but he was waffling not long after, and I could see that he was struggling. Halfway through his first sentence he stopped, unable to come up with the right words, and said, “Can I come back to you on that?”

Reducing The Risk Of Your Plan Failing

Of the business plans that do exist, most fail due to poor execution. So your approach to planning has to take that risk of failure away.

I’ve found that the execution of a plan via a series of project plans, all delivered by the people who are best positioned to successfully manage each component of the plan, has the greatest chances of success and high engagement.

My approach to planning provides a way to keep everyone, particularly the leaders and managers tuned into the organisation’s overall goals. I like to be very specific about each particular operational priority and clearly identify whose job it is to lead, and be responsible for each and every action required to deliver the components of the plan.

My favourite tool to facilitate this is something I call the OPIAT.

Introducing The OPIAT

When I run my Masterclass for Leaders workshops, CEO Planning Days, or in-house workshops – we always spend time giving participants the OPIAT business planning template, showing them  how to use it, and how to apply it to their own situation. It’s something that participants rave about as being one of the most valuable components of the sessions.

So, what’s an OPIAT? – It’s a One Page Issues and Actions Template.

The OPIAT ensures that you have a live document that is updated at every monthly meeting, with clear accountability or responsibility, and an agreed plan of activity.

A comprehensive business improvement programme will typically require anywhere between 20 and 50 OPIATs. A $195m business improvement consulting project I worked on was captured on just 51, one page OPIATs.  When I was CEO at Yellow Pages NZ our entire plan consisted of just 45.

I’ve found that as part of a 3 step planning approach the OPIAT is vastly superior to any book sized business plan that nobody reads, let alone actions.

Three Step Planning Process

The planning process I use breaks the process down into the three following steps:

  1. Identify Strategic priorities. What are your main strategic priorities (or headlines)? Ideally you will have between six and 10 of these. Some generic examples might include:
    • To recruit and retain outstanding people;
    • To deliver outstanding customer service;
    • To be a highly innovative organisation, regularly creating new products;
    • A need to grow sales by X% in the next 12 month
  2. Issues and opportunities. Within each strategic priority, you will then develop a list of issues and opportunities that relate to that headline, and your need to improve in that area.
  3. Project plans. For each of the issues or opportunities you have highlighted, you should then develop a project plan using the OPIAT. Each project plan will be one to two (maximum) pages long and outline the clear plan that you are going to implement in order to improve performance in that area.

Everything You Need To Write Your Plan

There’s only so much that I can cover in a short article. If you’d like more, you’ll find a more detailed explanation of this simple and effective planning process in “The Power Of Planning” chapter in my book “The Best Leaders Don’t Shout”.

The chapter includes the OPIAT business planning template, examples, case studies, and even the questions to ask to help you build your own powerful plan for business improvement. You can download the chapter here.


If you want to make this your best and brightest year ever as a leader or manager – you’re going to need a plan.

This three step approach to planning transformed my ability to lead effectively, and it’s certainly helped us to achieve some ridiculously ambitious goals without burning out.

On a more personal note, it’s helped me as a leader to feel more in control. It meant I could keep my finger on the pulse without stressing, becoming overwhelmed, or drifting off the path.

So, I encourage you to become a better planner. It’s part of being a better leader.

Thanks for reading, and please do add a comment below to let us know how you’re getting on with your plan, or if you have any questions. To get started remember to download the chapter, and stay in touch .


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