ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

STRATEGIC PLANNING - WHY

O.K, you work hard every day to keep your customers satisfied; handling all their problems as well as your own. On top of that, you have to juggle everything that your staff does and satisfy or placate the insurance companies who are always on your back to grow.

Then some consultant keeps telling you that you should take time to “plan” the future of your agency. The only thing you’re thinking is about that old adage, “When you’re up to your ‘neck’ in alligators, there’s no time to think about draining the swamp.”

Anyway, if you’re planning for your own business, it requires you to spend considerable time on the plan and that is usually uncomfortable. You have no problem helping your clients with their problems – you’re always there for them --but you avoid working on your own issues because they highlight the weak areas in your business and in your life.

But even the most skeptical of us agree that those agents who are directed and spend their time doing the right things are inevitably more successful. When we’re ‘on our games’, we are successful. Unfortunately, they are time in our lives that we are a little ‘off’ our game and feel a little out of control and lost.

Planning solves the problem of being out of control. While it does not guarantee success (if the thought process behind the plans are flawed), the PROCESS of planning is the key to its success.

PROCESS LEADS TO RESULTS

Millions of people have read my favorite book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The contents of the book will lead to a more fulfilled life, business success AND (most importantly) living a happier life. So why aren’t those millions of people successful and happy? Casual readers can boast of owning and knowing the Seven Habits, but it is going through the process of the 7 Habits, not possession of the book and understanding of the concepts that lead to personal and business success.

Similarly, our guides to Strategic Planning are available in synopsis through detailed descriptions of the conduct of each segment. But reading and understanding the planning concepts without pursuing the process of planning is of little use.

We recently conducted back-to-back Strategic Planning sessions, one for a business who had been practicing Strategic Planning for years; the other one was for an organization that had evolved its own version of planning over several years but found it wanting because they never reached successful conclusion. The implementation of the classical Strategic and Tactical Planning model, they hope, will finally lead to full control over their business development.

The experienced planning agency conducted the same ‘homework’ as the new planning agency. But they have already been using their Tactical Plan as the working manager of their annual goals and objectives. Living their Plan daily to guide them through the year made preparing for the next segment of the Plan quite comfortable. Having done this several times before, they also knew that the historical analysis was not requested to be used as a club to highlight personal failures. It was required to isolate the successful initiatives from the unsuccessful ones to avoid repetition of comfortable programs whose only commonality was that they all failed to achieve the desired results.

The new agency was given its assignments months in advance and the managers were reminded frequently that the Planning Session was closing in and the research needed to be done to prepare the managers for their parts in the Plan. Researching historical performance was both daunting and uncomfortable. The few managers who did the research felt that they would be exposing their faults and failures by discussing all the things that didn’t work in the past. Most looked at their history, but didn’t complete the assignments. I explained to the frustrated agency owner that IT DIDN’T MATTER THAT THEY HADN’T FULLY COMPLETED THEIR ASSIGNMENTS when he called to try to postpone the planning session claiming that his team was not prepared. THE IMPORTANT THING IS THAT THEY WENT THROUGH THE ANALYTICAL PROCESS OF LOOKING BACK, not whether they had the results arranged in the manner in which we asked for it.

THE PROCESS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE PRODUCT

In both agencies we continued the process of creating (or recreating) the Mission Statement (the business goals of the agency in five years) and the Vision Statement (the view of the business from the standpoint of its most important audiences). It took longer to create these Guiding Goals for the new planning agency because we had to guide them through THE PROCESS. The planning agency already knew why it was important to know their targets before letting fly their objectives for the upcoming year. But the process was the same – creation of or reminders of where the business needed to be in five years.

Following THE PROCESS, we validated the strategies for the planning agency and created them for the new planners. The Strategies would define what they would have to do differently in order to achieve the key elements of their long term goals. We forced them to create long term goals going from the fifth year position of their Mission and Vision to the Tactical Planning year we were facing. THE PROCESS of defining objectives from strategies that all lead to Mission and Vision focuses the team on only pursuing annual objectives IF they will lead to the positions they want to occupy in five years.

Only after the strategic portion of the plan was completed did we permit the agencies to launch into their primary reasons for the meeting, their Tactical Plan, their objectives for the next twelve months that would define their annual success.

The experienced planning agency already knew that the creation of their Objectives only got them 50% of the way to the successful achievement of the Plan. The new planning agency thought that once the Objectives were created they were done.

In reality PROCESS MEETS PERFORMANCE when Action Plans and Benchmarks are created to convert the goals statement of the Objectives in to the activities of Action Plans and the markers of success of the benchmarks.

Both groups understood that we were going to create a working budget from the objectives of the agencies. The experienced planners also understood that besides defining the activities that were required to achieve the annual objectives, the Action Plans also added expense projections for the people, equipment and marketing needed to support each of the objectives. This added a level of reality to the budgeting process that tells the departments and the agency owners what kind of profit levels they should expect during the planning period.

The managers of the experienced agency attacked their benchmarks with a passion. They already understood that they would be expected to perform to the benchmarks as the measure of success of their action plans. The managers of the new planning agency seemed like ‘deer in the headlights’ when they were asked to provide monthly markers that would measure whether their action plans were working as expected. The insecure managers felt that the benchmarks would be used to evaluate their performance. The experienced agency’s managers understood that the benchmarks were their own evaluation tools to determine if the action plans they initially establish were working as expected or if they needed to be altered to better achieve their annual objectives.

The new planning agency left the planning session believing that they must achieve their goals and hoping that they could perform up to the expectations of the action plans and benchmarks. The experienced agency left much more comfortably. They know that the year will progress based on the work effort that all of their employees will exert. The Tactical Plan is the guideline to make sure they are doing what they expect will effectively permit them to achieve their goals. If not, they will identify the soft spots and make changes during the year to either better meet the goals set or to change the objectives to ones more appropriate to the realities of the year (better or worse than originally expected).

We hope that managers of the new planning agency, like those of the experienced planning agency, will realize that THE PROCESS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE PRODUCT. The process of planning allows you to stay focused on the annual goals that will move you toward where you would like to be in the longer term. The process will allow you to flex to the realities and conditions of the year as it proceeds and will permit you to maximize your results.

Consider Strategic Planning if you would like to maximize your efforts in a controllable fashion instead of haphazardly doing the things that you hope will yield proper results with plenty of rationales available to you in case you don’t get the expected results.