The challenge: Getting employees engaged and not having a document or tool to assist in tracking progress. You've tried several times to build a plan but have never really executed out of frustration and feeling it was incomplete and did not have buy-in. How do you create a "plan" for building and tracking the plan successfully?

This question poses a very real problem that plagues many small-business owners. Here are 10 suggestions on how to deal with it:

  1. Start small, easy and obvious. Find a piece of the business that's easy to understand--for example, the sales forecast--and easy-to-develop metrics for sharing. Don't try to introduce business planning all at once. Think small, easy to demonstrate and easy to show progress.
  2. Set a review schedule before you do the plan. The review schedule brings your team members together. And by posting it in advance, you give people fewer valid reasons to not be there.
  3. Be a leader. Explain from the beginning. Make sure your team understands that your new idea is not about getting the goods on them so you can hold their feet to the fire later. This is about collaboration. They might not believe you in the beginning. They may be skeptical. You'll show them as the planning progresses, but at the beginning, you have to at least say it.
     
  4. Do a SWOT session. Take an hour or two and bring your team together to develop a list of bullet points about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal; opportunities and threats are external. This will help people think strategically, and it's great for getting the whole team involved.
  5. Develop a small, easily tracked piece of a plan. For example, develop the sales forecast. Bring as many people as you can into the discussion. Make it feel like a joint effort. Make it clear (see point 3 above) that this isn't about accurately predicting the future, but rather, getting the best guesses established so you can see interrelationships and track actual results later.
  6. List your assumptions. This list of assumptions is important later. You'll want to distinguish between changed assumptions and inaccurate forecasts.
  7. The first review meeting is critical. You, the owner, have to show everybody on the team that this is important to you. Don't be late to the first meeting. Have data--plan vs. actual results--ready to share and discuss.
  8. Collaboration is critical. See point 3 again. Your people will worry that you're out to get them until they see that having a plan gives everybody better information, more tracking and, if you do it right, better collaboration. Watch for things that are supposed to happen before they do so you can see if they're on track and set them right if they aren't.
  9. Maintain a consistent review process. Your plan is going to change. All plans change. Manage the change carefully, looking first for changed assumptions, and use that change to build collaboration rather than threat. Share results with the group so you can develop peer review and peer pressure around the important metrics.
  10. Build your planning slowly. Once you have one module working, like the sales forecast, add in more modules: budgeting, milestones, strategy, and so on. A real business plan is a collection of related blocks or modules. Don't think it starts after a plan is done; a good plan is never done. So start tracking, use the tracking for management, and show the team how the planning can help steer the company.

This, by the way, is taken in large part from The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan. For more free information, visit http://planasyougo.com.