Most leaders understand the importance of planning. Individuals at all levels in an organization tend to be more comfortable when there is a plan in place because it reminds them of their goal. A plan provides the course of action to take and helps them get there in the most straightforward way.

Research has shown that the time invested in planning is well worth the effort. Did you know that 50 percent of new businesses fail within their first two years of operation? According to Dun & Bradstreet, 33 percent of all new businesses fail within the first six months of operation, 50 percent within the first two years of operation and 75 percent within the first three years. The most common reason for business failure is lack of planning.

Even though many leaders inherently know the value of planning (and the risks when they don’t plan), some still resist investing the time upfront to do so. For some, it has a negative connotation because it implies a lot of time and work.

The first thing leaders must do is change their perceptions around planning. It doesn’t have to be something that takes a lot of time or effort—it can be relatively simple.

A basic plan should answer the following three questions:

  • Where am I now?
  • Where do I want to go?
  • What steps will I take to get there?

Where am I now?

It is imperative to establish a baseline so you know where you currently are. Without this information, how will you know whether you made any progress? This might be relatively easy to answer if, for example, you know you weigh a certain amount and want to be ten pounds lighter. But this question can also be more reflective if you’re defining foundational elements such as your mission and guiding principles. Either way, it is critical to identify and acknowledge this reality as a first step.

Where do I want to go?

By answering this question, you are working to define your destination. To help with this step, ask yourself, “What will it look like in the future? Where are we headed? What is the future we want to create?” Answering these questions should be fun because no one really knows what the future will look like. So be creative. Be adventurous. Be daring.

What steps will I take to get there? 

Answering this question can require a bit more time, because defining how and when you’ll actually reach your destination is really the meat of your plan. Here is where you’ll write goals and outline the specific activities you’ll take in order to reach your destination. An effective goal clearly states what you want to accomplish, when you want to accomplish it, how you’re going to do it and who is going to be responsible. Each goal should be specific and measurable.

Once you have written your goals, you’ll want to outline specific action items to implement those goals. Be sure to include start and end dates. You should also share your goals with those who report to you so they are aware of your plans and can outline and implement their own goals accordingly.

By answering these three questions, you’ll find that many positive things will occur. For one thing, you will probably be more motivated to push forward on whatever you’re hoping to achieve. You will also likely lower your stress level because you’ll know exactly what you must do and how you’re going to do it.

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