A ‘Failed’ Plan And The Solution


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This letter from an Agency Consulting Group client, together with my reply, speak for themselves:

Dear Al,

I’m afraid we’re going to have to stop our Strategic Planning process. It’s just NOT WORKING! That’s not your fault. Over the last three years we’ve consolidated my thought process and come up with EXACTLY what I would like my business to become over a five-year period. My problem is two-fold: a lack of execution on my part and a lack of responsiveness on my part to things I should be changing in the Plan. That combination of events makes the process more frustrating each year.
It seems that if I’m not on top of every objective, they don’t get done. As you have pointed out, I hate giving up and don’t want to change goals, objectives and action plans, even when the circumstances of the year make it evident that they aren’t working.

In retrospect, I should have sent you the monthly reports (as you suggested) and included you in each Quarterly Meeting, instead of just having you out once a year. However, my ego was (and still is) strong enough that I felt that I should be able to control and manage my own plan with my staff. I didn’t realize until now that I’m too close to my staff to make them accountable in an objective manner. Every time I do it, it seems to be emotional and critical and I’ve had a few people in tears when I criticize them.

All in all, I’m ready to give up and go back to the “seat of the pants” management style that I complained about when I originally asked you to help us plan. I still remember how physically and emotionally draining it was to manage crises and firefight all the time. However, I hope to use some of the Planning principles to allay this continuous panic mode as an agency owner.


Dear XXXX;

Every year we’ve actually done better in advancing the Plan. In the early years, you weren’t convinced that planning five years out could even work. Now, you see that Planning is the right tool to drive your business (and your personal life, if you choose to use the tool) in the direction you want. If implemented correctly and flexed to the ever-changing conditions of our industry, the economy and our lives, creating and implementing a Strategic Plan will keep you moving forward to achieve your potential as a business owner.

What you’ve run into is the WALL that separates the concept and process of Planning from the implementation and management of Plans through your staff. As I’ve indicated often, you can’t plan alone. Neither can you implement a Plan alone. What’s more, in some cases, the staff that fits your business in the panic mode of crisis management and firefighting can’t adapt to a more structured, disciplined process in which everyone is ACCOUNTABLE for achieving their Action Plans and Benchmarks and budgets. You can blame yourself all day for the staff’s inability to step up and mature in their roles, as you have in yours. But the only fault that remains yours is that you haven’t seen the handwriting on the wall and taken action – whether REtraining, RE-motivating, or REplacing those employees – management or not, that can’t progress with you to help grow the agency.

We’ve often explained the need to make each person accountable for your Plan process. This includes rewarding them through the Incentive Compensation Program for non-production employees and for managers, and penalizing them for failure to implement their required activities. Although you’ve been great on the rewards, you haven’t done a good job in the management of expectations and the definition of ramifications for failure.

Instead of replacing the fine scalpel of Planning with the traditional “shotgun” approach, I suggest that I help you manage the next annual iteration of the Plan, including getting the resulting reports and chairing the monthly meetings (we can Skype them) and quarterly meetings (in person). This will include sessions with every participant getting their buy-in to the process and their responsibilities, with clear indicators of their expectations, results, and the cost of non-performance. If necessary, some members will no longer be in the Planning process, in management, or in the agency.

If you don’t do this, you’ve given up the operation of your agency to the vagaries of your employees, instead of them adhering to your goals and objectives. You need to build your staff as you continue to mature and grow your agency.

As far as flexing, you share this problem with many, many agents who want to keep trying to do something that isn’t working for just a little while longer to see if it might still work. You’ll need to change and/or abandon some Action Plans and even Objectives and evaluations because they’ve been implemented properly, but are not working. Whether because of ego or dogged determination, too many agents decide to stay the course, quarter after quarter, until they find that the year-end results were far from what they desired. Flexibility is one of the keystones of planning and defines the difference between successful planning agencies and all the others. No one can pre-determine every trend and direction of their lives or business. All we can do is make good, educated judgments about the most likely directions that will work and the best ways of implementing these objectives. If you concentrate on flexibility at quarterly meetings for those objectives that aren’t working, we can also get you over that hurdle.

Call me.

Al Diamond

We’ve been given permission to republish this communication to us from one of our Planning clients and our response. The agent DID continue the plan and changed two key staff members during the next year. We chaired his Planning process for the next year and educated all in accountability results and flexing the Plan to the realities of the year. Last year, the agency grew 10.4%.

E. Al Diamond is president of Agency Consulting Group, Inc., 507 North Kings Hwy., C., Cherry Hill, NJ 08034. You can reach him at (856) 779-2430, (800) 779-2430, toll free, fax (856) 779-6224, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.agencyconsulting.com.
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