Avoid The Crystal Ball & Chain

Have you noticed how sometimes people don’t want to plan because they don’t want to put future numbers on record? I call this the “crystal ball and chain” problem. People are thinking, “If I write down my numbers for next year, they’ll use that to fire me.” So they resist estimates and forecasts which means resisting an important piece of the planning process.

I’ve seen this in organizations that introduce good business planning, which to me means a process of a lean business plan along with regular review and revisions to keep it live and fresh.

The solution to the problem is collaboration.

Fear of commitment & accountability

It happens most often when businesses introduce planning in groups or teams that haven’t been doing regular planning in the past. People resist change. Planning goes better when the people charged with executing the plan are active in developing it. Therefore, team leaders and managers should be contributing to the plan by establishing milestones, estimating time to completion, setting key performance indicators, and looking for ways to measure progress. But sometimes they respond with fear. The objections will include misconceptions like this:

  • How can I possibly know today what’s going to happen six months from now?
  • Isn’t that just a waste of time?
  • Can’t it actually be counterproductive because it distracts us when we spend time trying to figure out things in the future?
  • It hurts flexibility

I’ve heard objections like these as legitimate, real worries. I’ve heard it from some who were stars on the team, not worried at all about their own position, but legitimately worried about the best thing for management and getting work done. I’ve had reason to believe that there are worries about commitment and accountability under the surface, because of the “they’ll use that to fire me later” syndrome. However, if that is the real worry, people won’t say so.

The answer is that projecting future business activities isn’t a ball and chain at all, because in the right planning process the existence of the plan helps you manage effectively.

Collaboration solves the problem

Business owners and team leaders who want to introduce good planning process into an organization should be aware of this potential problem and how they should show collaboration as the solution, as early as possible.

Some kinds of collaboration are obvious and easy. For example, say it’s October and you are developing your plan for the following year. There is an important trade show in April every year. The marketing manager plans on exhibiting at that show and puts that into the plan milestonesand spending budget. And then things change. It turns out that by January the marketing manager discovers that the trade show that normally takes place in April will be in June this year. So the April milestone will look like there was a delay or failure. And that’s the opportunity to show the team how the plan helps with collaboration. The milestone and its budget move from April to June and everybody is happy.

The better opportunities for collaboration come when managers and teams have failed to meet established goals for reasons that aren’t as obvious. That may be a sign of failure or poor performance. A good leader looks for signs early and gets involved when objective numbers look bad. One good outcome is the leader helping the team identify causes, develop solutions, and solve the problem. Another good outcome is realization that goals in the plan were too ambitious.

Sometimes the real cause is poor performance, which, if it happens early early in the process of adoption of good planning process, requires restraint. Don’t screw up the team process by making an early example of the danger of setting down numbers. Work hard to fix problems and/or change goals during the first few months of a new planning process. Show the team how the plan creates collaboration, not discipline.


Tim Berry is the founder of Palo Alto Software , a co-founder of Borland International and a recognized expert in business planning. Tim is the originator of Lean Business Planning. He has an MBA from Stanford and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. Today, Tim dedicates most of his time to blogging, teaching and evangelizing for business planning. Find out more on his website at www.bplans.com.


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Meadowlands Magazine

Meadowlands Magazine

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