Much of business planning in large organisations has become the field of dreams of LALs (Labels and Acronym Lovers). We have the labels of Vision, Mission and Values to kick us off and we quickly dive into KRAs (Key Result Areas), Key Outcomes, Objectives, Goals, Strategies, Targets, Measures, KRIs (Key Result Indicators), and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

We are told, usually by fantastic consultants like me, or someone who has gone to a course, that our goals must be SMART; S = Specific, M = Measurable, A = Attainable (realistic), R = Relevant, T = Time Related) or in another version A = Actionable and R = Realistic.

If we are in a division of a large organisation we will be given a template in Word or in Excel prepared by someone who has just a little more knowledge than our own, to fill in with many of these helpful LALs as headings. Sometimes there may even be a supporting page or two on what the LALs mean.

The planning cycle starts with the deciphering of the “planning pack” comprised of templates and riding instructions and in some cases, a few mandatory KPIs. I almost forgot; there is always the reminder to make sure our KPIs are about quantity, quality, cost and timeliness.

The next stage in the planning cycle seems to be to take all of the thoughts we had and papers we wrote last year and our actual achievements and disappointments this year and throw them into a pool of discussion on what should go in this year’s plan. More correctly, I should say, in this year’s template.

The result of this template based and LAL laden planning style is a lack of thinking and an output that is poor. I have seen organisations end with hundreds and thousands of performance indicators. They have no hope of measuring them and by definition, are not KEY.

I have seen organisations with a lovely template with KRAs leading to objectives leading to strategy leading to tasks leading to KPIs. The actual document was a list of tasks leading to sub-tasks leading to sub-sub-tasks leading to timeline targets to complete the sub tasks. It was a shopping list of what we think we would like to do next year.

The lack of thinking is palpable.

Business planning does not have to be this way even if you have been given a template. My primary advice if you have been given a template is to read it, understand the key components and then ignore it for now.

Your first task is to think about what the organisation you lead should be achieving in a few years’ time. Life changes too fast to think more than about three years time. Thinking further ahead puts you in strategy only mode and not as a kick start to planning.

Take a day with your senior staff and “shoot the breeze about the future”. Don’t bog yourself down in what is not possible or probable. Define what you want your goal to be. It must always be numeric and have a date attached to it.

Determine what financial, people, systems and process changes you will need to implement over the planning period to become what you want to be. Some ideas will fall out as unviable due to costs and perceived benefits or budget restrictions.

Think about the pivotal parts of your organisation’s activities that you must focus on to be what you want to be.

Think of the tasks your organisation needs to complete to be what you want to be. Make the tasks cascade from a high level summary for the CEO to be accountable down to the lowest level for employees to be responsible.

If the template is for the CEO to be accountable for, only include their tasks, not those of the whole organisation. Cascaded tasks for other employees can be documented in addendums or other documents.

Think of how you will know and can measure when a task or groups of tasks will be completed and did what was designed as the outcome in an appropriate time frame and cost. Think about who will measure these things and how they will be reported.

Then think about what it will all cost.

Templates are developed to help. However, they often hinder planning. Whether they help or not is a result of the skill of the template designer. Whether poor templates hinder is a result of the attitude of the leader.

Leaders who have a methodical way of determining “what do we want to be”, “what are we now”, “what will it actually take to get us there” and “how will we know we are getting there”, will always be able to fill in a template. They can afford to LOL (laugh out loud) at LAL templates.