Business planning is a bore to most organisations. It is seen in many cases as an annual chore to be completed under duress of the chief executive officer, board or other stakeholders.

It should be seen however, as an opportunity to clear away the cobwebs of day to day management and supervision. It is the one time that the leaders of the organisation are able to reflect on their current operating environment and plan for the future.

Much of the apparent drudgery of business planning comes from the poor, if any, processes adopted in business or corporate planning. Business planning does not have to be complex, but it does take process, thought and data.

The bulk of business planning should be completed over two to three days away from the day to day management. Prior to the ?away days? preparation in the form of an analysis of current performance against financial, employee, customer and community KPIs and the development of a model of financial inputs and outputs can be completed.

A worthy starting point for a business planning session is to reconfirm what business the organisation is in. This somewhat obvious step is often revealing as organisations tend to slide from their original purpose over time. Alternatively, the environment in which they operate changes enough to make their business model irrelevant.

Business planning processes are well documented. They tend to follow a well worn path of planning. The path is usually Mission/Vision, current performance, SWOT, goals, strategies, marketing and sales plan, operational plan, research and development plan, people development plan, funding plan, financial projections and action plan.

To make the most out of an away day, the leadership team needs to come prepared with an excel spreadsheet of profit and cash flow over the last four years and a prospective balance sheet. Also, an excel model of the component parts of sales, direct costs, indirect costs, capital investments, depreciation schedule, interest taxes and financing sources and costs is required.

If the skills required to create these models are not available in the organisation, they should be hired. The importance of having accurate financial data on business planning cannot be overstated.

Although, it is equally important to recognise that business planning should not get in front of the data available. That is, if the data available is only at the high level, the planning regrettably must be at high level. The corollary of course, is that the action plan must include activities to improve the granularity of the data.

The first day of an ?away day? concentrates on understanding the current performance. Leaders ensure that they understand the inter-relationships of the existing marketing, sales, operational, research and development and people development activities. They must understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the markets in which they operate.

Government departments and ministries are not immune from this necessity of analysis. They may not receive payment for many of their services, but they do have services, customers, cost and people development activities which interact not only with other ministries and departments but also with the public and public companies.

The second day of an ?away day? concentrates on the ?so where do we want to be? discussion and brainstorming. This should be a day free from restrictions of the present. It should concentrate on using the strengths of the organisation or eliminating the weaknesses of the organisation to achieve the goals and vision of the organisation.

The third day of the ?away day? concentrates on the capacity constraints that would either stop some of the strategies and tactics developed on day two from ever being realised or are needed to be developed to be able to reach the goals and vision. The capacity enhancements will include capital investment, recruitment, process re-engineering, competency development, data gathering and performance management, to name a few.

The key to this part of the planning is to be realistic about the time required to develop and the resources to manage the development of the capacity. The resources will include money and people and occasionally systems, which requires policy and process documentation and people and money.

After the ?away day? the leaders should communicate the outcomes to their subordinates and ask them to model and understand the ramifications of adopting any of the planned items. The subordinate feedback and output from the away days is discussed and prioritised with timelines, people requirements, financial and funding implications being used to cull out activities to a final plan.

Business planning is not a chore. It is the obligation of every leader to plan their business and communicate it to their subordinates. Without it, organisations operate in a dark and foreboding forest of opportunities lost through ignorance of the past, and present and lack of planning for the future.