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Business Planning for the New Century

blog post jeff

October 27, 2014

Perhaps my favorite F. Scott FitzGerald quote:
“The mark of a first-rate intellect is the ability to hold two apparently opposing ideas in mind at the same time and retain the ability to function.”

When it comes to planning for your business in this new century, they are good words to keep in mind.

The two “apparently opposing ideas” in this case are – first: that you need to have an explicit plan for your business that goes beyond just the projection of what you expect your financials to look like… and second: that you cannot treat that plan as graven in stone.

Over years of consulting with – and mentoring – small to mid-sized entrepreneurial companies, I’ve been struck by how rarely the otherwise highly successful people at the helm have got a concrete plan of attack defined and committed to paper… much less shared and understood across the organization.

But this is precisely what is needed: a roadmap that lays out the “what’s”, the “how’s”, the “who’s”, and the “when’s”… that are expected to produce the numbers projected in forward-looking financial projections.

At the same time, sticking with our old friend, F. Scott, this plan of attack has to be viewed as somewhat provisional in the sense that it can be flexed and adjusted quickly when the operating environment calls for it.

This brings to mind a second quote – this time from that other great American thinker, Mike Tyson:

“Everybody’s got a plan…until he gets hit.”

We live in an era in which business and the larger world around it is subject to highly fluid, volatile and sometimes downright chaotic influences. Change is constant… as is the need to innovate. Consequently, the staid old five-year plans of the 30 years ago crammed with back-up data and loaded with dense prose, are as obsolete as the crossbow.

What’s needed instead:
  • a 36-month plan with a rolling 4-6 quarter component that permits periodic reviews and updating as the environment evolves…
  • a shared grasp of both the driving vision and/or brand position behind
  • the plan by the rank-and-file of the organization (what the military refers to – in another context – as “Commander’s Intent”)


  • a process that permits that same rank-and-file to own all the elements of the plan so that effective execution is not just likely but virtually guaranteed.  It’s important to remember that one of the biggest tasks facing the leader of an organization today is that of “manufacturing ownership” within the firm of the efforts to create its future. A tip: if you want to enhance the likelihood of your team’s ability to execute your plan to a tee, give them a meaningful role in creating it in the first place.
  • a planning “loop” – a process – that permits the organization to learn and adjust collectively – through the constant cycling through the steps of planning, piloting, executing, and – very importantly – tracking and analyzing results as they unfold. This is the same notion that underlies many critical process techniques from Six Sigma to legendary fighter pilot John Boyd’s OODA Loop.  Another great tool used regularly by both the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army: the After-Action Report.  This is a quick turnaround post-mortem on recently concluded initiatives that  documents “lessons learned” and requires explicit commitment to the adjustments that will be made based upon those lessons.


At the end of the day, this is all about being highly focused and purposeful in how you go about your company’s business… and about building a learning organization over time – one that is capable of adapting and adjusting on the fly, and of learning from its own experiences as it seeks to continuously improve.

The era in which are all attempting to operate demands this.

A final quote from an old drill instructor:

“There are only two types of people on a battlefield:  the quick… and the dead.”

Jeff Campbell is Chairman Emeritus of the Chairmen’s Roundtable, a nonprofit organization of senior executives providing pro bono strategic advice to mid-sized businesses in San Diego.  He is the former CEO of Burger King and ex-Chairman of the Pillsbury Restaurant Group. Jeff was previously Senior Vice President for Brand Development for Pepsi-Cola as well as CEO of the Johnny Rockets and Catalina Restaurant Groups. He has a B.A. in Psychology from Fairfield University, an M.B.A. in Marketing from Columbia University and an M.A. in History from the University of Miami. He did his military service with the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

Jeff is currently the Brinker Executive in Residence at San Diego State’s L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism and Program Director of that school’s new and innovative Master’s program in Hospitality.

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