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Planning is THE most critical activity an organization undertakes. For over twenty years research has demonstrated that the key characteristic that distinguishes “excellent” or truly successful companies from the herd is the existence of a formal written plan. Many companies have great ideas. Those that write them down and figure out how to implement them usually win out in the end.

Yet, research also shows that it is really not the planning document that is important, but rather the planning process. Everyone knows that a lot can change a few months, weeks, or sometimes even days after you’ve formulated a plan. The key, however, is that through the planning process the greatest number of people in the organization possible know not only what you are trying to do, but also why and how you are trying to do it.

There are basically two approaches to planning, and both have merit in different circumstances. The first, and most common approach is for leadership of the organization to develop a plan and then educate the rest of the people in the organization as to what is expected of each of them. Alternately, more and more organizations are developing the plan with the input of as many participants as possible. The idea here is that the greater the input individuals have, the greater the “buy-in” and commitment to meeting that plan. It has been our experience that the most successful plans, and those that are also the most flexible, are those developed with the broadest participation. These plans are the most successful in the face of change as a result of the fact that individuals have a deeper understanding of what the organization is seeking to achieve and are thus able to adjust more quickly to different approaches of how to get there. This approach also tends to stimulate creativity within an organization. 

This paper discusses what we see as the ideal way to develop a plan within an organization in order to achieve dramatic levels of success. There is a clear bias here for planning processes that include the greatest number of people, and indeed, it can be suggested that everyone in an organization has a role in creating a great plan.

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