Long Range Planning for the Bottom Line

Success starts with preparation, which in reality, is what any leader spends most of their time doing.  Preparing.  Looking into the future to stay 10 steps ahead of the team.  During the day-to-day a strong leader leads from the side or even from behind -- but backstage, a leader must be working to stay ahead.  After all, a leader must be a trailblazer in order to lead anyone anywhere.

There are several ways to plan ahead, and I'm only going to focus on long-range planning today.  In an upcoming post I'll blog about short-range planning.  Long-range planning is about the bottom line.  Short-range planning is about the culture.

Think about your bottom line.  Increased performance?  Efficiency?  Growing revenues?  Whatever your bottom line is, this is where you start.  You always start with the end in mind.  If we were looking at a map you would find your destination on the map, figure out how far away it is, and then plan the trip for getting there.  When long-range planning you are doing the same thing.  Starting with the destination.  

Long-range planning means you are planning out months (sometimes years) in advance.  You become a visionary and look into the future.  And even though you must take time to think and reflect about what is your team's #1 priority and focus should be, it is not the most important part of the planning.  The critical piece is the path in getting there.  Everything that happens between now and 10 months into the future.  The "how the team is going to make this happen" part of the plan.

I can't tell you how many times I've worked with professionals who have considered the end goal their "plan".  Increasing performance by 20% is not a plan, it is a goal.  Goals are important, but announcing the goal to the team is not where the magic happens.  That alone will not encourage or motivate your team to meet or exceed the bottom line.  In fact, simply stating the goal will only set a negative tone where people don't feel supported.  The underlying message when simply stating a goal is "Now go figure it out for yourself.  Meet back here in 6 weeks so I can tell you whether you made the goal or not."

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Before sharing the goal you must take some time to research and strategize.  Research what skills are lagging in your organization and how that may relate to the bottom line.  Then based on the complexity of the lagging skill, start mapping out what resources you will need to train your team so that they have a clear vision of how everyone is going to meet or exceed the goal.  I often use this professional learning roadmap to track my thoughts during this planning stage.

When determining the complexity of the skill the Johns Hopkins Hand Hygiene program comes to mind.  The skill doesn't haven't to be anything mind-blowing.  Johns Hopkins' bottom line was infection control.  After researching skills that were lagging for their employees they planned an entire hand hygiene training that they continue to use today.  They named the goal: decreasing infections through proper hand hygiene, they educated their employees:  video trainings, and they monitored its progress: “secret shopper” program, in which trained participants watch traffic in and out of patient rooms and calculate rates of hand hygiene compliance.  Hand hygiene is a rather simple skill and probably only needs one or two video trainings, yet had incredible results for Johns Hopkins in meeting their goal.

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However, you may have a much more complex skillset to develop in your team.  This will follow the same process as the Johns Hopkins Hand Hygiene program, name it - educate - monitor and measure,  but the training may be spread out over a period of time.  During prolonged plans such as this it is the leaders role to trust the process and keep the team focused.  To help with this I write it in a professional learning planner that is shared with everyone on the team (the one I shared here is actually much prettier than the one I've used for several years).  It keeps everyone on target for this extended period of time.  The most important resource to think about when planning out the trainings is time.  Look at the calendar to find ways to bring your team together without adding an additional burden to their already busy day.  For me, I'm able to capitalize on a monthly staff meeting that everyone plans for throughout the year.  The next thing to think about is making that time meaningful.  How can you structure the time you have with your team so that every minute is purposeful and focused on the end goal.  For this, I typically follow the lead of a researcher who has already mapped it through a book or video.  I chunk the information and label the focus topics in my plan.  Writing it out and sharing it with everyone keeps the path for reaching the destination transparent to everyone.

You'll notice a box on the planner that denotes "actions to increase reflection".  Reflection is the number one way for your team to truly make changes in their practices, and although I won't be writing on this today, I do believe it is one of the most powerful things anyone can do to grow professionally and will be writing more on that in the future.

Long-range planning takes patience, and often leaders will revert back to toddler-hood on a long road trip,"are we there yet?"  But it is the leaders role to keep everyone focused, know that each day and training is one step closer to the end goal, and trust the process.  As you look into the future of your organization I hope you find this information helpful.  I welcome any comments or questions as you work through your own long-range planning.