BUSINESS PLANS: Making Them Work



The CEO of a medium-size company was frustrated that few managers had executed the previous year’s business plan – a plan that he had spent endless hours writing with the Chief Financial Officer. My assignment was to prevent that from happening again.


  • Last year’s plan had been too comprehensive and ambitious and, therefore, not easily translated into departmental objectives.
  • Managers tried to implement the plan but let “tyranny of the urgent” interfere, with no repercussions.
  • Individual performance objectives did not dovetail with the master plan.


My long-term strategy was to create a closed-loop process in which the business plan would flow into departmental goals, and departmental goals into individual performance goals. As individuals succeeded, so would departments, and so would the whole business plan. The company’s Executive Council approved the process.

Given the CEO’s immediate need for a plan for the upcoming year, my short-range strategy was to organize and format that plan for easy integration into departmental goals. Linking corporate and deparmental plans with Individual performance goals would have to be tabled for awhile. Focus, measurable results, and accountability were missing in he earlier plan but were essential to the plan I would prepare.

I wrote a preliminary draft based on the parameters of the previous year’s document as a working document and a framework for discussion. Subsequently:

  • I interviewed the CEO in hopes of narrowing the scope and tightening priorities. However, he was reluctant to limit his ambition for the company. Still, I tightened the language and made it as specific as possible. I re-interviewed him twice more and was able to get a mostly workable document.
  • I also talked at length with key executives about their aspirations, skepticisms, and willingness to take responsibility for implementation in their respective areas.
  • Next, I distributed the document to middle managers and asked them to submit a one-page description of their department’s stretchable but achievable objectives.

The guidelines were:

  • Pin objectives to the business plan.
  • Think objectives — not responsibilities or activities.
  • Prioritize the objectives by the results each could produce.
  • Focus on accomplishments, not just staying busy.
    Skaare met twice monthly with the middle management group and weekly with the Executive Council to ensure precision, commitment, and review.


The change process was difficult but showed promising signs of success.

  • Most middle managers stopped describing their jobs in stay-busy terms and, instead, realized the impact their daily work had on the company’s ability to carry out a successful strategy.
  • Senior management, in turn, saw more focus in the organization and increasingly invited managers to present progress updates to them at their twice monthly meetings.
  • Finally, Human Resources understood the need to blend business plans with individual performance and organized a pilot program in preparation for the next planning cycle.