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Planning for the Future

A strong strategic plan will help you overcome short-term vision

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Wilma Mankiller was the first woman elected as chief of the Cherokee Nation, and she famously said, “In Iroquois society, leaders are encouraged to remember seven generations in the past and consider seven generations in the future when making decisions that affect the people.”

I think we can all agree that if we could make decisions based on such ideals, we would be truly wise. Our ability to grow and improve and change would be thought through fully, and we could trust that all considerations and unintended consequences of a decision would be reviewed and analyzed.

Too often in business, though, our timeline is forced to be much shorter. In fact, companies that are publicly traded often find they make decisions based on quarterly goals. So, the seven generations of the past and future become three months in the past and three in the future.

Fortunately, privately held companies are not so beholden to the demands of Wall Street and don’t see their stock prices and company valuations stripped down because they missed a quarterly revenue projection. Well-run companies that learn from their past—both their successes and their mistakes—can use that information to plan for their futures. By my thinking, that requires building information feedback loops that address everything from estimating errors to customer satisfaction responses. First, you begin collecting data about the success in those areas. Then, you set up a system that consolidates that data for comparison over time and you begin sharing it with the appropriate people in the company.

A great example is customer satisfaction. One of the most common customer satisfaction measurements is “willingness to refer,” which measures how willing the customer is to refer your company to a friend or colleague. A sudden dip in that measurement would indicate a company is performing poorly.

Often companies track that information, but then they don’t do anything with it. You have to get that information into the hands of someone who can move the needle in the right direction. For customer satisfaction, that means evaluating why the drop occurred, then devising ways to reverse the trend and train people to execute that new strategy.

Empowered with past performance information, business managers can lay their plans for the future. They need a strategic plan for long-term planning and annual budgeting processes for more near-term planning. That’s how businesses should operate, but too often business owners are so pressed by day-to-day operations that they’re unable to accomplish that kind of planning.

It’s easy to get lost in the process of putting out fires and lose track of the importance of thinking about the future. It’s at times such as those that Wilma Mankiller’s quote can inspire business owners to take the time to do the things they must to build a sustainable future for their companies.